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Biology and organic chemistry came easily to Los Angeles County Judge Patrick Murphy. He earned top marks in the courses that he completed before enrolling in medical school. He even had a perfect attendance sheet in pre-med classes. But his attendance record in his courtroom wasn’t as impressive, according to the three special masters who concluded that the former presiding judge took more than 400 days off of unjustified sick leave — courtesy of the taxpayer’s pocketbook — since 1996. Nor were the masters impressed with what they called his “evolving defense,” which began with claims that his political opponents were behind the accusations and “matured” into a defense that he was disabled because of a “phobic reaction to judicial activities.” In its report to the Commission on Judicial Performance, the panel also found no evidence of disability and pointed to Murphy’s continued extra-judicial activities during that period, which included campaigning for re-election, teaching evening law classes, completing science courses, applying to medical school and studying at a doctor’s college in the West Indies. “His intent was ultimately to falsely obtain disability retirement while moving on to a new career in medicine, but for as long as possible to remain on the payroll of the State of California as a full-time, sitting judge while avoiding his judicial obligations,” wrote Presiding Special Master Art McKinster, a 4th District Court of Appeal judge. First District Justice Carol Corrigan and 4th District Justice Betty Ann Richli also signed the 70-page report. The special masters’ findings were submitted last Friday to California’s state judicial watchdog agency. The CJP charged Murphy last year with willful misconduct in office, persistent failure to perform his judicial duties, conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute, improper action, and dereliction of duty. Victoria Henley, the CJP director and chief counsel, said Murphy has 15 days to file objections to the masters’ report. The commission may call for another hearing before its panel or choose to directly issue its decision, she said. The masters’ report was based on a hearing conducted in January, in which Murphy represented himself. The commission called more than a dozen witnesses, including other judges on the Citrus Court where Murphy was assigned to hear cases. Murphy did not submit a trial brief; he testified on his own behalf and presented the testimony of one of his doctors. But the masters concluded, “His responses fail under the weight of their own inconsistency and strained ingenuity.” And noting that “people involved in the court system began to joke about ‘Murphy sightings,’ ” they said his unjustified absence undermines the integrity of the courts. If the commission agrees with the masters’ report, Murphy could be removed, censured or admonished in public or private. If the commission concludes Murphy’s actions may be grounds for criminal charges, the agency could forward its files to prosecutors. Murphy, who continues to draw his $133,051 salary, last took the bench on June 8, 2000, according to L.A. Superior Court spokesman Kyle Christopherson.

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