On Tuesday, December 6, 2022, the California Commission on Judicial Performance dismissed the formal proceedings concerning Michael F. Murray, a judge of the Superior Court of California, Orange County.

On January 5, 2022, the formal proceedings to inquire into the matter concerning Judge Murray were commenced and a public hearing was held in April and May of that year in front of three special masters chosen by the Supreme Court. On July 14, 2022, the special masters submitted to the Commission their findings of fact and legal conclusions.

The Commission gave the parties a chance to make objections to the special masters’ report after receiving it, and on October 19, 2022, it heard oral arguments from the parties. Following the oral argument, the Commission took the case under consideration and issued a written decision dismissing the case against Judge Murray.

According to the charges in the notice, Judge Murray violated Brady v. Maryland (1963) 373 U.S. 83 by failing to inquire into any potentially exculpatory information while working as a deputy district attorney on a murder case and failing to fulfill his ongoing obligation to disclose to the defense any exculpatory evidence of which he had actual knowledge. The notice specifically claimed that a CHP officer and a news reporter informed Murray before and during the trial that the CHP reports in the case had allegedly been changed. Murray was also allegedly informed that some CHP officers disagreed with the murder charges, that there were irregularities in the CHP investigation, and that some CHP officers had lost their jobs.

The commission concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the claims that Murray was alerted by a CHP officer and a news reporter that the CHP reports in the case had been changed. The panel determined that while Murray may have acted negligently by neglecting to look into the potentially exculpatory facts further, the evidence did not support a conclusion that Murray acted in ill faith with regard to the remaining charges. As a result, the commission came to the conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding that Murray committed either prejudicial misconduct or improper behavior while working as a prosecutor.

The order reads:

“We disagree with the masters’ contention that the commission seeks to use Brady to justify punishing an individual prosecutor. The purpose of a commission disciplinary proceeding is not punishment, but rather the protection of the public, the enforcement of rigorous standards of judicial conduct, and the maintenance of public confidence in the integrity and independence of the judicial system. When an individual is found to have committed ethical violations prior to becoming a judge, it negatively affects the public’s perceptions of the judiciary, and the individuals who have become judges. As such, it is the commission’s responsibility and mandate to investigate pre-bench misconduct, including Brady violations by former prosecutors, and to discipline judges where appropriate.”

The order continues:

“We have concluded here that the examiner did not prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that Judge Murray personally committed a Brady violation, intentionally and in bad faith, before becoming a judge. While we agree with the masters that the requirements and purpose of Brady may sometimes make it an “inapt vehicle” for judicial discipline, there are occasions when a Brady violation may also constitute pre-bench misconduct when the individual prosecutor personally committed a Brady violation in bad faith, prior to taking the bench. (Doan, supra, Cal.4th at p. 312.) In those circumstances, we would not hesitate to impose discipline in order to fulfill our mandate to protect the public, enforce rigorous standards of judicial conduct, and maintain public confidence in the integrity and independence of the judicial system.”

The order concludes:

“For the foregoing reasons, the commission orders the proceedings in this matter dismissed.”

The Judge earned a law degree from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law in 1994.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.