50 for 50
Billy Murphy’s legal career hits the half-century mark
Published in 2021 Maryland Super Lawyers magazine
on December 14, 2020
Updated on December 17, 2020
This year, Baltimore legal legend Billy Murphy Jr. of Murphy Falcon & Murphy hit his 50th year in law.
“I’ll be celebrating this milestone by remembering what the great Satchel Paige said: ‘How old would you really be if you didn’t know how old you were?’” Murphy says.
We asked Murphy for the 50 people, places, cases, movements and moments that defined his career (so far, anyway):
- MIT. I graduated in 1965.
- Driving cabs and playing jazz drums to get me through law school.
- Coach Bob Wade, the University of Maryland’s first Black basketball coach.
- The Black Panther Party—my first client, 1970.
- My 1983 run for Baltimore City mayor against 12-year incumbent William Donald Schaefer.
- A successful insanity defense on behalf of Charles Hopkins, who was found not guilty after a 1976 City Hall shooting spree.
- My friends Maynard Jackson and Marion Barry, the greatest mayors the Black community ever had.
- Representing D.C’s Rayful Edmond, the biggest street dealer in the history of the country.
- Fighting for Black and women judges.
- Representing legendary Baltimore City gangster Little Melvin.
- Jazz, that genius Black music.
- Representing “Little Willie” Adams, Baltimore’s most influential Black political and business leader.
- Doing my part to dismantle structural racism, which impacts health care, banks, insurance companies, police departments, prisons, the judiciary, federal agencies and education.
- Celebrity clients, like Sean “Puffy” Combs, Russell Simmons, Muhammad Ali, Rev. Al Sharpton, DMX, Common, Missy Elliott, Mary J. Blige, and T.I.
- Finessing a criminal and civil practice. After practicing criminal law for a decade, when I presided as a circuit court judge, I saw that I could do civil work, too.
- Mentoring. One of the legacies of slavery is low aim and a lack of Black self-confidence, so I have tried to instill in Black lawyers the belief that we can be as great as we want to be.
- The art of cross-examination.
- Going vegetarian in 1981.
- Dressing well. Clothing has a tremendous impact on your effectiveness in court.
- Being a power-broker. I love working behind the scenes with powerful people to accomplish things of vital importance.
- Marijuana legalization. I have worked hard since the ‘70s to get cannabis legalized. (I am licensed to grow and process cannabis in Arkansas.)
- Receiving the Clarence Darrow Award alongside Mark Lanier, one of the greatest trial lawyers in this country’s history.
- Cherry Hill. I am proud to have grown up in the largest Black public housing development in Baltimore.
- Attending Baltimore Polytechnic High School.
- Freddie Gray. His death changed Baltimore forever. I’m happy to have obtained a $6.4 million settlement for his family.
- My parents, William and Madeline Murphy, to whom I owe everything about me that is good.
- University of Maryland School of Law. I was the only Black student in the day school my freshman year because of institutional racism.
- My son, Hassan Murphy. He is an incredibly gifted lawyer and wonderful human being who has run the firm to incredible heights.
- Barack Obama.
- Taking police brutality cases. Of the many thousands of Black people that I have known, almost every one of them has either been a witness to or a victim of it.
- Looking to accomplish police reform. The time is now.
- Fighting for body cameras, which are essential to justice.
- Jury selection. I was one of the first Black lawyers in the state to elect jury trials on a regular basis because before 1968, Blacks were subjected to all-white, all-elderly male “blue ribbon” juries.
- The Wire. An incredible series by the great David Simon that accurately depicted Black people, no matter their station, as deep, practical thinkers.
- My First Amendment Black Panther Party case, in which I helped dissolve an illegal injunction preventing the distribution of the Black Panther newspaper.
- Don King. I had the pleasure of obtaining an acquittal for him after he was charged with defrauding Lloyd’s of London.
- Pier 5 carbon monoxide case. We obtained $34 million for a group of restaurant workers who were brain-damaged by a carbon monoxide release.
- The William H. Murphy Sr. and Madeline Murphy Foundation, which Hassan and I started to give merit scholarships to Black and minority students.
- The Black American Law Students Association. Davis Allen and I founded the first chapter in the nation as students.
- Being minority-owned. We are the 11th-largest such business in Baltimore. We are proud of that, but it’s an indictment of white male supremacy that a Black business as small as ours is number 11. Pathetic.
- Jordan McNair. We were proud to represent his family after he died of heat stroke as a result of negligence.
- Ta-Nehisi Coates. When I called him to tell him what an influence he was, he told me his father was Paul Coates, the Black Panther Party’s consigliere whom I represented in 1970.
- Paul’s Place, an excellent facility in Pig Town that provides food, clothing, shelter and essential services.
- Data breach cases. We have sued Google, Equifax and we are currently suing Facebook for invasive data-collection practices.
- My casework.
- The NAACP. In rural areas, this is literally the only organization of its kind available to Black people.
- Trial prep.
- Having—and being—a role model.
- Memorable trial zingers, like: “My client is a child of God and everyone else is a son of a bitch!”
- In the end, it all comes back to Baltimore. There is absolutely no place like it—my home, my heart.