The Boston Herald’s use of confidential correspondence written to its publisher from a Superior Court judge in an effort to vacate a $2.1 million libel verdict against the newspaper was a “disgraceful publicity stunt,” lawyers for the judge said in their response on Friday.
A jury last February found the newspaper libeled Superior Court Judge Ernest B. Murphy in articles portraying him as lenient and quoted him making insensitive comments about a 14-year-old statutory rape victim. Murphy claimed he was misquoted.
Murphy was awarded $2.1 million, which is under appeal.
The Herald last month released correspondence Murphy sent to Herald publisher Patrick J. Purcell after the verdict.
Herald lawyers filed a motion in Suffolk Superior Court asking that the libel award be thrown out because of the letters, which they said were attempts to “coerce and intimidate” the newspaper during appeal.
The Herald reiterated that position on Friday. “Judge Murphy’s letters speak for themselves and should be read,” appellate attorney Bruce W. Sanford said in a statement. “The Herald found them threatening, bullying and intemperate to say the least.”
Murphy’s lawyer, David H. Rich, said in the response that the Herald’s tactics were “pretextual and frivolous.”
Rich questioned why the Herald waited nine months before disclosing the content of the letters. “The complete absence of nine months of any mention about the supposed ‘intimidating’ letters speaks volumes about whether Mr. Purcell actually believed there was anything intimidating about them …” the filing says.
Sanford said the Herald “had no choice but to make the court aware of Judge Murphy’s extraordinary conduct.”
The letters have nothing to do with the evidence presented at trial and “provide no factual or legal basis upon which a good faith argument can be made … that the hard work of the jury and the Court in this case should be undone,” the filing says.
Murphy wrote one of the letters on court stationery, apparently in violation of the state Code of Judicial Conduct. Murphy has apologized and said he didn’t know state law prohibited him from using court stationery to correspond about the case.