SAN FRANCISCO – The vacancy on a San Francisco County Superior Court bench, prompted by the retirement of Judge Lillian Sing nearly a year and a half ago, was filled by Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. on Dec. 24, 2016.
The appointment of San Francisco native Stephen M. Murphy, who possesses more than 30 years in the legal profession, is a departure from the 18 years he has served as a sole practitioner of employment law. Previously he worked as a partner at Bianco and Murphy (1992 to 1999), Bianco, Brandi and Murphy (1992), and Bianco, Brandi and Jones (1988 to 1991) after starting out there as an associate.
The Northern California Record asked Murphy if he was surprised by the appointment. He stated that while he had been looking for something like this for years, he was still left pleasantly startled by the news.
When questioned as to why it took so long for the vacancy to be filled, Murphy declined to guess, but said to “ask the governor that.” The future judge also told the Northern California Record that there were still “two to three vacancies left to fill.”
Officially, Superior Court justices in California, as well as 17 other states, are selected by a nonpartisan election process amongst sitting justices that awards the top candidate the nomination. Unofficially, many nominations, like Murphy’s, are done through gubernatorial appointments. A mid-term vacancy would also require gubernatorial action.
Murphy told the Northern California Record that he expects to be sworn into office sometime in February. In the meantime, he has been attending to turning over his firm to P. Bobby Shukla, a noted female attorney within the practice.
As to what he offers the Superior Court, Murphy said, “I have a lot of trial experience and I hope to bring that to a jury trial.”
California does not allow a new judge to sit in on a jury trial until a bit later in their tenure, similar to a probationary period.
The step up for Murphy has not curbed his ambition. During the interview, Murphy said, “I want to get a taste of trial court, but I haven’t thought beyond that.”
A bit later he did concede that he would not turn down a spot on the appeals court.
“I’m very excited to be joining the San Francisco Superior Court,” Murphy stated, “It is a prestigious court.”
California is unique in that Superior Courts have jurisdiction over a wide array of cases involving limited civil actions, misdemeanors, and other infractions that would normally be heard by inferior courts. This has made the case load for County Superior Courts rather burdensome and is aggravated by the other vacant position(s).
To make matters worse, when the economy went into recession in 2009, California resorted to austerity measures in an effort to cope with a 10 percent budgetary cut for the Courts. All 59 county Superior Courts were reduced to operating on four-day work week.