Trial by combat was de rigueur in Germany around the Middle Ages, but legal fisticuffs seem to be making a comeback in modern-day Florida.
Brevard County Judge John Murphy apparently went one-on-one with a public defender Monday after the pair exchanged words over whether a client should get a speedy trial date.
On Tuesday, Murphy took a leave of absence and agreed to “seek anger management counseling and treatment,” Chief Judge John M. Harris said in a statement. All Murphy’s cases were reassigned to other judges.
Trial by combat involves disputants fighting it out in single -- sometimes mortal -- combat. The winner was judged to have been in the right. The rule of law, with codified trial procedures, was considered a major step forward from the notion that that might makes right.
The confrontation between Judge Murphy and public defender Andrew Weinstock was caught on an official video of the court. The incident was posted on a variety of local media websites and on YouTube.
The pair were arguing about whether Weinstock’s client would waive his right to a speedy trial. Murphy appears to be trying to get the defender to waive, but the defense lawyer was not having any of it, according to the video.
“You know, if I had a rock, I would throw it at you right now,” Murphy tells Weinstock. “Just sit down.”
“You know I’m the public defender. I have a right to be here and I have a right to stand and represent my client,” Weinstock says in the video.
The judge then appears to ask Weinstock to come to the back hallway, an area where there are no cameras, which is where the fight apparently broke out.
“If you want to fight, let’s go out back,” Murphy tells Weinstock before the pair head off camera.
There were no images of the fight, but the video does capture sounds of scuffling and several loud thuds.
Those inside the courtroom remained seated and did not intervene. They are seen, however, clapping when whatever happened off-camera ended.
Weinstock’s supervisor told a local TV news station that the attorney thought they would just talk out the problem.
“The attorney said that immediately upon entering the hallway he was grabbed by the collar and began to be struck,” said Blaise Trettis, public defender of the 18th Judicial Circuit Court. “There was no discussion, no talk, not even time for anything. Just as soon as they’re in the hallway, the attorney was grabbed.”
Two deputies broke up the fight, and the attorney was immediately reassigned to another area so he and the judge would not have to interact with each other.
After the confrontation, Murphy is seen going back into court to finish his business.
“I will catch my breath eventually,” Murphy said. “Man, I’m an old man.”
Harris, the chief judge, said in his statement, “People come to court seeking justice and a peaceful resolution to their conflicts, and they have the right to expect a much higher standard of behavior from our judges than was exhibited in court yesterday."