Monday, February 22, 2010

Trading Eagles for Silver Bars (The Murphy File, Retirement Edition)

A former senior Air Force legal officer will be retired in April as a First Lieutenant, an administrative review board has determined.

The Air Force announced today that Colonel Michael Murphy will enter retirement in the second-lowest officer grade, almost a year after a courts-martial board convicted him of crimes related to his service as a JAG without a law license. Murphy served as an Air Force legal officer for 23 years until it was discovered that he had been disbarred by two states, about the time he entered the JAG Corps.

Murphy, a former civilian lawyer in Texas, was disbarred by that state in 1983 for failing to file a client's appeal in a timely manner. Facing sanctions in Texas, Murphy applied for admittance to the Louisiana bar, which also disbarred him after learning of his problems in Texas. By that time, Murphy had already entered the Air Force and was serving as a member of the Judge Advocate General Corps.

For more than two decades, Murphy never told his superiors about his disbarment in Texas and Louisiana. And, oddly enough, the Air Force never found out, despite the fact that the disciplinary actions were posted in on-line databases maintained by the bar associations in both states.

A retired senior Air Force JAG, with detailed knowledge of the Murphy case, tells In From the Cold that news of the Colonel's past problems literally "came in over the transom." An unknown tipster apparently found Murphy's disbarment listing in the Texas Bar Association database, and sent a copy to the Air Force.

That revelation touched off an investigation's of the Colonel's past and ended his meteoric career. At the time the service learned of Murphy's past ethical troubles, he was Commander of the Air Force Legal Operations Agency in Washington, D.C. and (reportedly) being screen for flag rank.

Instead, Colonel Murphy was reassigned to a desk job while awaiting court-martial on multiple charges and counts that, with conviction, could have resulted in a 41-year prison sentence for the former JAG. At the time, Murphy's conviction was a foregone conclusion. Various legal analysts suggested the real issue was how much prison time the Colonel might receive.

Unfortunately for him, Murphy's scandal came on the heels of another controversy involving another senior Air Force legal officer, Major General Thomas Fiscus. General Fiscus was forced to retire in December 2007, after engaging in a number of inappropriate relationships with female subordinates. The reduction in grade cost Fiscus an estimated $900,000 in retirement pay though he still collections an annual pension of $8264 a month.

But Murphy's conviction was anything but a slam dunk. His attorneys argued they could not present the "good airman defense" because the White House (where Murphy worked as chief counsel in the Military Office from 2001-2005) would not release classified details of his service. Without those details, the lawyers said, Colonel Murphy could not receive an adequate legal defense.

And the Army trial judge assigned to hear the case, Colonel Stephen Henley agreed. Without Murphy's service record from the White House, the judge ruled, defense lawyers could not demonstrate the defendant's good conduct and performance during the sentencing phase, depriving the former JAG of a "substantial right." Henley also determined that Murphy could not be punished--even if he was found guilty at court-martial. The Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals upheld Judge Henley's ruling in December 2008, four months before Murphy's case went to trial.

With Colonel Henley's decision, Murphy's subsequent conviction became almost meaningless. The former JAG walked out of the courtroom a free man, and returned to a staff job at Andrews AFB, where he was assigned after losing his command billet.

However, the Air Force wasn't quite finished with Colonel Murphy. In such cases, an administrative board must determine if the individual will be allowed to retire and at what rank. While the deliberations of administrative panels remain confidential, the service said almost nothing about the Murphy case until today's decision was announced. Media queries for an update on Murphy and the administrative process were routinely ignored, or buried in the service's public affairs bureaucracy.

The Colonel's exact whereabouts also remained a mystery, until this blog tracked him to Andrews AFB, Maryland, where he works in the A3/A5 (Operations and Plans) Directorate for the Air Force National Capital Region command. To date, Colonel Murphy has not responded to various e-mail inquiries about his activities, and other members of the directorate refer reporters to public affairs officials.

Still, Murphy's most recent assignment raise more questions about his treatment, in comparison to those of other military defendants. A billet in an A3/A5 organization typically requires a security clearance; however, as a convicted federal felon, Murphy should not be eligible for access to classified information. Not surprisingly, the USAF has been extremely tight-lipped about Colonel Murphy's job duties, and whether they involve sensitive material.

With his retirement rank, Murphy will receive an estimated monthly pension of $2730, plus medical coverage for life and other benefits, including BX and commissary privileges. That's about $5500 a month less that his retirement check as a Colonel, but it's still something of a victory for Murphy.

You see, the legal fraud managed to beat the system, both as a disbarred JAG officer and a high-profile military defendant. When he goes on the retired list, Michael Murphy will trade his Colonel's eagles for the silver bars of a First Lieutenant, but he still received far better than he deserved. Now, the taxpayers of America will be supporting this con man and felon for the rest of his life.

Air Force leaders had one final chance to give Murphy his just desserts with an administrative discharge (and no pension or benefits), but they blinked. Never mind that the former JAG served legally--and honorably--for only about 12 months of his 27-year career. Murphy was well-regarded in senior circles before his fall from grace, and still has friends in high places. Additionally, no one wanted to broach the subject of what Murphy did during his White House years, including a shadowy assignment to Baghdad during the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Between his secrets and his White House connections, Michael Murphy had enough horsepower to beat the rap. And with the final disposition of his case (and career) the Air Force has suffered another needless black eye.


Claude said...
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Consul-At-Arms said...

It seems to me that the Air Force reduced Col. Murphy to the highest rank at which he served honorably, the rank just below that at which most military lawyers begin.

Poetic, in a JAG-ish sort of way.

kitanis said...

So.. the final conclusion of this farce.

It is sad.. that Murphy who lied to get to his position and continued all those years.. only to be retired as 1st Lieutenant..

Meanwhile some good people that I have known, both officer and enlisted including myself.. entered the USAF Honestly, worked our butts off... Honorably.

Somehow.. It dose not seem right..

JoeC said...

Isn't that an oxymoron? Military justice?