(FloridaToday.com) - The Brevard County judge who reportedly punched an attorney during a courtroom confrontation that drew national attention will take a temporary paid leave of absence until further notice and seek anger management counseling.
Judge John C. Murphy was recorded in court Monday threatening to fight Assistant Public Defender Andrew Weinstock, who the followed the judge into a hallway where the two scuffled.
"If you want to fight, let's go out back and I'll just beat your ass," Murphy said to Weinstock from the bench.
"Let's go," the attorney replied.
The showdown had several other impacts Tuesday:
Murphy's cases have been assigned to other judges while he is away.
Tensions erupted in a Brevard County courtroom when a judge challenged an assistant public defender to a fist fight.
Weinstock took the day off and Public Defender Blaise Trettis said he might be back to work later this week, but wasn't sure what day.
The Florida Bar, which handles attorney regulation and discipline, is looking into the incident, according to spokeswoman Karen Kirksey, who couldn't comment further.
The state commission that oversees judges could not confirm whether it was investigating Judge Murphy's role in the incident. However, officials said it was the kind of thing the Judicial Qualifications Commission would investigate. The commission has the power to hold hearings and recommend to the Florida Supreme Court that a judge be removed, suspended, reprimanded, fined or cleared of wrongdoing.
No criminal charges have been filed, but an investigation is continuing. Brevard County Sheriff's Spokeswoman Deputy Maria Fernez said deputies weren't able to get statements from Murphy or Weinstock.
On Tuesday morning, Brevard Administrative Judge Michelle Baker presided over Murphy's courtroom, 3C, and took over his schedule.
Outside the courtroom, people were abuzz about the recording showing part of the incident. Some said they watched the video on a national news morning show. The video of the confrontation received substantial play on national news outlets.
Just inside the entrance to the courthouse, a framed copy of the "Principles of Professionalism for Florida Judges" hangs on the wall. First on the list: "A judge should be courteous, respectful and civil to lawyers, parties, witnesses, court personnel, and all other participants in the legal process."
A local attorney who knows both men was surprised that either would act out.
"Hopefully it won't hurt either career," said Melbourne Attorney Eric Morgan, who wondered if the incident was the result of a medical issue or a misunderstood prank by the judge. He spoke highly of both men, but noted they both expressed a willingness for a confrontation.
"In a sense you can say they had a consensual encounter," he said.
Public defenders are typically assigned to cases in a single judge's courtroom. Trettis said Weinstock had worked in Murphy's courtroom for about six months and that he wasn't aware of a dispute that lead to the fight.
Trettis said he had watched the courtroom video and didn't see anything that warranted disciplining Weinstock.
Weinstock has been an attorney for about 15 years, some in private practice. Before working in misdemeanor court with Murphy, he worked felony cases.
In the past year, two clients filed complaints against Weinstock, according to The Florida Bar.
In January and October, two separate clients claimed Weinstock violated rules regarding communication, saying he did not return their calls, for example, and one claimed Weinstock violated his rights for speedy trial by not properly handling his case.
Weinstock presented evidence to the contrary, and documents released to FLORIDA TODAY show that The Florida Bar's counsel found insufficient evidence in both cases to pursue further investigation. Weinstock has no disciplinary history on record, according to the Bar.
Last year, Murphy, who earns $138,020 annually as a county court judge, applied to be nominated as a judge in the Fifth District Court of Appeal, but he was passed up for the position.
In his application, he wrote: "Judicial temperament includes patience, open-mindedness, courtesy, tact, firmness, understanding, compassion and humility. Patience was the toughest for me. I work very hard to ensure that I do not become impatient."
Murphy, a retired Army colonel who served 30 years in the military, helped to start and presides over Veterans Treatment Court, which seeks to help veterans suffering from mental health issues or substance abuse by keeping them out of jail. Efforts are made to get veterans in treatment that they might not seek on their own or for which they don't know they are eligible.