The Globe reports that Superior Court Judge Ernest Murphy has asked that the financially ailing Herald’s assets be frozen in order to protect the $2.1 million libel judgment he won against the paper earlier this year.
The Herald does not cover the story — at least not in its online edition — and avoids taking any cheap shots against Murphy in this article about the judge’s decision yesterday to boost former UMass president William Bulger’s pension. Interestingly, the story is co-bylined by Dave Wedge, the principal target of Murphy’s libel suit. (The Globe covers the Bulger story here.)
The Herald’s reporting on Murphy was not exactly a model of good journalism. In fact, it was the opposite, pockmarked as it was with inaccuracies and dubiously sourced accusations. But free-press advocates ought to be concerned that a sitting judge can have some influence over the Herald’s future — and possibly its very survival — because of reporting that amounted to criticism of how he performed his public duties. That, more than anything, is what the First Amendment was designed to protect.