Building to bear name of top judge Murphy to be honored today, four months before he retires

June 03, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

He has been known to sleep in his office, play poker with State House secretaries and hum -- usually off-key -- while he works.

But Robert C. Murphy may be best known for the unpretentious way he has run the Maryland court system, presided over the state's highest court and ruled on dozens of critical issues, ranging from public school funding methods to the construction of Oriole Park.

The state's 69-year-old top judge will be honored today when the building in Annapolis that houses the two appellate courts and the law library is officially renamed the Robert C. Murphy Courts of Appeal Building.

The dedication ceremony will come four months before the Baltimore native reaches the mandatory retirement age and 24 years after he became the youngest jurist ever appointed chief judge of the state's highest court.

His relative youth -- he was 45 -- was a factor.

"I specifically wanted someone who was young and would grow in the job, and provide continuity, and that's exactly what he's done," said former Gov. Marvin Mandel, who appointed Murphy in 1972.

The Maryland courts have grown dramatically under Murphy -- expanding from a $5 million operation with 40 judges in the early 1970s to a $180 million bureaucracy spawned by an increasingly litigious society.

A workaholic with a warm sense of humor and gift for storytelling, Murphy relishes his roles as judge, chief court administrator and lobbyist. He often walks the halls of Annapolis to charm legislators into giving him money for his beloved court system.

"He's very good at working the legislature," said Robert A. Zarnoch, counsel to the General Assembly and one of Murphy's former law clerks.

Timothy Maloney, a former state delegate from Prince George's County who served 16 years and oversaw Murphy's judicial budgets, said Murphy has an integrity and an approachable air that consistently won over legislators.

Murphy's rulings often have spilled into the political arena.

In 1987, he wrote the 6-1 opinion that cleared the way for construction of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, a ruling that thrilled Gov. William Donald Schaefer but upset stadium

opponents who wanted the project put to a statewide vote.

In 1983, he wrote the opinion saying the Constitution did not guarantee increased school funding for the state's poorer subdivisions, striking down a challenge from Baltimore and four other jurisdictions as to the fairness of the school financing formula.

To see his influence, one need only walk into any courthouse law library, where the decisions published by the Court of Special Appeals are bound in green volumes because as an Irishman and as that court's first chief judge, Murphy preferred the color.

Murphy acknowledged that work has forced him to sleep on a couch in his Annapolis chambers. He postponed back surgery to swear in Gov. Parris N. Glendening last year and admits he had a difficult time making it through the ceremony.

"I just felt like I had to be there," he said.

Murphy grew up in the Pimlico section of Baltimore, the son of a Boston-born detective for the Baltimore and Ohio railroad and a mother who used a broom to discourage any nonsense from her two boys.

After graduating from Forest Park High School, he enlisted in the Navy in 1944. When he was discharged he went to the University of Maryland on the GI Bill, majoring -- as he puts it -- in pinochle.

He went to the University of Maryland Law School, and then worked as a law clerk in the U.S. Court of Customs and Patent Appeals in Washington.

He hated Washington, but it was there he met his wife, Helen, who was working as a secretary. They have been married since 1954 and have three children.

Murphy was general counsel for the University of Maryland. He worked in the Maryland attorney general's office and was attorney general for three months before he was named to the Court of Special Appeals in 1967.

Murphy isn't keen on the idea of retiring and has mixed feelings about having a building named after him.

"It's an honor, but I'm not sure I deserve it," Murphy said. "I can't help but think somehow it should be named for all the people who've worked here over the years."

Pub Date: 6/03/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.