EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Monday, December 7, 2015

Why Did Billy Murphy Force Gutierrez to Move Out of His Firm "Literally" Overnight Without Planning Whatsoever?

Following up on my post earlier today, another portion of the district court's opinion in Merzbacher made me think of this scene from the movie "Parenthood." As we reported in the Tina episode of the Undisclosed Podcast, the Baltimore Sun did an article on May 15, 1994 about Cristina Gutierrez and her near unparalleled success at Billy Murphy's law firm. Eight months later, the Baltimore Sun published an article about Gutierrez's departure from Murphy's firm. In the article, Gutierrez describes the split as "amicable." But was the split as amicable as Gutierrez describes?

The second Baltimore Sun article is dated January 17, 1995 and notes that 

Flamboyant criminal defense lawyers William H. "Billy" Murphy Jr. and M. Cristina Gutierrez have parted ways after years of sharing controversy and high-profile clients.

The long-rumored professional split became official yesterday, when receptionists began answering the phone "Murphy and Associates" at the partners' Calvert Street office, and Ms. Gutierrez completed the task of moving into the downtown firm of Redmond, Burgin & Cruz, where she will have a limited affiliation.

Ms. Gutierrez, a divorced mother of two, called the breakup "amicable" and said that she was hoping to better control her workload and spend more time with her family.

At first glance, this seems completely legitimate, which is how we reported it on the podcast. But take a look at this Q&A (and A) from the Merzbacher opinion, which deals with Gutierrez's failure to communicate a plea deal to her client, John Merzbacher:

Q: And what prevented you from conveying this plea to Mr. Merzbacher?

A: Well, I can't quite point to one thing. That's why I think it [i.e., the meeting in Judge Gordy's chambers] was around the same time. On January 15, without planning whatsoever, I was forced to move my law office, literally overnight. And that created a great burden on me. Also in January I was in the middle of hearings in front of Judge Ferris, an administrative law judge in Anne Arundel County in the case against Laurie Cook. Those hearings took well over 200 hours and had been started about the second week of December.


A: And those hearings, because it took me literally 200 hours, was backing me up to the wall. And I had recently concluded the case of Jacqueline McClean, whose hearings ended I think on the 18th of December. So, I was under a tremendous amount of stress, being forced to literally move overnight to a new place and reset up my practice in the middle of keeping going what I was keeping going, was very stressful. I have no recollection of telling Billy Kanwisher to do it. I'm sure I thought that I should have told him. And it was in my mind, but it's clear to me that I didn't do that. And I assumed that he did. And the next several months were very hectic for me just trying to keep my own practice going.

Does this cohere with the claim that Gutierrez's split from Billy Murphy's firm was amicable? Why in the world would Murphy force Gutierrez to move "literally" overnight "without planning whatsoever"? The only answer that would seem to make any sense is that the firm had already found her replacement and needed her out so that the new attorney could move in. But the Baltimore Sun article makes it clear that this was not the case; instead, according to the article, "Mr. Murphy said he planned to begin searching for someone to join his firm soon." In other words, the search for Gutierrez's replacement hadn't even begun at the time she was forced to move out of her office overnight.

The only other possibility* seems to be that Gutierrez's new firm forced her to move overnight. But the article makes clear that Gutierrez was initially only supposed to have a "limited affiliation" with her new firm, making such a demand highly unlikely.

So, what caused Murphy to force Gutierrez to move "literally" overnight with no planning whatsoever?


*Besides Gutierrez perjuring herself when testifying as part of the Merzbacher appeal.



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The first thing that comes to mind is financial "irregularities". In the "Tina' episode didn't the Undisclosed team mention that she'd borrowed money? Was that at Murphy's?

Perhaps whatever was behind her bizarre demands for envelopes full of cash, started back in the Murphy days, or even before that. I can't though, for the life of me, think what she'd need so much cash for. Maybe she had "borrowed" money, rather than legitimately arranging a temporary loan, and had been literally sent packing?

Posted by: Squatch | Dec 7, 2015 5:35:35 PM

Was she just lying to the District Court about the ‘without planning whatsoever,’ ‘forced to move my law office, literally overnight’?
Did she not make these statements as her defence for failing to convey a plea offer to a client? She lied to another court saying that none of her clients had ever received a life sentence. Not something a defence lawyer would forget, you would think. The lies are coming thick and fast now.
She was ill, and I have a great deal of compassion for her terrible situation, but sadly over time, Cristina Gutierrez has revealed herself to be very like Kevin Urick and Jay in her dealings with her clients and the courts: unreliable.

Posted by: FarFarAway | Dec 7, 2015 7:36:08 PM

The article suggests that there were rumours of a split long before it happened, making it unlikely to be an overnight decision. The fact that she already had another law firm set up makes that even less likely, no?

I wonder if there was tension for awhile and if maybe he was hurt that she left abruptly and gave her the boot, or if the tension made her feel that she had to leave even if she was not actually being forced. Alternatively, maybe she was exaggerating how quickly she had to move to justify her failures.

Posted by: Anonynon | Dec 7, 2015 10:26:19 PM

Yeah whatever the truth is, I don't think we'll find it in anything Tina said. Her statements are like a roulette wheels of truth, fabrications, and "I don't remember"s

Posted by: Dan | Dec 8, 2015 6:26:03 AM

Maybe someone from Mr murphy's office during that time might shed some light on what really happened- even anonymously?

Posted by: Elizabeth MM | Dec 8, 2015 7:14:48 AM

Perhaps the partner wanted to avoid having Gutierrez courting clients in the time leading up to her departure?

Posted by: Josh | Dec 8, 2015 8:07:03 AM

The key quotes from the article "He said the two had not sorted out how they will divide clients" and "where she will have a limited affiliation." Rumors were flying and I bet Gutierrez thought she could fight her way out of this one. Or she dismissed the rumors as gossip and just didn't listen to members of the firm who had issues with her.
After 20 years? This split was not amicable.

Posted by: boo | Dec 8, 2015 10:19:11 AM

I wouldn't be surprised if Murphy saw the train wreck CG had become. If she had taken funds from the firm without the proper loan process than these would be grounds for immediate termination of the partnership. It was probably better for her to be given the chance to leave than to face true consequences of her many actions.

Posted by: navymom | Dec 8, 2015 11:44:26 AM

The split between CG and BM was far from amicable. I was in the courtroom every day for the Merzbacher trial. On the side of the prosecution. One of the days BM interrupted the hearing. The judge called for order in the court. BM ignored until the gavel was raised. The judge said BM would be held in contempt if he didn't leave immediately. BM was yelling at GC in the courtroom

Posted by: LMT | Apr 9, 2021 7:40:25 AM

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