Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Patrick B. Murphy has resigned just as a judicial commission appeared poised to remove him from the bench for excessive absenteeism and attending a Caribbean medical school while on the judicial payroll.
The state Commission on Judicial Performance was slated Wednesday to discuss behind closed doors a report by three justices who "found clear and convincing evidence" of willful misconduct by Murphy.
"He saw the handwriting on the wall," said another Los Angeles Superior Court judge, who asked not to be named but is familiar with the case.
The three-judge panel criticized Murphy last month for excessive absences since 1996--he missed more than 400 days of work--and for failing to give priority to judicial affairs. During his extended sick leaves, the justices found, Murphy enrolled in the medical school, a chiropractic college and taught at a law school.
Under state law, those findings would have been grounds for the commission to remove Murphy from the bench if it chose to do so. The commission could still censure Murphy and bar him from receiving future assignments from any state court. Neither Murphy nor commission officials returned telephone calls seeking comment Wednesday.
The 46-year-old jurist has not appeared for work in nearly a year, but under state law has continued to collect his $133,051 salary, causing acute embarrassment for his colleagues.
"The court is pleased" by the resignation, said James Bascue, presiding judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court. "We want to put this matter behind us and move forward."
Murphy's resignation letter to Gov. Gray Davis was received Tuesday by Bascue, who was also sent a copy. In the letter dated May 4, Murphy does not mention the commission proceedings but cites a struggle with his health. "Due to serious health problems, I have been unable to perform my judicial duties for a protracted period of time," he wrote.
After consulting with his doctors and a commission doctor, he wrote, "it is evident that my impaired health precludes me from returning to the bench."
Murphy testified during the hearing in January that he suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome, a pain-related disorder called fibromyalgia--and even had a phobia of the bench. He said his phobia made him excessively nervous and prevented him from doing his work. Murphy also said he left medical school after only two weeks because of headaches and insomnia.
The three-judge panel found that Murphy's claims of illness were not credible, given his attendance at Ross University School of Medicine in Dominica for two weeks in January 2000 while on sick leave. "Judge Murphy's late-developing claim of judicial phobia is simply not believable," the justices wrote.
Murphy conceded during the January hearing that some of his actions did create an "appearance of impropriety." He testified that when he jetted off to medical school, he believed an attorney had filed paperwork to establish his medical disability. The panel, however, found he never produced evidence to back up the statement.
Murphy served as a municipal court judge from 1992 to 2000 at the Citrus courthouse in West Covina. He was later reassigned to a traffic court in downtown Los Angeles.
State investigators initiated the probe into Murphy in May 1999 after his colleagues at the Citrus court complained to the judicial watchdog about his absences. Even after Murphy was reassigned to the traffic court, his absences continued.