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Judge Delays His Testimony, Citing Headache, Nausea

Courts: During a disciplinary hearing for years of absenteeism, he reveals that he has chronic fatigue syndrome. Proceedings continue today.

January 24, 2001|RICHARD WINTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Complaining of a headache and nausea, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge said he was too sick to testify Tuesday at a disciplinary hearing that could lead to his removal from the bench for years of excessive absenteeism.

Three judges conducting the hearing in Riverside agreed to delay Judge Patrick Murphy's testimony until today. But Justice Art W. McKinster warned Murphy, who is acting as his own attorney, that if he claims illness again, he must have a doctor immediately available to testify under oath about his condition.

Murphy, 45, is accused by the state Commission on Judicial Performance of malingering, willful misconduct and dereliction of duty for missing more than 400 days of work during the last four years.

Throughout Tuesday's proceedings, Murphy complained about his health. Late in the morning session, he asked the court to stop the hearing, saying he could not continue.

"I have a very severe headache right now," he said. Murphy told the panel that on Monday, the first day of the hearing, he used a "heavy narcotic" to prevent such problems.

The justices delayed proceedings Tuesday from 11 a.m. until 1:30 p.m., at which time Murphy again complained about his headache and asked for a continuance.

"You're just going to have to be strong," McKinster said in denying the request, although the panel agreed to postpone his testimony until today.

Meanwhile, Murphy for the first time Tuesday revealed what he said has caused his absences from the bench of Los Angeles Superior Court. While questioning a witness, Murphy said he had been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.

But an official from a Caribbean medical school, which Murphy attended last year while on paid sick leave from the bench, testified Tuesday that during an admission interview, Murphy said "he had no health problems."

Donald Ainsworth of Ross University School of Medicine in Dominica said that in the November 1999 interview, Murphy said he had "decided that medicine was his first love, his first career desire." Murphy said he was a sitting judge and requested early admission to the school so he could give adequate notice to Gov. Gray Davis, Ainsworth said.

Early admission was granted. Murphy, Ainsworth said, previously had taken premed classes and a biology test in which he placed in the top 1%.

He said Murphy was "very upbeat and articulate" and said he wanted to be an anesthesiologist. He also talked about his hobbies, scuba diving and skiing.

Records show Murphy attended the school from Jan. 1 to Jan. 14, 2000. He has said he needed to pursue an alternative career because the stress of his first one made him ill. But headaches and insomnia forced him to leave medical school, he has said.

Commission attorneys, however, allege that he left only after reporters began asking questions about where he was spending sick leave.

They note that at the time he attended the school, he was receiving his $122,000 annual salary. Judge Rolf Treu, who supervised Murphy when he was assigned to the court in West Covina, testified Monday that he first learned of Murphy's Caribbean schooling from an L.A. Times story.

Between January 1999 and early 2000, a Los Angeles Superior Court official testified, the state spent $83,618 to bring in retired judges to cover for Murphy's absences, including the period when he was in the Caribbean.

Judge Victor Chavez, who presided over the entire Los Angeles courts system last year, testified Tuesday that when Murphy returned to the bench for a period last March, he reassigned him to a downtown traffic court to reduce the jurist's stress. But Chavez said Murphy went out sick again on June 8, providing a two-week doctor's note, and never returned.

Chavez testified that Murphy's conduct, particularly his attendance at medical school, has besmirched the judiciary.

"Our image is extremely important," Chavez said. "This kind of conduct had a very negative effect. It was the subject of jokes."

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