Mur­phy steps down from bench to­day

The Standard Journal - - FRONT PAGE - By Kevin Myrick kmyrick@polk­stan­dard­jour­

The long ten­ure of a lo­cal judge comes to an of­fi­cial end to­day as Michael Mur­phy hangs up his robes and goes on to a job he’d much pre­fer as the win­ter of his life ap­proaches. He wants to be a full-time grandpa.

Af­ter a life in ser­vice of the law, first as an at­tor­ney ar­gu­ing on one side of the bench, then the past two decades of his life as a judge mak­ing de­ci­sions on the mer­its of the ar­gu­ments of past col­leagues and op­po­nents alike, one could ar­gue it is a long over­due re­ward for his ser­vice.

Mur­phy, who an­nounced his re­tire­ment ear­lier in the month, said he’s hop­ing to take the “gob­lins and ghouls with me” once he clears out of his of­fice in Har­al­son County, sur­rounded by the trap­pings of the past and present on the walls and desk.

He said over his long ca­reer, it all cir­cled back to how he be­came a judge. When he was con­sid­ered to take over the seat left open by a re­tire­ment in the late 1990s, Mur­phy never once con­sid­ered that he’d ever be a judge.

“The first thing I did was to call two lawyers who had more se­nior­ity than I did,” Mur­phy said. “I had been prac­tic­ing for 25 years, and you don’t see that much in the young judges who are be­com­ing judges to­day… the first thing I did was I picked up the phone and called Freddy Wicker and Rich- ard Sut­ton, be­cause they’d been prac­tic­ing law five years longer than me.”

He asked if ei­ther wanted to put in to be judge since they had more time and ex­pe­ri­ence, and wouldn’t con­sider him­self.

“That’s the way I felt then, and that’s the way I feel right now,” he said. “Nei­ther one of them wanted to do it.”

Mur­phy re­called how he in­ter­viewed for the job in front of the Ju­di­cial Nom­i­nat­ing Com­mit­tee, packed with peo­ple from all around the state and be­ing pep­pered with ques­tion. He re­called than when he was asked why he wanted to be a judge, he said “I an­tic­i­pated that ques­tion.”

“If I had my druthers, I’d rather be king,” Mur­phy re­called as his re­ply. “Their mouths all started to hang open, and I let that sink in for a sec­ond and when I had ev­ery­body. I said then ‘Now that I have all y’all’s at­ten­tion, let me tell you some­thing. I was rid­ing over here and I was lis­ten­ing to pub­lic ra­dio – that ought to tell you some­thing about me – and I heard a statis­tic that half of the world lives in ab­ject poverty. And all I can tell you ladies and gen­tle­man is if I was king I’d have the where­withal to do some­thing about that. I want ev­ery­one of you to know that I would… but I know that I’m not here seek­ing the po­si­tion of king. I’m here to seek the job of Su­pe­rior Court Judge. And I know within the cir­cuit, with the su­pe­rior court judge lives, he has the abil­ity to im­pact lives more than any other per­son in that cir­cuit.’”

It’s a mes­sage he im­parted and said he took to heart over hun­dreds of cases heard in his past two decades on the bench. He said he al­ways tried his best to make the law a even play­ing field as well.

He ended up as for­mer Gover­nor Zell Miller’s fi­nal ap­point­ment to the bench be­fore his term was up.

Af­ter serv­ing 20 years on the bench and 25 years be­fore that as an at­tor­ney, Mur­phy said he has no real de­sire to con­tinue on in the court­room any­time soon. In­stead he wants to spend more time with his grand­chil­dren and po­ten­tially get­ting back into an­other love that he un­der­took as well in his life: coach­ing.

It comes from a life­long love of sports that be­gan in his home­town of Bre­men. Mur­phy comes from a lin­eage of state lead­ers, most no­tably his fa­ther the long­time State House Speaker Tom Mur­phy, who was re­placed by now State Sen. Bill Heath.

Mur­phy grew up around state pol­i­tics and learn­ing from in­side the halls of power in At­lanta. He fol­lowed in his fa­ther’s foot­steps into the prac­tice in law.

He was first a stu­dent at the Univer­sity of West Ge­or­gia as a base­ball player, where Mur­phy played as an all-con­fer­ence catcher dur­ing his time in Car­roll­ton. He then moved on­ward to Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia, where he played for the Bull­dogs foot­ball pro­gram with many of the law­mak­ers who would go on to lead the state like Sonny Per­due, and also earned a law de­gree.

“The Lord has blessed me in many ways,” Mur­phy said. “And I firmly be­lieve that a re­spon­si­ble per­son’s duty who has had a good life and help along the way is to pay it for­ward.”

He said one of his in­ten­tions is to try and get in­volved in a mock trial pro­gram with youth in south Ge­or­gia closer to his grand­chil­dren, much in the same way he did in Har­al­son County in past years.

He’s glad to give up the bench for an­other rea­son: pri­vacy.

“If I want to go to Wal­mart for in­stance, I go at 3 o’clock in the morn­ing to keep from run­ning into peo­ple,” Mur­phy said. “It’s just hard to do… so I’ve be­come a lit­tle bit of a recluse at times.”

As his ca­reer in law comes to a close, Mur­phy said it was his in­ten­tion to leave with­out stay­ing too long on the bench, and giv­ing some­one else a chance to serve.

That’s why he chose to quit now, with fac­ul­ties and cases in­tact for the next per­son to come along and take up the job as he did, by ap­point­ment.

Mur­phy said it’ll be up to Gover­nor Nathan Deal to name a per­son and send them be­fore the same com­mit­tee he an­swered ques­tions of be­fore, and then for vot­ers on whether or not they’ll want to keep the ap­pointee, or re­place them with some­one else.

No mat­ter what, Mur­phy said he’s glad to have been able to serve the Tal­lapoosa Cir­cuit for as long as he did.

Michael Mur­phy

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