ORLANDO, Florida — A central Florida judge's sharp tongue and hot temper might soon find him in the judicial penalty box.
In findings released Wednesday, a judicial review panel recommended a four-month suspension for Brevard County Judge John C. Murphy, who was captured on video last year berating and threatening to assault a public defender.
The six-member Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission unanimously found Murphy guilty of violating various judicial canons, including being "dignified and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers, and others."
The panel also recommended a fine of up to $50,000, a public reprimand and Murphy's continued participation in a mental health therapy program.
Murphy is accused of hitting former assistant public defender Andrew Weinstock outside a courtroom last June after they exchanged words over whether Weinstock's client could have a speedy trial. The panel reviewed the incident during a two-day hearing in March.
The Florida Supreme Court will decide on the final punishment. It often adopts the panel's recommendations.
In a written statement, 18th Judicial Circuit Judge John M. Harris said: "The Florida Supreme Court will make the ultimate decision in this case. Out of respect for the rule of law and the entire JQC process, it would be inappropriate for me to comment before this case has reached its conclusion."
Larry Turner, one of the attorneys representing Murphy, also said he didn't think it was appropriate to comment at this time.
In video and audio recorded inside the courtroom, Murphy is heard expressing frustration at Weinstock after he announced his intention not to waive the speedy trial right of his client.
"You know, if I had a rock, I would throw it at you right now," Murphy said at one point. "Stop pissing me off. Just sit down."
After Weinstock responded that he had the right to be there and was representing his client, Murphy again loudly snapped back at him, saying "I said sit down. If you want to fight, let's go out back and I'll beat your (expletive)."
The two men could then be seen leaving the courtroom and entering a hallway. Moments later, Murphy is heard remarking, "All right you, you want to (expletive) with me?"
During the March hearing before the panel, Murphy denied striking Weinstock.
But the panel noted in its findings that scuffling sounds and Murphy's loud use of another expletive were heard on recorded audio from the hallway location.
Murphy returned to the bench June 30 of last year, but instead of hearing criminal cases, he moved to the civil division. Harris said at the time that the reassignment wasn't a form of discipline.
Weinstock resigned from his position with the public defender's office last July.
Murphy has not filed any grievance against Weinstock stemming from the incident, but the judicial panel said it was sending its transcript from the March hearing to the Florida Bar "for an investigation and appropriate action."
"It is significant that although Weinstock was generally held in disrepute among the judges and other people in the courthouse, no one chose to seek the intervention of or investigation by The Florida Bar," the panel wrote in its findings.
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