Charges Filed Against Boston Judge Who Won Libel Award

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Formal charges were filed Tuesday against a judge who won a $2 million libel award from the Boston Herald, accusing him of misconduct for writing threatening and intimidating letters to the newspaper’s publisher.

The Commission on Judicial Conduct alleges that Judge Ernest Murphy with the Supreme Judicial Court engaged in “willful misconduct” that was unbecoming of a judicial officer and cast the judicial system in a bad light.

A jury in 2005 found the Herald had libeled Murphy in articles that portrayed him as lenient toward defendants and quoted him saying a 14-year-old rape victim should “get over it.” Murphy denied making the remark and said he expressed concern for the victim.

In the letters written after he won the libel award, Murphy demanded more money. For one letter, Murphy used Superior Court letterhead.

In the first handwritten note, Murphy asked for a private meeting with the Herald’s publisher, Patrick J. Purcell.

“You will bring to that meeting a cashiers check, payable to me, in the sum of $3,260,000,” says the letter, dated two days after the jury awarded the judge $2 million. “No check, no meeting.”

A separate, single-page postscript warns Purcell that telling anyone about the letter would be “a big mistake.” The word “big” was written in all capital letters.

The libel verdict was upheld by the SJC in May. Last month, lawyers for the Herald paid Murphy $3.4 million (?2.5 million) ? the $2 million awarded in the verdict and $1.4 million in interest.

In a written response filed with the commission, Murphy admitted he wrote and sent the letters, but denied engaging in misconduct. Murphy said the letters he sent to Purcell were part of “private confidential and privileged discussions” with the Herald’s publisher regarding settlement of the libel claim.

Neither Murphy’s attorney, Michael Mone, nor Purcell immediately returned calls seeking comment Tuesday.

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