Appeals Chief Judge Murphy enters race for Supreme Court


Court of Appeals Chief Judge and Michigan Supreme Court candidate William Murphy 



By Cynthia Price
Legal News


“I’m getting into this somewhat later than the other candidates.” comments William B. Murphy, Chief Judge of the Michigan Court of Appeals (COA), about his candidacy for the Michigan Supreme Court (MSC). 

That is because he was asked to run not too long before the nominations were made. “I was recruited, that’s a fair way to say it. A number of individuals came to me, and presented it as, ‘Mike Cavanagh is leaving the Supreme Court, and your strong appellate experience would benefit the court.’ I was persuaded by their reasoning,” he says, smiling.

That resulted in Murphy’s nomination by the Democratic Party at its August convention, though no indication of party affiliation will appear on the ballot voters see.

“I don’t think any judge serving is comfortable with the partisan aspect of this,” Murphy comments. “All the judges run on a non-partisan basis, but the process requires you to go through one of the party nomination processes to be a candidate. I’ve spent 26 years functioning as a non-partisan judge and I’ll continue to function as a non-partisan judge.”

A COA judge since 1988 who has run successfully for reelection five times, Murphy has a wealth of experience both as an appellate judge and on the campaign trail.

Moreover, the very court on which he seeks a seat has three times appointed him Chief Judge. He notes that MSC justices have administrative responsibilities as well, so that is an additional qualification he brings to the race.

In his Chief Judge capacity, Murphy has twice brought in experts from the National Center for State Courts (NSNC) to assess the efficiency of the COA and recommend improvements. A resulting 2013 report stated, “The Michigan Court of Appeals is as fine an example as we have found of business process discipline in the judicial branch, where court leaders have applied modern and innovative tools and techniques to operations management.” The 2011 report noted, “...the Michigan Court of Appeals stands out as a well-managed and smoothly functioning appellate court, especially in a period of shrinking budgetary resources.”

While Chief Judge Murphy consistently gives credit for those successes to the dedicated COA staff, he emphasizes his expertise in running a tight ship in terms of money.

And he in turn relates that to his campaign. Mindful that starting later may mean bringing in less funding, Murphy says, “I’m going to have to campaign smarter with less money, but you know I’ve been used to administering a court with greater efficiency with less resources so I’m hoping I can translate that into an effective campaign.”

On the ballot, his name will appear as Bill Murphy. Naturally, there will be no indication of his current COA position, while in the specific non-partisan section containing his name, Brian Zahra will be marked as “Incumbent.”

The three others running in that specific race, where voters may choose two of the five, will be attorney Doug Dern, about whom little is known (his Facebook page says, “Bring honesty back to the bench”); James Robert Redford, another West Michigan judge whose bid for the Republican nomination, since successful, was profiled in the Grand Rapids Legal News July 25, 2014); and Richard Bernstein, the attorney from Farmington Hills who is well known from the advertising done by his family firm and his work in the disabilities field — as one law student commented, “Anyone who’s seen a Detroit Tigers game knows who Richard Bernstein is.”

In a separate race, Incumbent David Viviano will run against Kerry L. Morgan, nominated by the Libertarian Party, and Deborah A. Thomas, another Democratic-Party nominee who is a long-time circuit court judge in Wayne County.

Chief Judge Murphy knows that getting the word out about his qualifications will be a challenging task. He has hired a campaign manager; James Brady of Dykema and Gary McInerney of McInerney and Associates Consultants have agreed to be on his campaign committee.

“I don’t plan to do anything in a negative way,” he says. “I think negative attack ads are unfortunate and they undermine the public’s confidence in the judicial system.” His plan is to get in person before groups of people throughout the state, use social media, and consider very carefully how to expend the money he brings in.

It is also possible that endorsements by organizations with broad membership numbers may help. Judge Murphy won the support of the Michigan Association for Justice (MAJ) almost immediately upon his nomination.

In a prepared statement, MAJ President Scott A. Goodwin said, ““I can’t imagine a better candidate for the Supreme Court than Judge Murphy. His experience, knowledge and passion for the law is second to none. He will bring a well-reasoned and thoughtful perspective to the Court.”

Murphy stresses, however, that he has often made decisions which might be considered to go against the grain of what the MAJ wants, making the endorsement all the more flattering.

When Judge Murphy was in private  practice, he presided over the MAJ (then called the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association). At that time, he was with the firm Murphy, Burns and McInerney, P.C., having practiced briefly with Rhoades McKee after serving as a law clerk in the COA.

His career kicked off when he graduated cum laude from Wayne State University Law School in 1970, after attending Aquinas College and then Michigan State University for his B.A.

Among the dozens of professional positions he has held, Murphy has been a lecturer for the Michigan Judicial Institute and others; a member of the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission for many years, including serving as chair 2000-2003; and on the Grand Rapids Bar Legislative Roundtable since 1995. He was on the State Bar of Michigan  Board of Commissioners, and in the 1980s on its Representative Assembly.

He has served the community on the boards of Project Rehab, Second Harvest Gleaners Food Bank, Aquinas College’s Community Leadership Institute, Grand Rapids Urban League and Catholic Social Services.

At 69, Murphy will be unable to run for more than one term on the MSC. He faced the same constraint with running for the Court of Appeals, but at least a few people have commented that it was difficult to think of such a vital individual retiring.

Murphy agrees. “I’m not the retiring type. I have a lot of energy and I’m in excellent health. I think with age comes wisdom, and that seems like a trait you would want to have in a Supreme Court Justice,” he says.

He also feels that the one-term length of service will be beneficial to the public. “I think that that’s frankly a real plus. I can devote my full energies to the court and won’t have to spend half my time seeking re-election and fund-raising. I also won’t have to be concerned about my decisions adversely impacting groups that might give me money. Anybody who’s followed my career and my decision-making knows that I call‘’em as I see‘’em,” he adds.

As reported in the Jan. 10 issue of  Grand Rapids Legal News, Chief Judge Murphy was in succession to chair the Council of Chief Judges of the State Courts of Appeal. If he wins his bid to become a justice, he will have to drop out of that succession, but he has consulted with other executive committee members. “My fellow colleagues on that council have been very supportive of this effort,” he reports.

Another key person to consult before moving forward was his wife of 47 years, Paula. “You don’t undertake an effort like this without the support of your spouse,” Chief Judge Murphy notes. “I’m just so fortunate to have a great and supportive wife.”




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