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BOSTON — The Boston Herald‘s insurance company is suing Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Ernest B. Murphy for demanding an additional $6.8 million on top of $3.4 million he collected from a libel lawsuit judgment against the newspaper. According to Mutual Insurance Co. Ltd.’s lawsuit filed in federal court in Boston on Aug. 16, a July 17 letter Murphy sent to Mutual demanded that the company pay him an additional $6.8 million to compensate for violations of a Massachusetts’ law prohibiting unfair and deceptive practices in the insurance business and the state’s consumer protection laws. Mutual Insurance Co. Ltd. v. The Honorable Ernest B. Murphy, No. 07-11532 (D. Mass.) According to Mutual, Murphy’s letter said the company “failed to conduct a reasonable investigation” into the Herald‘s liability for the defamation suit, made “frivolous” arguments about its obligations to the Herald and Murphy, failed to make a prompt settlement offer when the Herald‘s liability became “reasonably clear” and improperly pursed an appeal. Murphy’s attorney Stephen J. Brake of Boston’s Nutter McClennen & Fish said insurance companies have obligations both to insureds and to parties who have judgments or verdicts against insureds. “We say how they handled the claim give rise to a cause of action,” Brake said. “They have to make a good faith analysis of the claim, they can’t simply appeal b/c it’s their policy to appeal.” The Herald paid Murphy $3.4 million, including interest and costs, about a month after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s May decision to uphold a $2.01 million libel verdict against the newspaper. The Herald had published stories about Murphy’s alleged softness on crime and said he “heartlessly demeaned victims.” A story that quoted unnamed courthouse sources about Murphy’s alleged comments that a teenage rape victim needed to “get over it” led to widespread criticism of the judge. Mutual is seeking declaratory relief that it did not breach any duties owed to the defendant or violate Massachusetts’ laws. If the court finds that it has violated Massachusetts’ laws, Mutual is asking the court to determine that $6.8 million is “excessive under the United States Constitution because the amount imposed bears no rational relationship with any actual damages suffered by Judge Murphy.”

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