Lawyer given jail term for contempt of court

May 26, 1994|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Sun Staff Writer

Prominent Baltimore criminal defense lawyer William H. Murphy Jr. faces a 30-day jail sentence after his arrest yesterday for failing to show up for a trial in Prince George's County. Mr. Murphy, a former judge and one-time candidate for mayor of Baltimore, was arrested about 1 p.m. yesterday in Baltimore Circuit Court, where he had been arguing pretrial motions in a case before Judge Robert I. H. Hammerman. Shortly after Judge Hammerman broke for lunch, Mr. Murphy was arrested in a foyer outside the courtroom.

Judge Hammerman said he saw two Prince George's County sheriff's deputies leading Mr. Murphy away in handcuffs.

Mr. Murphy was arrested on a bench warrant, issued by Prince George's Circuit Judge Audrey E. Melbourne, citing him for contempt of court, said Irv Smith, spokesman for the county sheriff's office.

Judge Melbourne issued the citation after Mr. Murphy failed to appear to represent a defendant in a drug trial Tuesday. She fined him $1,100 -- the cost to pay jurors for the trial -- and sentenced him to 30 days in jail. She set an appeal bond of $5,000.

The citation was appealed yesterday afternoon and Mr. Murphy was released after his law partner, M. Cristina Gutierrez, posted his bond.

Speaking on Mr. Murphy's behalf, Ms. Gutierrez called his failure to appear at the Prince George's County trial a "misunderstanding."

"Mr. Murphy believed that the case in Prince George's County was assigned to Judge James P. Salmon, as did Judge Salmon himself, because all previous proceedings had been assigned to him," she said. "Judge Salmon excused Mr. Murphy from appearing on May 24 because Mr. Murphy was involved in a continuing case in Baltimore City which started the previous week and which made it impossible for Mr. Murphy to be in two courts at the same time."

Judge Salmon could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Murphy, 51, is considered one of the city's leading criminal defense lawyers. But he has at times run afoul of judges for being late for court, occasionally receiving contempt citations and fines.

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