Murphy steps down from bench today

Michael Murphy

The long tenure of a local judge comes to an official end today as Michael Murphy hangs up his robes and goes on to a job he'd much prefer as the winter of his life approaches. He wants to be a full-time grandpa.

After a life in service of the law, first as an attorney arguing on one side of the bench, then the past two decades of his life as a judge making decisions on the merits of the arguments of past colleagues and opponents alike, one could argue it is a long overdue reward for his service.

Murphy, who announced his retirement earlier in the month, said he's hoping to take the "goblins and ghouls with me" once he clears out of his office in Haralson County, surrounded by the trappings of the past and present on the walls and desk.

He said over his long career, it all circled back to how he became a judge. When he was considered to take over the seat left open by a retirement in the late 1990s, Murphy never once considered that he'd ever be a judge.

"The first thing I did was to call two lawyers who had more seniority than I did," Murphy said. "I had been practicing for 25 years, and you don't see that much in the young judges who are becoming judges today... the first thing I did was I picked up the phone and called Freddy Wicker and Richard Sutton, because they'd been practicing law five years longer than me."

He asked if either wanted to put in to be judge since they had more time and experience, and wouldn't consider himself.

"That's the way I felt then, and that's the way I feel right now," he said. "Neither one of them wanted to do it."

Murphy recalled how he interviewed for the job in front of the Judicial Nominating Committee, packed with people from all around the state and being peppered with question. He recalled than when he was asked why he wanted to be a judge, he said "I anticipated that question."

"If I had my druthers, I'd rather be king," Murphy recalled as his reply. "Their mouths all started to hang open, and I let that sink in for a second and when I had everybody. I said then 'Now that I have all y'all's attention, let me tell you something. I was riding over here and I was listening to public radio – that ought to tell you something about me – and I heard a statistic that half of the world lives in abject poverty. And all I can tell you ladies and gentleman is if I was king I'd have the wherewithal to do something about that. I want everyone of you to know that I would... but I know that I'm not here seeking the position of king. I'm here to seek the job of Superior Court Judge. And I know within the circuit, with the superior court judge lives, he has the ability to impact lives more than any other person in that circuit.'"

It's a message he imparted and said he took to heart over hundreds of cases heard in his past two decades on the bench. He said he always tried his best to make the law a even playing field as well.

He ended up as former Governor Zell Miller's final appointment to the bench before his term was up.

After serving 20 years on the bench and 25 years before that as an attorney, Murphy said he has no real desire to continue on in the courtroom anytime soon. Instead he wants to spend more time with his grandchildren and potentially getting back into another love that he undertook as well in his life: coaching.

It comes from a lifelong love of sports that began in his hometown of Bremen. Murphy comes from a lineage of state leaders, most notably his father the longtime State House Speaker Tom Murphy, who was replaced by now State Sen. Bill Heath.

Murphy grew up around state politics and learning from inside the halls of power in Atlanta. He followed in his father's footsteps into the practice in law.

He was first a student at the University of West Georgia as a baseball player, where Murphy played as an all-conference catcher during his time in Carrollton. He then moved onward to University of Georgia, where he played for the Bulldogs football program with many of the lawmakers who would go on to lead the state like Sonny Perdue, and also earned a law degree.

"The Lord has blessed me in many ways," Murphy said. "And I firmly believe that a responsible person's duty who has had a good life and help along the way is to pay it forward."

He said one of his intentions is to try and get involved in a mock trial program with youth in south Georgia closer to his grandchildren, much in the same way he did in Haralson County in past years.

He's glad to give up the bench for another reason: privacy.

"If I want to go to Walmart for instance, I go at 3 o'clock in the morning to keep from running into people," Murphy said. "It's just hard to do... so I've become a little bit of a recluse at times."

As his career in law comes to a close, Murphy said it was his intention to leave without staying too long on the bench, and giving someone else a chance to serve.

That's why he chose to quit now, with faculties and cases intact for the next person to come along and take up the job as he did, by appointment.

Murphy said it'll be up to Governor Nathan Deal to name a person and send them before the same committee he answered questions of before, and then for voters on whether or not they'll want to keep the appointee, or replace them with someone else.

No matter what, Murphy said he's glad to have been able to serve the Tallapoosa Circuit for as long as he did.