A judge under investigation for calling in sick for most of the past year, while apparently registered part of the time as a medical student in the Caribbean, returned to work Monday.
Los Angeles Superior Judge Patrick B. Murphy took the bench at the Metropolitan Courthouse near downtown Los Angeles, where he will hear traffic cases.
Presiding Judge Victor Chavez reassigned Murphy to traffic court from the Citrus court in West Covina, where he heard criminal cases. Murphy missed more than 157 days of work last year on sick leave and more than 400 days of work since 1996, officials said. He last worked in September.
Chavez said his decision to reassign Murphy, 44, to hear misdemeanor traffic cases was not related to the controversy surrounding his lengthy absences.
"There were no courtrooms available at the Citrus courthouse because we had to fill that space," Chavez said.
However, Citrus' Superior Court Judge Thomas Falls and other jurists there objected to Murphy's return because he is under investigation by federal, state and local authorities, sources said.
Murphy's absence last year prompted the state to appoint a retired jurist to take over his caseload at the West Covina courthouse at a cost of about $400 a day.
The state Commission on Judicial Performance last month began formal proceedings against Murphy for his poor attendance. That process could lead to Murphy's removal from office. A special judge will decide whether Murphy's absences amount to a violation of judicial ethics.
Murphy refused to comment Monday through a court clerk.
His attorney, Edward M. Moses, also declined to comment on the judge's return to the bench. Moses did confirm that Murphy had withdrawn from medical school but refused to provide further explanation.
While Murphy collected his $117,000 annual salary on sick leave, he apparently had enrolled as a first-year student in Ross University School of Medicine in Dominica, according to records and interviews. The school's staff confirmed that a Patrick Murphy--with the same birth date, Covina home address, ZIP Code, spouse name and telephone number as the judge--was enrolled in classes during January.
Murphy has worked a total of about 10 weeks since late 1998, when allegations surfaced that he had helped a wealthy friend conceal $1.8 million in a divorce case. The allegations are the subject of a federal civil lawsuit, a federal grand jury probe and an investigation by the district attorney's office.
Through his attorney, Murphy has denied any wrongdoing. He says he was falsely accused by others.
The federal lawsuit, filed in November 1998 by Smith Barney Inc. and Prudential Securities Inc., accuses Murphy of helping a physician, George Taus, with "wrongfully withdrawing, laundering, concealing and misappropriating" more than $1.8 million owed to Taus' creditors and former wife. Taus' attorneys maintain their client has done nothing wrong.
The lawsuit alleges that Murphy eventually received $330,000 in cash, property and gold coins for his role. Checks and other financial records submitted in the case indicate that nearly $14,000 of the money paid for a new roof on Murphy's residence and $1,500 for repairs to his cars.
A proposed settlement in the federal civil suit fell apart last month after Murphy and Taus failed to agree to a $550,000 demand. A trial has been set for April 11.