Bob held high office, and he consorted with others in high office -- with governors, presidents, and Supreme Court justices -- but neither the high office that he held nor those connections ever caused him, even for a minute, to lose the sense of himself as one of the common folk, no different and no more important than anyone else. When, as Judge Rodowsky recounted, he identified himself to the two admirals as a seaman, second class, I am sure he said that with great pride.
Bob had a marvelous sense of humor, which really was a mirror of his basic humanity. The butt of his humor was always himself -- it was never hurtful to another person -- from his legendary treatment at the hands of Bob Sweeney to the incredible stories about his youthful misadventures.
The same puffing that underlay those stories was used
to more serious purpose. One of the more important tasks Bob faced as Chief
Judge of the newly created Court of Special Appeals in 1967 was implementing
the recently declared right of indigent criminal defendants to court-appointed
counsel at the appellate level.
There was no public defender system then, so Bob would
call around, importuning reluctant lawyers to handle cases on a pro
bono basis. His line was always the same: the court had a case of truly
epic importance, involving complex issues that required the kind of thoughtful
analysis that only that lawyer was competent to give. So flattered, lawyers
would accept the appointment, convinced that they were about to make history.
They would drop all else, spend hours preparing a brief fit for the Supreme
Court, and kill the better part of a day in Annapolis at oral argument,
only to get in the mail, within a few days, a three-page per curiam
opinion finding utterly no merit in any of the arguments they had made.
The amazing thing is that Bob could get the lawyers to come back for more.
Bob's major impact on the law and the Judiciary of
Maryland came, of course, during the 24 years he served as Chief Judge
of the Court of Appeals. Through his awareness of what a fair, competent,
and effective Judiciary should look like and his uncanny ability to persuade
others to support that kind of Judiciary, he was unquestionably the
major force in making the Maryland court system a paradigm for the
He did this by reaching out to the Legislature, to
the Executive Branch, to fellow judges, and to the Bar. Unlike some judges,
he did not regard lawyers or people in public office as lesser beings,
but saw them as decent, hard-working, and dedicated people who, if educated
about the judicial system and its needs, would respond constructively;
and, for the most part, they did respond constructively.
Bob did not get everything he wanted, but he got the important
Underlying it all, Bob Murphy was a very special person.
He adored his family -- his wife, Helen, his children, Karen, Tommy, and
Kathy, and later, the grandchildren they brought into his life. He was
a humble soul with keen insights into human nature and the ways of the
world, who had a marvelous sense of both humor and history, who was as
conversant with the works of Willa Cather and John Steinbeck as with the
opinions of the Supreme Court, and most important, who embodied everything
--everything -- subsumed in the notions of decency and integrity.
My earnest hope is that, as people walk into the Robert C. Murphy building in Annapolis that houses the Court of Appeals and the Court of Special Appeals -- the two courts that he graced -- they will pause for a moment to reflect on the person for whom that building was so aptly named. He was, as I said, a remarkable human being, and I am going to miss him terribly. I already do.