BANGOR, Maine — Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy has been recommended to replace retiring U.S. District Court Judge D. Brock Hornby.
Murphy’s name has been sent to the White House by Maine’s Democratic representatives in Congress, according to Ed Gilman, spokesman for Rep. Mike Michaud. Rep. Chellie Pingree joined Michaud in making the recommendation.
Murphy, 54, of Rome has been a judge for 2½ years, often presiding in Bangor. She was a successful defense attorney in Waterville when Gov. John Baldacci nominated her in August 2007 to replace Superior Court Justice Ellen Gorman. Gorman was nominated to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to replace retiring Justice Susan Calkins, 67, of Portland.
Hornby, 65, of Cape Elizabeth announced last year that he would retire on April 30, 2010. He has said that he would go to active status and continue to handle a full caseload.
Murphy declined Monday to comment on the fact that her name has been sent to the White House.
In March, Michaud and Pingree announced that a panel made up of 10 attorneys from around the state would screen applicants and make a recommendation to be sent to President Barack Obama. There is no timetable the president must follow in making a nomination but the process, which includes being vetted by the White House and an FBI background check, takes between six and 18 months.
U.S. District Judge John Woodcock is the newest federal trial judge in Maine. He was nominated in March 2005 by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate the next June.
Murphy is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Maine School of Law. She worked as a public defender in Montana and as an assistant attorney general in Augusta before going into private practice in Waterville. Murphy represented many high-profile defendants.
In October 1996, she defended Mark Bechard, who was found not criminally responsible for murdering two nuns, stabbing a third and bludgeoning a fourth with a religious statue the previous January at the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament Convent and Chapel in Waterville.
Nine years ago, Murphy and now Maine Attorney General Janet Mills successfully used a battered wife defense in the case of a Hartland woman accused of murdering and dismembering her husband. Vella Gogan, then 57, of Hartland was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter in the Oct. 1, 1999, slaying of her 62-year-old spouse, Eugene Gogan.
One of the last cases Murphy worked on before becoming a judge was the unsuccessful appeal of convicted killer Dennis Dechaine. Murphy sought a new trial for her client. Dechaine is serving a life sentence at Maine State Prison in Warren for the 1988 torture-murder of 12-year-old baby sitter Sarah Cherry of Bowdoin.
A search Monday of U.S. District Court cases showed that Murphy has not handled a case in federal court in Maine.
She is assigned to preside over two pending murder cases in Penobscot County — Edgard B. Anziani, 27, of Lawrence, Mass., accused of killing his former girlfriend’s toddler, and Zachery Carr, 18, of Bangor, who allegedly shot and killed 19-year-old John “Bobby” Surles, described by Bangor police as a transient.
When, and if, Murphy’s nomination to the federal bench is announced, the cases most likely would be reassigned to a different judge.
Murphy is not the only Maine judge who soon may be a federal employee. Her fellow justice, Thomas E. Delahanty II, 64, of Lewiston, was nominated last month to replace Paula Silsby as U.S. attorney for Maine. If both are confirmed by the U.S. Senate, there would three vacancies on the Superior Court bench.
Gov. John Baldacci has not yet named a replacement for Maine Supreme Court Justice Joseph Jabar, 63, of Waterville. In September, Jabar replaced Justice Robert W. Clifford, 71, of Lewiston on the state Supreme Judicial Court.