Update. A few weeks after the article below was written, Morgan was accused of using his office computer to post a comment to the Tacoma News-Tribune’s elections section using the name of a court employee. When this employee found out, and accused Morgan of it, Morgan’s response was considerably less than exonerating. Additionally, the records released by the city of door and network accesses, while unorthodox, was fairly damning. FederalWayan stopped actively supporting Morgan thereafter.
Seems like everyone’s out to get Federal Way’s top judge these days.
The Mirror and the News-Tribune have only served to amplify a segment of people who are ravenously outraged that the head of the Municipal Court would swear and yell at some insubordinate court employees. The mere suggestion that court staff can be wrong seems to have flipped the lids of a few people who post comments regularly to every Mirror story about Morgan (some of whom have accused yours truly of being Michael Morgan himself).
Ironically, despite caterwauling over the “tormented” court employees, many of the same anti-Morgan voices were also loudly in favor of outgoing Councilmember Eric Faison’s proposal to relinquish control over city judiciary to King County. This would, of course, have resulted in the court employees going from “tormented” to “unemployed”. Others have also called for the heads of fellow Municipal Court Judge David Larson (yes, that David Larson) and court administrator Rae Iwamoto. One letter-writer went so far as to suggest that the City should close the court only if the voters pick the “wrong” candidate — not exactly a ringing endorsement of the democratic process.
For all its length, the much-touted Stephson Report [PDF], the work product of attorney Amy Stephson who was hired by the City to investigate Judge Morgan in early 2008, deals with two main incidents — Morgan’s attitude towards disgraced former judge Colleen Hartl (whom Larson replaced, via appointment) and his treatment of former court administrator Cindy Roque — and his style of managing the back office, which includes yelling at insubordinate staff, expecting staff to obey him (their manager) and sometimes being too candid.
But the wide majority of the 88,000 citizens of Federal Way over whom the Municipal Court has jurisdiction do not work in the back office of the Court. For 99% of these people, the most personal and harrowing interaction they are likely to have with the functions of the Municipal Court is to sit in the defendant’s seat in the courtroom. This is, without argument, the most important part of a judge’s job — the fair and legal dispensation of justice to those who come into their courtroom. And in this department, Michael Morgan has zero strikes against him.
Even Amy Stephson, the adopted hero of the anti-Morgan crusade, recognizes on page 1 of her report that “Judge Morgan apparently runs his courtroom well.” Likewise, Councilmember Faison prefaced his proposal to dump the Court by praising it’s front-room operation. “We have had a court that has been very good on the bench,” he said. “There have been no allegations that the actual judgments being made by our judges in the court were improper or anything other than in compliance with the law.”
To the latter point, in his own defense, Morgan asserts that the court he took over (from former presiding Judge David Tracy, who failed to keep his appointed position against Morgan’s challenge when it went up for election in 2005, and had his own slew of problems) was out of control, and doing a number of things wrong and even unconstitutional. Morgan says 80% of court forms were fundamentally flawed — and as court manager, he had them fixed.
Likewise, under Morgan, the court has gone from being over budget to under budget, won state grants, and has expanded its services, being able to handle more categories of court cases, and is slated to go further next year. For his own part, Morgan has a spotless appeal record — none of his judgments from the Federal Way bench have yet to be overturned.
After the Stephson report was released, and well after Morgan filed for his own candidacy for re-election, a crop of carpetbaggers swooped down onto the steam of scandal rising from the Municipal Court to run against him. Few actually live in Federal Way, fewer have ever been a judge before, and none have ever run an entire Court.
Will the potent gas of demagoguery fueling the anti-Morgan movement knock out Morgan from the race this week? I’d say the race is probably down to Morgan, the incumbent; Roberston, who at least has sat on a bench before; and York, who has at least managed a staff before, and who so far is the only other candidate in the race to be remotely dinged, albeit without visible bruising, by the Mirror.
But as for FederalWayan.com, we prefer the experienced judge with a track record of improving court services and making good courtroom judgments. We endorse Judge Michael Morgan for Federal Way Municipal Court Judge Position 1.