Professionalism: The Responsibility of Both Bench and Bar
By Mitchell Ramsey
The Honorable Gordon Murray had one response regarding case management, “Never put process over substance.”
This response helps encapsulate the meaningful and deep conversation that Your Honor host Paul Lipton had with the Administrative Judge for County Civil Court for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida in Miami on the latest edition of the series. From the topic of mentorship to addressing professionalism, Judge Murray and Lipton tackled each with great sincerity.
Judge Murray credits a great deal of his success to mentorship. Recalling his mentors, he spoke about how imperative his first mentor was, his high school social studies and history teacher, Mr. Morris. Judge Murray told of how Mr. Morris had brought a group of students from his class to Tallahassee for one of the governor’s inaugurations, where he met Judge Joseph Hatchett. Learning about Judge Hatchett’s history inspired him to want to become an attorney and a judge. He credits Mr. Morris with helping him apply for college, as well as helping him apply for the Golden Drum award, a competition involving local Miami-Dade County schools. In summary of his character, Judge Murray said he had over 800 hours volunteering at his old elementary school. The staff there awarded him with a “Future Teacher Award.” The chances of being a mentee continued for Judge Murray into his college years as he told Lipton how Dr. Johnson, his freshman history professor, helped him become a better student and how Professor Robert Waters helped mentor him through not only the law school application process but well into law school. Murray then described the most influential mentor of his professional career, attorney Robert McKinney. McKinney hired Murray to be an intern at his office while Murray was in law school and showed the now-judge how to be professional by having him meet every single employee of the office. Murray described McKinney as “a giant whose shoulders I stood on.”
After learning more about Judge Murray’s history as a mentee, Lipton asked the judge what joy he had gotten from being able to pay it forward and, in turn, being a mentor to others. Judge Murray described it as “getting great joy” out of seeing past mentees’ successes and as “such a blessing to have people come up and thank you for helping them.”
In speaking on his career as a judge, Lipton asked Murray to elaborate more on the position, citing how he oversees 22 judges in seven different branch courts. Murray was concrete in his ideology that he always wants those before him to ensure that no matter which court a case goes into, his judges will quickly hear cases, be prompt in giving out orders, and ensures explicitly that each judge will be consistent. When Lipton asked Judge Murray what he expects out of himself and the judges that he oversees, Murray responded, “I expect them and myself to strive to rule promptly and timely and be consistent with their judgments so that those who come before a judge leave with their experience exceeding their expectations.”
Regarding Lipton’s questions on the “sweet spot” between zealous behavior and unprofessional conduct, Murray responded with, “Facts are like a ship, it can lean one way or the other, but it is still the same. When you’re advocating for your side and try to be as persuasive as you can, you can do it without crossing those ethical lines.” Murray stated that he, as he instructs his judges to do as well, addresses misconduct in court immediately, but always has the following rule: You can argue to the court. Still, you cannot argue with the court.
Judge Murray’s most significant challenge as a judge was, “Always striving so that those who come before me [in court] feel that they had a fair opportunity to make their point and that their experience is always better than their expectations. Their opinion of the justice system will be made that day.” Lipton then transitioned into asking how Judge Murray handles case management. Murray stated that his courts had over 196,000 pending cases when he started last year but are now down to only 154,000, citing, “Never put process over substance.”
Lipton’s next question explored what gives the judge faith in the justice system. Murray responded by looking to his past mentors and heroes and how they always believed that the “moral arc” will always, and is constantly, curving towards justice. He always works hard at that and teaches others to have the same philosophy. Murray continued to share his strong philosophies when questioned by Lipton as to what his biggest fear facing the justice system today is. Murray expressed that he feared the “finances over facts” mentality of those who believe they will not be able to finance their case, “making them feel as if the system is letting them down.”
“For over 200 years, we have lived by the Constitution and its laws, and not one of us has the right to violate the rules we all share.” Judge Murray hopes that further educating those on what judges do will help more people become more confident in the justice system.
Your Honor is available for free CLE credit on the Henry Latimer Center for Professionalism’s website.