Getting death threats after being libeled by the Herald not necessarily enough for a disability pension, court rules
The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that a former Superior Court judge is not entitled to a disability pension for the permanent psychiatric problems he says he suffered after receiving cartons of hate mail and death threats after Herald articles and a reporter's comments that were ultimately ruled libelous.
At issue was not whether Ernest Murphy had severe enough psychiatric problems to keep him from working as a judge, but whether he read the death threats - which came after a Herald reporter claimed on the Bill O'Reilly show the judge had told a rape victim to "get over it" - while performing his job as a judge. The court concluded he failed to produce evidence he had read them while working as a judge, even though he reported receiving them in his judicial chambers:
Assuming that Judge Murphy read this death threat in his chambers, there was no evidence whatsoever as to what he was doing when he opened and read it. The mere fact that an employee is in his office during regular work hours does not necessarily mean that the employee is engaged in "the actual performance of the duties that the employee has undertaken to perform on behalf of the public." ... Judge Murphy's testimony before the administrative magistrate did not supply the necessary evidence to support his claim for accidental disability retirement benefits. During his testimony, Judge Murphy only stated that he "received death threats, which the State police found were credible and [he] was given a State police protection for a period of time." He made no mention of what he was doing when he received the death threat in his chambers. It was incumbent on Judge Murphy to present evidence to show that at the time he sustained his personal injury, he was engaged "in the performance of" his judicial duties. G.L. c. 32, § 7(1). He simply did not satisfy this burden of proof.
In its decision, the court did recount the day Murphy realized he could no longer work as a judge - during a case that came after he had won his libel suit and send Herald Publisher Patrick Purcell a letter a judicial-conduct commission investigated as threatening:
On July 18, 2007, while presiding over a criminal session, Judge Murphy was asked by a defense attorney to consider a particular sentence on a plea tendered by her terminally ill client in a drug case. Judge Murphy agreed with defense counsel that the proposed disposition would be appropriate in the circumstances. However, his fears that a headline in the Boston Herald the following morning would read, "Murphy Walks Drug Baron," and that hate mail and death threats would resume, rendered him unable to enter the proposed disposition. Judge Murphy realized that he could no longer perform the essential duties of his job, wept, left the court house, and never returned to work.