Retired Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr., who literally wrote the book on the state’s evidentiary rules and served on three levels of the judiciary, died Wednesday after a long illness.
He was 78.
Murphy rose through the ranks of the Maryland judiciary, beginning in 1984 as a Baltimore County Circuit judge and then in 1993 to the Court of Special Appeals, where he served as chief judge from 1996 until his appointment to the Court of Appeals in 2007 by Gov. Martin O’Malley.
But a generation of Maryland law students know him best as the author of the Maryland Evidence Handbook.
Murphy voluntarily stepped down from the high court on Sept. 30, 2011, saying he would rather practice law with his daughter, Erin Murphy, than continue to serve on the state’s highest court. At 67, he still had nearly three years before the state Constitution would have mandated his judicial retirement at 70.
“It isn’t anything about the court or about the procedures that drove this decision,” Murphy said at the time. “The opportunity to practice another two years with my daughter is something that I’m very much looking forward too.”
Murphy would spend the next decade as a partner with Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin & White LLC, where his daughter rose from associate to fellow partner before leaving just within the past few years to become chief counsel in the Baltimore City state’s attorney’s office.
Steven D. Silverman, the Baltimore law firm’s managing partner, said Murphy “was like a second father to me” with sage advice and compassion.
“He was not your average Joe, that’s for sure,” Silverman added.
Silverman said he marveled at Murphy’s photographic memory, which enabled him to cite legal authority and page numbers without notes and to use that information with “sound reasoning and common sense.”
“Joe was just a brilliant man with many gifts,” Silverman added. “It was just wonderful to see him every day.”
In his last days, Murphy was still joyously greeting and engaging visitors despite his terminal illness, Silverman said.
“His mind was as sharp and keen as it ever was,” Silverman added. “Joe was literally holding court to the very end.”
Retired Judge Irma S. Raker, who served with Murphy on the Court of Appeals, recalled him as “a warm and supportive colleague.”
“Joe was a giant,” Raker added. “Everybody loved Joe Murphy. He was the lawyer extraordinaire.”
Retired Judge Alan M. Wilner, who worked with Murphy on both appellate courts, called his passing “quite a loss.”
“He was a giant in the judiciary and as a lawyer and as a person,” Wilner said, adding that Murphy was “a nice guy, very committed to fairness and justice.”
Murphy spent his post-judicial retirement years as a partner with Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin & White LLC, where his daughter rose from associate to fellow partner before leaving within the past few years to become chief counsel in the Baltimore City state’s attorney’s office.
Before his work on the bench, Murphy was a staff attorney for Legal Aid, served as an assistant Baltimore City state’s attorney and was a partner at the Towson firm White & Murphy.
The Massachusetts native attended Boston College as an undergraduate before heading to the University of Maryland School of Law, from which he graduated in 1969, the same year he was admitted to the state bar. He was a longtime instructor in trial practice at his law school alma mater and in evidence at the University of Baltimore School of Law.
A wake will be held Aug. 4 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Ruck Funeral Home in Towson.
A funeral is scheduled for 1 p.m. Aug. 5 at Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore.