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Florida judge suspended for courthouse fisticuffs returns to work

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO Fla. (Reuters) - A Florida judge who was caught on courtroom video challenging a defense lawyer to a fistfight returned to work on Monday after four weeks of anger management counseling, the court said.

Judge John Murphy of Brevard County will remain in counseling indefinitely and be reassigned to civil from criminal case duty, Chief Judge John Harris said in a statement.

Murphy, during a June 2 hearing in his courtroom, invited veteran assistant public defender Andrew Weinstock to join him outside to settle a dispute over the scheduling of a trial date.

“If you want to fight, let’s go out back and I’ll just beat your ass,” Murphy said on the video.

The challenge came after the judge became angry when Weinstock refused to waive his client's constitutional right to a speedy trial. Under Florida law, defendants have the right to a trial within 90 days for a misdemeanor and 175 days for a felony.

“If I had a rock, I would throw it at you right now. Stop pissing me off. Just sit down,” Murphy can be heard telling Weinstock on the video.

Weinstock refused to sit and could be seen on the video walking out of frame toward the courtroom’s back door.

The video, from a court camera in a fixed position, continued to roll, picking up the sound of loud fighting talk in the hallway and banging noises.

“According to the lawyer, the judge grabbed him about the collar as soon as he walked into the hallway and began punching him in the head, and the lawyer just tried to stop the blows," Weinstock’s boss, Public Defender Blaise Trettis, told Reuters.

Harris wrote in his statement that switching Murphy to civil trials was done to promote efficient administration of justice and should not be seen as punishment, which he noted was beyond his authority.

Harris also wrote that the local chief prosecutor and Trettis had given their unqualified support for Murphy’s return to the bench.

Trettis told Reuters at the time that the incident was out of character for Murphy, who he said had a good reputation.

Murphy has not commented publicly on the incident.

(Editing by David Adams and Peter Cooney)

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