A veteran Philadelphia judge who has repeatedly refused to wear a mask while on the bench has a respiratory condition that hinders his breathing, a court spokesperson said Thursday.
Family Court spokesperson Martin O’Rourke said Common Pleas Court Judge James Murray Lynn, 72, does wear a mask while walking through the courthouse, but “does not wear a mask during courtroom proceedings due to a respiratory condition for which he has been treated for years.”
A July 1 order from the state Department of Health requires face coverings “in any indoor location where members of the public are generally permitted,” but provides an exception for “individuals who cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition, including those with respiratory issues that impede breathing.” O’Rourke said Lynn’s condition falls under that exemption.
The explanation came one day after The Inquirer reported that lawyers with the Defender Association of Philadelphia and the District Attorney’s Office had complained to Lynn’s judicial supervisor about his refusal to put on a mask during the pandemic.
In one case, a defendant in a domestic violence case agreed to waive her right to a preliminary hearing because witnesses said they were afraid for their health and safety and did not want to come in the courtroom if Lynn would not put on a mask.
Not only did Lynn decline to wear a face covering when lawyers expressed concern in at least four instances from July 29 to Aug. 6, he also ordered those who came before him to remove their masks, according to a sharply worded letter sent Friday to Margaret Murphy, administrative judge for the Family Division, where Lynn sits.
“If Judge Lynn cannot agree to this reasonable request, the Defender Association may have to reassess our ability to staff this courtroom,” wrote Alan J. Tauber, first assistant with the association, in the letter to Murphy.
On Thursday, O’Rourke said Lynn did not order others to take off their masks, but rather, “on very few occasions, Judge Lynn requested that counsel or another party lower their mask while addressing the court when they were inaudible and either the judge or the court reporter could not decipher what was being said.”