Panel reviewing evidence in Brevard courtroom scuffle
Judge John Murphy goes before Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission
VIERA, Fla. – A Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission's hearing panel is reviewing evidence in the case of a Brevard County judge who got into a scuffle with a public defender last June.
The case is being heard Monday at the Moore Justice Center by a six-member panel made up of two judges, two attorneys selected by the Florida Bar and two citizens appointed by Gov. Rick Scott.
Sumter County Circuit Judge Michelle Morley is overseeing the hearing, which is expected to last at least two days and include portions of the widely circulated video featuring verbal sparring that led up to what both sides said was a physical dispute in the hallway behind the courtroom.
The panel watched the four-minute video clip before the first witness took the stand.
F. Wally Pope Jr., special counsel selected by the commission, told the panel that Judge John Murphy punched Public Defender Andrew Weinstock twice in the face.
"He was hit two times in the face," Pope said.
Murphy's counsel, Larry Turner, said his client denied striking Weinstock but has apologized for his actions and has taken an anger management class.
Murphy made national headlines when the video of him challenging Assistant Public Defender Weinstock to a fistfight was released.
The argument -- including a statement by Murphy saying he'd like to hit Weinstock with a rock -- was captured by courtroom cameras, which also picked up audio from the fisticuffs.
The microphones later picked up Murphy saying, "Do you want to (expletive) with me?" as the two men confronted each other outside the courtroom.
Murphy later said he was was angry that Weinstock was refusing to waive a speedy trial for his clients.
Monday afternoon, Weinstock testified that he never thought Murphy would follow through on a threat he made in the courtroom that was also caught on surveillance video.
"Well as I walking towards the door, it occurred to me that he said he was going to beat my (expletive), to myself I said he's not going to do that," said Weinstock. "He's just going to yell at me, and work that out. Apparently I was wrong."
Weinstock told his version of events in details.
"I guess I moved my hands and he punched me again right under my nose, barely grazing my nose," said Weinstock. "He backed me up, he had me pinned to the wall with his right arm. And, um, he brought his left hand back in a fist, and then he punched me in the face hitting me here."
After Weinstock's testimony, Judge Murphy gave his account.
I turned around, he was right there," said Murphy. "And he was coming at me fast. I thought I was being attacked. He had his hands out, hit me in the chest."
"I never had one hand on him, I always had 2 hands on him," said Murphy.
Murphy, however, admitted that threatening to beat Weinstock was a direct threat of violence.
Both Murphy and Weinstock admitted their relationship was contentious.
"At first blush, it looks like a pretty simple case, but I assure you it's not. What you have on that video is one hour of one day of a very, very fine man," Turner told the panel during an opening statement.
The hearing panel will make a recommendation to the Florida Supreme Court over whether to reprimand, fine or remove Murphy from the bench.
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