Originally published Nov 1 2000
IN THE LAST half-century, no one matched the
contributions of Robert C. Murphy to Maryland's system of dispensing justice.
Judge Murphy, who died Monday at 74, was the father of Maryland's modern
Key to his success was a love of people. He always returned phone calls,
to irate citizens. The Baltimore native proved popular with politicians, in part
because he relished the give-and-take of the legislative process and
buttonholing lawmakers. But his real strength came from his direct, honest
approach and his likability.
In the 1960s, he and the late Robert F. Sweeney ran the attorney general's
office, setting policy, arguing court cases themselves and dealing with
Annapolis politicians on civil rights issues. In 1967, he was picked to head the
newly created Court of Special Appeals, carving out a distinctive role for the
intermediate appeals panel.
Five years later, Judge Murphy was elevated to the No. 1 judicial job as
judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals. That's when the Murphy magic truly
He helped turn a disjointed array of minor courts into a District Court
with uniform procedures in courtrooms from Oakland to Snow Hill.
He set his sights on better judicial training, removing overt political
from the judicial-selection process and cracking down on judges' and lawyers'
misconduct. Today's efficient case-management system within the appeals
courts is a Murphy legacy.
Bob Murphy adored and venerated the law. He slept on an office couch three
nights a week in Annapolis to keep up with his workload. On other days, he
could be found in his Towson office, writing his own legal opinions. He wrote
more than 1,000 opinions in his nearly 25 years on the Court of Appeals.
He was a thoughtful scholar, but it was Judge Murphy's administrative skills
that won him the most praise. His contributions will loom large in the history of
Maryland's courts. He created a coherent and cohesive system of law that is
still a national model. He was, indeed, this state's Mr. Judiciary.
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