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Murphy's Lawyer Responds

In a press conference late this afternoon, Judge Ernest Murphy's lawyer called the Boston Herald's decision to release letters from Murphy asking Herald publisher Pat Purcell to pay him more than $3 million dollars in the wake of a $2.1 million libel verdict, "a publicity stunt in an apparent attempt to continue the paper's campaign of libel against Judge Murphy." (Murphy attended the conference, but sat impassively and declined to take questions.)

The intemperate and bullying-sounding letters from Murphy (See previous Media Log post "The Judge and the Tabloid") quickly became part of an ongoing Herald campaign to cast aspersions on his temperament and judgment and to argue for a reversal of the Feb. 2005 libel verdict against the paper.

Speaking this afternoon, Murphy's attorney Howard Cooper said those letters -- sent shortly after the verdict -- were part of ongoing private and confidential settlement discussions agreed to between Purcell and Murphy. He accused the Herald of violating the understanding that the two sides would have such talks and noted that the paper, which had been in possession of the letters for almost a year, had never mentioned anything about them until now.

Cooper also produced two emails. One dated Sept. 29, 2003 from Cooper to Herald attorney Robert Dushman indicated that Murphy was prepared to meet Purcell as part of agreed-upon "confidential settlement discussions." The other, from Dushman to Cooper was dated Dec. 20, 2005 (only hours before the Herald went public with Murphy's letters) saying that "we have no objection to meeting, but only if it's likely to lead somewhere."

In discussing Murphy's request that Purcell pay him $3.26 million, Cooper said the statutory interest was accruing at 12 percent a year starting from when the suit was filed and that the Herald currently owed Murphy almost $2.95 million with an additional $322,000 in interest piling up annually. He claimed the judge's dollar figure "could be seen to represent a hypothetical discount from the Herald's worst case scenario," in which the paper could end up owing more.

In an effort to explain the tone of the letters, Cooper described the language as "direct...familiar...honest. They weren't playing games with each other." Asked if he would have sanctioned that language had he known about the letter, Cooper said "it might not be the dialogue I would have with any lawyer."

The Herald could not be reached for comment. Presumably, the paper's management will respond in tomorrow's edition of the paper.
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