Peter Murphy -- law professor, graduate of the University of Cambridge and author -- stood at the podium in the conference room at Touro Law Center in Huntington and delivered a lecture called "Astrology and the Law". That's right. Astrology. As in the movement of astrological bodies around the zodiac and the cycles of Mars, Venus, Mercury and the other planets. Astrology, as in predicting the future. "Is all this stuff kind of out of left field?" Murphy asked his audience at the end of the hour-long lecture. "Yes, of course. That's why I like it. But it's only in the last two hundred years that it would be considered weird."
Challenging the school administrators, teachers, students and others who attended the lecture, the professor said, "We have bought the argument that (modern) science has made... that there is no reality that can't be viewed through mathematics or a microscope... but that is a very one-dimensional view and the issue becomes: How far does it go?" To some, astrology may seem like an offbeat science, if a science at all. But Murphy, a professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, would argue that there is a use for astrology that has nothing to do with the pop culture type of horoscopes in newspapers and magazine.
The astrology that Murphy writes and lectures on, he maintains, has a rational scientific basis grounded in the laws of probability, trend detection and forecasting and has been used by such great thinkers as Aristotle, Socrates, Isaac Newton, Thomas Aquinas and, more recently, Carl Jung. Today's legal minds may pooh-pooh such beliefs, but Murphy says lawyers should be open to astrology because it can potentially yield clues to outcomes of lawsuits, the right timing of legal action and the likely strategies of parties in a unfolding case.
"None of this takes away from the need to try the case," Murphy said. "It's just helpful information." The basic premise behind this science is that certain events on earth tend to take place when the planets are aligned in certain positions relative to the earth and each other. The simplest illustration of this relationship, Murphy says, is the lunar cycle in which a full moon is believed to sometimes bring out strange behavior in people and animals.
But how does this apply to the law? Well, wouldn't it be handy to know , as you're plotting your trial strategy, whether the judge is going to force the parties to settle? And wouldn't it be helpful to know whether the jury on the case is going to be sympathetic to your client? Murphy says these insights can be derived from astrological charts that show the movement of planets at the time of the trial.
Such charts, he contends, can also aid in client counseling, negotiation and settlement, reconstruction of events and prediction of outcomes. Each planet represents a different party in the courtroom based on established rules historically used in applying astrology to the law, Murphy said. He has used astrology in his own legal work but doesn't always tell the client about the astrology, and most of the lawyers who consult him don't reveal its use to their clients. "Lawyers have a certain image they have to keep up, but they're human beings and they realize there's a potential benefit to astrology ," Murphy said.
Deborah Post, who teaches contract law at Touro, a part of the law rooted in rational and concrete thinking, found Murphy's theories intriguing. "I would have to concede that when it comes to trial strategy there is something else involving intuition and talent that is very non-linear, very non-left brain, and very non-rational in the way lawyers do things like assess jurors, " Post said.
Murphy says he doesn't expect astrology to become a standard courtroom tool.
But, he says, there was a time when astrological charting was considered routine. For example, 17th Century astrologer, William Lilly, advised both sides in the English Civil War and was one of the first to develop techniques for predicting the outcome of lawsuits by tracking the past. "It's not an exact science," Murphy said. "But you can detect trends."
The professor is not easily dismissed. His theories are well researched and steeped in history. He obtained a bachelor's degree, law degree and master's from the University of Cambridge in England and has written several articles and books on evidence. Said Post: "He's not a person you would put in the category of a crank."
Touro Dean Howard Glickstein, while acknowledging his own skepticism, still says it's important for students to consider Murphy's ideas. "It's difficult to ever dismiss any theory," he said. "This is of interest, and in some parts of the world, astrology is taken much more seriously than in the U.S."
But Murphy's theories may be of use closer to home. One personal injury lawyer, for whom Murphy did a chart, offered an example. "I didn't think there was any way in the world that this case could settle. But (Murphy) said the settlement potential was very high... It settled the first day and I was really shocked."
The lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous, said he never told his clients about his consultation with the stars. "I can't imagine what my clients would do if they knew I used astrology in the planning of a case. I think they'd go nuts."