Memories of Judge John E. Orton III, 0220 RIBJ, RIBJ, 68 RI Bar J., No. 4, Pg. 33

AuthorJohn Austin Murphy, Esq. Morneau & Murphy Jamestown
PositionVol. 68 4 Pg. 33

Memories of Judge John E. Orton III

Vol. 68 No. 4 Pg. 33

Rhode Island Bar Journal

February, 2020

January, 2020

John Austin Murphy, Esq. Morneau & Murphy Jamestown

Viewing Judge Orton's obituary in the Providence Journal brought back memories of my contacts with that kind and compassionate man.

As a prosecutor in the office of the Rhode Island Attorney General, I appeared before him on a number of occasions. Defense counsel and their clients seemed to welcome their cases being heard before Judge Orton. But in truth, all parties knew that they would get fair treatment from him.

Judge Orton seemed not to consider himself anything other than a lawyer who was lucky to get a lifetime judicial appointment. There wasn't an ounce of arrogance or sense of entitlement in him. He seemed to have genuine affection for the attorneys who appeared before him, and never sought to embarrass them or treat them harshly.

I know this from personal experience.

Once, when I was fairly new to the prosecution team, I handled a sentencing before Judge Orton. I had personally interviewed the elderly victims of a home invasion and robbery, a crime to which the defendant was pleading guilty without any plea bargain. I knew well the victims' side of the case. But I didn't know the mitigating factors that defense counsel was going to bring forward. These included the defendant's military service as a Marine in Vietnam, with drug abuse issues arising upon the completion of that service.

I didn't take into account the Judge's sensitivity to those mitigating factors. At the sentencing hearing, I acted in a brash manner, letting my inexperience get the better of me. When it became clear that the Judge was going to impose a rehabilitative sentence as opposed to the lengthy jail term I was recommending, I kept on arguing for jail. And kept on, repeatedly, forcing the Judge to finally have to say to me, more than once, "I don't want to hear it."

Ultimately, I got the message. But for years afterward, a veteran daily watcher of court proceedings would say to me any time he saw me in the courthouse corridors, "I don't want to hear it!"

Despite that incident, which, with some judges, might have poisoned a relationship, Judge Orton went out of his way to be friendly to me. Once...

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