A judge who wrote threatening letters to the publisher of the Boston Herald after he won a $2 million libel judgment against the newspaper should be publicly censured, suspended without pay for 30 days and fined $25,000, the state Commission on Judicial Conduct said Tuesday.
The commission said Judge Ernest Murphy’s misconduct in sending the letters to Herald publisher Patrick Purcell – one on court stationery – was willful and improper.
The recommendation is more severe than the public reprimand recommended by a hearing officer in November. The state Supreme Judicial Court will make the ultimate decision.
Murphy’s battle with the Herald began in 2002, when the newspaper published a series of stories depicting the Superior Court judge as soft on criminals. Several of the stories quoted Murphy as saying of a 14-year-old rape victim: “Tell her to get over it.”
Murphy denied making the remark and sued the newspaper.
In 2005, a jury found that the Herald had libeled Murphy and awarded him $2 million.
Two days after the verdict, Murphy sent Purcell a letter in which he told Purcell to bring a check for $3.26 million to a private meeting.
Murphy said he wrote the letters in an attempt to persuade the Herald not to appeal the jury’s verdict.
A separate single-page post script warned Purcell that showing anyone the letter would be “a BIG mistake.”
In a second letter, Murphy told Purcell he had “ZERO chance” of reversing the jury’s verdict on appeal.
The commission found that the letters were threatening and intimidating in tone.
Murphy’s lawyer, Michael Mone, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Purcell said in a statement, “I’m appreciative of the Commission on Judicial Conduct’s approach in this matter and very pleased with its findings and recommendations.”
In a hearing in October, Murphy testified that the remarks about the rape victim attributed to him by the Herald prompted hate mail and threats, including a posting in a Herald chat room suggesting that his daughters should be raped. He said both of his daughters required therapy because of the ordeal.
Last year, the Herald paid Murphy $3.4 million, including $1.4 million in interest.