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BOSTON �� A hearing officer for the Massachusetts Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended a public reprimand for state court Judge Ernest B. Murphy for sending letters to Boston Herald publisher Patrick J. Purcell demanding settlement of his libel lawsuit against the newspaper. In his Nov. 21 report the hearing officer Peter Kilborn also recommended that Massachusetts Superior Court judge Murphy reimburse the commission for the hearing costs. Murphy used court stationary for one of the February and March 2005 letters sent after a February 2005 $2.09 million jury verdict against the Herald for libel. The March letter said Purcell had “ZERO” chance of winning an appeal and that he was lucky the jury’s verdict was only $2 million. Murphy’s libel suit contended that he widely criticized for his alleged comments that a teenage rape victim should “get over it.” The Herald attributed the remarks to “several courthouse sources.” Kilborn said Murphy violated rules requiring a judge to maintain “high standards of conduct,” avoid impropriety or the appearance of it, promote public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary and to not “lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge.” Kilborn also noted in his recommendation that two mitigating factors weighed against harsher sanctions: Murphy and his family were under great stress because of the Herald articles and that his improper actions were not willful because he believed he and Purcell had a confidentiality agreement. At his October hearing, Murphy characterized the letters as an attempt to dissuade the Herald from appealing and end the lawsuit’s emotional strain on his family. Although the verdict was reduced to $2.01 million, the Herald ultimately paid Murphy $3.4 million, including interest and costs, after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld the lower court’s libel verdict in May. Murphy’s attorney, Michael E. Mone Jr. of Boston’s Esdaile, Barrett & Esdaile, did not return a call for comment. In a statement, Purcell said he was pleased with the hearing officer’s report. “[We] will await the further proceedings before the Commission on Judicial Conduct and ultimately the Supreme Judicial Court,” said Purcell. Murphy and the commission have 20 days to file written objections to the recommendations and findings. Murphy and Purcell can also request a hearing before the full commission within 20 days. The full commission must make a recommendation to the Supreme Judicial Court, which has the final say on any sanctions, within 90 days of the hearing officer’s report or a full commission hearing if one is held.

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