A disciplinary hearing for a Los Angeles Superior Court judge began Monday with several other judges and officials testifying that the jurist took more 400 sick days off work during the last four years.
The witnesses said they learned later that Judge Patrick B. Murphy had been attending a Caribbean medical school during a portion of the time that he was on sick leave.
Murphy, 45, is accused by the state Commission on Judicial Performance of claiming falsely that that he was ill or disabled while collecting his $122,000 annual salary.
Three appellate judges in Riverside on Monday began the task of deciding whether Murphy should be punished for his conduct. They will make a recommendation to the commission, which can admonish Murphy, censure him or remove him from office.
Several jurists who served with and supervised Murphy at the Citrus courthouse criticized his conduct.
There was a feeling "of regret, shame and betrayal," testified Judge Michael Duggan, the godfather of one of Murphy's children, after learning in a Times article last year that Murphy had attended the Ross University Medical School in Dominica last January while on paid sick leave.
"Frolicking in the Bahamas isn't consistent with a person who is ill," said Judge Dennis Aichroth, who supervised Murphy during 1998.
When Murphy returned to the bench for three months last year, he was transferred to a downtown Los Angeles courtroom because his West Covina colleagues refused to work with him, another judge testified.
Murphy, who is defending himself in the proceedings, spoke outside the court on Monday, denying any wrongdoing and saying every doctor who has examined him has found him to be disabled and unable to serve as a judge.
Murphy, who has been absent from the bench since June--citing a stress-related medical condition--said he will tell his side of the story in court today.
In court papers, Murphy maintains that he decided to pursue an alternative career while on sick leave and took premed classes in 1999 at a chiropractic school in Los Angeles and then attended the medical school, beginning in January 2000. He says his medical condition allows him to take classes and teach but impairs his sitting on the bench. In court on Monday, speaking as his attorney, he said he abandoned medical school after two weeks because of "headaches and insomnia."
Authorities say he signed a medical school registration form on which he stated that he had no disabilities that would interfere with his studies or practice of medicine.
Judge Thomas Falls testified that Murphy's absence disrupted the West Covina courthouse, forcing proceedings to be canceled and necessitating the hiring of a retired judge at $500 a day.
Several judges and public officials testified that they saw Murphy at public events and in public places during his time off. Duggan said he bumped into Murphy at a mall and at a Republican fund-raiser. Judge Carol Williams Elswick, whose child attends school with Murphy's son, said the jurist attended three Christmas pageants at the school. All the judges testifying Monday said Murphy seemed healthy.
Judge Rolf Treu, who presided over the West Covina courthouse until last January, told the judicial panel that on several occasions when Murphy was off sick, the accused jurist appeared at depositions that were part of a federal lawsuit.
The suit alleged that Murphy and others conspired to conceal $1.8 million of the assets of a friend whose wife was divorcing the man. The case was settled last year, but Murphy paid nothing. The fraud allegations in the suit remain the subject of an inquiry by the U.S. attorney's office.
Los Angeles County Assistant Sheriff Larry Waldie testified that Murphy contacted him before going to the Caribbean and requested a letter for Dominica immigration saying Murphy had never been convicted of a crime. Waldie said Murphy said nothing about medical school, saying that "he was going on vacation and needed an exit letter."