Presiding 3rd District Judge Michael Murphy was hearing closing arguments in what will likely be his last jury trial Friday when his clerk handed him a note: The U.S. Senate had just confirmed him as a federal appeals judge.
Murphy, 48, struggled to keep an impassive face. Breaking into a grin and shouting "Fantastic!" might be seen by the jury as a commentary on closing arguments, he joked later.But after jurors returned a quick verdict, the elation broke through. "This may be my last jury trial. I'm going on to a different job," he told the jury.
"Pop out the cork!" he told his wife a few minutes later over the phone. Congratulatory calls began lighting up his clerk's phone.
Murphy is one of city's best-known district court judges. He recently spearheaded the drive for the state's largest government building, the Scott Milne Matheson Courts Complex being built across the street from the City/County Building.
He has chaired committees proposing judicial changes from the creation of an alternative dispute resolution program to a sharp increase in child support.
But with Friday's confirmation, Murphy will take his bow and depart Utah's judicial stage. As a judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, he will maintain offices in Salt Lake City and fly to Denver every other month to hear arguments as one of a panel of three judges.
The public will hear little from Murphy, as it hears little from his Utah colleague Judge Stephen Anderson and the other judges from Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico and Wyoming.
"They disappear on the appeals court," said defense attorney Walter Bugden. "It's a waste. A trial judge affects people's lives. But now he's moving out, away from the public."
Murphy said he would miss the immediacy of justice in a trial court. "There are a lot of things I'll miss. But missing them is not a sufficient deterrent for me to say `no' to this."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he was pleased that the Senate acted so quickly on Murphy's nomination.
The Wyoming native sped through the process - being nominated by President Clinton two weeks ago - and breezed through a confirmation hearing last week.
"Michael Murphy is an outstanding judge who will serve Utah and the federal Court of Appeals well. He is an individual of the highest caliber - intellectually, professionally and personally," Hatch said.
Murphy knows little about the job he's taking on, he said. He clerked for former 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge David Lewis for a year after his 1972 graduation from the University of Wyoming law school.
But it's been 19 years since Murphy even stepped into the court's Denver courtroom. It was 1976; he was 28 years old, a green lawyer there to defend his first court victory.
Not even in his most free-wheeling mental flights, he said, did he dream that the next time he stepped into that courtroom it would be as a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals judge.
Murphy will leave the bench the first week of October, turning his remaining cases over to 3rd District Judge William Thorne.
He will be sworn in as a federal judge in a private ceremony that week, beginning work immediately on his cases. He will be sworn in during a formal ceremony later that month and sit on the panels of three judges that will hear arguments in November.
He was appointed to the 3rd District Court bench in 1986. He was a partner at Jones, Waldo, Holbrook & McDonough from 1973 to 1986.