If you’ve ever had a public defender in a criminal case, you probably plead guilty for fear of getting beaten in a trial. Yesterday in Brevard County, Florida however, a public defender got beaten at arraignment, literally. Judge John Murphy is accused of punching veteran public defender Andrew Weinstock in the face repeatedly, after the two exchanged words in the court room. Murphy reportedly wanted Weinstock’s client to waive his right to a speedy trial, and when he refused, the judge said “If I had a rock I’d throw it at you” and then invited him outside of the courtroom to “beat [his] ass”.
The dialogue in the court room was captured on video (below). In the video you can see Weinstock exit the court room, reportedly thinking it was just to talk. Once they got off camera, without saying a word, the judge reportedly grabbed him by the collar and began punching him in the head. You can hear the sounds of scuffle on the court room video. Two deputies broke up the melee, after which Judge Murphy returned to the bench and began hearing other cases. “I will catch my breath eventually,” Murphy said. “Man, I’m an old man.”
No arrests were made, no charges were filed, but the public defenders office said they will be reporting the incident to the Bar association. See the video below, then I’d like to riff on this a bit more…
I’m glad this happened, and it’s not because public defenders are scum who sell out their clients and deserve to get hit. They are, and they do, but that’s not the point. The point is, human beings cannot be trusted with the power that the court system is trusted with.
The constitutional right to a speedy trial outlined in the US Constitution’s sixth amendment serves an important purpose, or at least, it’s supposed to. The limitless resources of the State can be, and are, used to drag out criminal cases in such a fashion as to deplete the resources of a defendant. In many if not most criminal cases, the defendant is coerced to waive this right from the start, but it is not usually this pronounced. Your attorney will often tell you to waive it because if you don’t, it will piss off the judge and the prosecutor because it makes their lives more difficult, and that could influence a judge’s ruling on some matter, or any effort made at a plea deal.
What happened yesterday in Brevard County is a less nuanced version of exactly the same thing. Sure, you have a right to a speedy trial, but if you exercise it, the State will do violence to you. In fact, being punched in the face a couple of times, is far less violence than the threat of being locked in a cage for months or even years, or having your property taken. I’ve had numerous criminal cases over the course of my lifetime, some more deserved than others, and in every single one of them, even the cases I beat, I would rather have been punched in the face a few times, than to even go through the court proceedings.
There were no charges filed against the judge, reportedly because the public defender didn’t wish to pursue any. Try to imagine if anybody else had punched any other officer of the court. At the very least, they would be held in contempt. There is absolutely no doubt that there would have been an arrest and charges if any private person engaged in even the verbal abuse pictured in that video, much more so if it came to physical violence. It would make little difference if the victim of the assault sought not to pursue the matter, the court would charge the assailant with at a minimum, contempt and disorderly conduct. But, since it’s a judge, it’s no big deal, apparently.
The judge immediately returned to the bench and began hearing other cases after the fray. Imagine what impact that had on other defendants who wished not to waive their speedy trial rights. Imagine the mindset of a man who is supposed to be an impartial arbiter of laws and facts, who hasn’t even caught his breath after he just got done assaulting an attorney for defending his client’s constitutional rights. The notion that a man could be trusted to make rational decisions in that mindset is one of the more absurd things we see the State doing, and the fact that this could be allowed to happen, should be all the proof you need that the State cannot be trusted with such authority.
How many other cases have gone before this judge? How much property has he ordered seized from defendants? How many years of prison time has he handed down? Probably a great deal. He reportedly has a “high reputation” in the court system, yet he is so unstable that he would verbally abuse a public defender on camera, then walk off camera and assault him for no reason other than for defending his client’s constitutionally protected right to a speedy trial.
I wouldn’t trust a system that allowed this to happen to feed my pets. Yet people trust it to interfere violently in all aspects of our lives. They tell us what we can eat, drink, and inhale, they dictate our business dealings, they interfere in our family affairs, they do all of this under the premise of a lawful authority to cage us if we disobey, and murder us if we resist. All this power is granted to people who lack the basic self control required to avoid getting into fisticuffs, and the accountability to do anything about it. Over 12 million people will be arrested in the United States this year, and be put in front of judges like this one.
Yeah, let that sink in the for a minute…
Reprinted with permission from Christopher Cantwell.