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Dick Murphy Is Appointed to Judgeship by Governor

Times Staff Writer

Fourteen months after he had submitted his name as a candidate, San Diego City Councilman Dick Murphy was named Monday by Gov. George Deukmejian to be a Municipal Court judge.

The appointment leaves another vacancy in a high post at City Hall, and some observers worried about the continuing upheaval of city leadership. At least eight people are said to be considering running for Murphy’s seat, and it is unclear whether the City Council will appoint a successor or leave the seat vacant until the fall elections.

The 42-year-old Murphy, a moderate Republican who has served as the city’s 7th District councilman since December, 1980, was ecstatic. Only three days ago, Murphy and his executive assistant, John Kern, had discussed Murphy’s chances of being selected and concluded that because they’d heard nothing from the governor’s office, he was out of the running.

Then, at 11 a.m. Monday, Deukmejian called Murphy at home. “He said, ‘Dick, we’ve received the evaluation of the state bar association that you were well qualified and I should appoint you as a municipal judge.’ And I said ‘Yes, sir!’ ” Murphy told reporters who Monday afternoon crowded into a council office festooned with balloons, white streamers and a table for the champagne.

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The councilman, who has been mentioned recently as a potential mayoral candidate and this year served as chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Development Board, said he broke the news to his wife and then called his mother.

“She said, ‘Finally, my boy has a respectable job!’ ” the councilman said, beaming.

A Stanford Law School graduate, Murphy gave up an associate attorney’s job with the old-line San Diego firm of Luce Forward Hamilton & Scripps to serve as a councilman in an East San Diego district that sprawls over Tierrasanta, San Carlos and the area around San Diego State University.

In his 4 1/2-year council tenure, Murphy led acquisition efforts for the 6,000-acre Mission Trails Park, worked to eradicate the “killer weed” hydrilla from Lake Murray in his district, pushed for federal financing for the eastern line of the San Diego trolley and earned the respect of his colleagues for his carefully reasoned views.

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Although he enjoyed being a councilman, Murphy was also known to be looking for a new challenge, including a judgeship or running for mayor, should a vacancy occur.

Murphy said he expects to be sworn in within the next 30 days. When he does, he will more than double his income--leaving a council salary of $32,500 a year for the security and $66,449-a-year salary of a municipal judge. He replaces Judge Robert Gaxton Jr., who has been elevated to the San Diego Superior Court bench.

Some council observers expressed concern Monday about the impact of Murphy’s departure on a city government that has been rocked by one tumultuous development after another.

“I’m pleased for him. But it creates another overall vacancy in the higher levels of city government,” said Mark Nelson, executive director of the San Diego Taxpayers Assn. “It creates a new round of guessing at this high level of government.”

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Added one council aide, “Every week, something else. It’s great for him. It’s just unsettling.”

Also leaving by the end of June are Ray Blair, San Diego’s city manager for seven years, and one of Blair’s top assistants, Deputy City Manager Sue Williams. In addition, Mayor Roger Hedgecock is scheduled to start a second trial for alleged criminal campaign violations in late August after the first jury deadlocked 11-1 for conviction. If convicted, Hedgecock would probably be removed from office.

With Murphy’s departure imminent, a key question at City Hall is what will happen to Murphy’s seat.

Under the Municipal Code, the council must appoint a replacement 30 days after a vacancy or declare a special election. Because an election for the 7th District is scheduled anyway this year, city elections officials don’t believe the council will have to call for a special election but can simply let candidates for Murphy’s seat compete in the regular Sept. 17 primary and Nov. 5 general elections.

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However, Councilman Bill Cleator, a conservative Republican, would like to see the council appoint someone to fill out the rest of Murphy’s term, said Cleator aide Pat Barnes. Hedgecock, the leader of the council’s liberal coalition, would prefer to wait for the already scheduled primary and general election, said his aide, Mel Buxbaum.

Added Buxbaum, explaining why Hedgecock opposed an appointment, “There’s a municipal election in the fall, and voters should be given the opportunity to select their own council representatives in the traditional democratic manner.”

Eight people already are being discussed as potential candidates for the 7th District seat, council aides said. The field reportedly includes Police Officers Assn. President Ty Reid, lawyer Bob Simmons, mayoral aide Evonne Schulze, former Planning Commission President Dorothy Leonard, former County Supervisor Patrick Boarman, Tierrasanta activist and lawyer Mike Pent and San Carlos activist Judy McCarty, now an aide to Assemblyman Larry Stirling (R-San Diego).

Meanwhile Murphy, who while awaiting word on the judgeship had kicked off his reelection campaign, said he had collected about $40,000, most of it unspent. Murphy said Monday that he would be returning those contributions.

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Murphy, a native of Oak Park, Ill., received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois in 1965 and a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard University two years later. In 1975 he received a juris doctorate from Stanford University.

He joined Luce Forward as an attorney handling civil litigation in 1976. In December, 1980, in the era of Mayor Pete Wilson, Murphy was appointed to the City Council to fill out the term of former Councilman Larry Stirling after Stirling won election to the Assembly.

Murphy’s wife, Jan, is a physical therapist with the San Diego Unified School District. They have three children, a 13-year-old boy, and two girls, ages 9 and 6. In addition to being a councilman, Murphy is an avid sports fan and has coached his children’s soccer teams for four years and served as a Bobby Sox Little League coach for five years.


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