Judge continues fight to seal court report

A local judge’s quest to keep some Federal Way Municipal Court records out of the public eye continued April 11 at the Washington State Court of Appeals Division One in Seattle.

Court of Appeals commissioner Mary Neel said she needed more time to decide whether to grant Federal Way judge Michael Morgan’s request to stay a previous ruling by Superior Court judge Kimberley Prochnau.

Prochnau’s ruling deemed two e-mails and an investigation of the court’s workplace environment (the Stephson report) not subject to attorney-client privilege.

The fight to keep the report unreleased was originally brought before Prochnau when the Tacoma News Tribune was denied access to it by Morgan. The city was ready to release the document, but first needed the judge’s approval.

The city presented, in court, the e-mails as evidence why the Stephson report should be made public under the Public Disclosure Act.

The e-mails, referred to as Number Eight and Number 10, were both written by Morgan in February and sent to a court clerk. The e-mails then were forwarded to City Attorney Pat Richardson and an undisclosed city council member.

On March 19, Prochnau ruled the report and e-mails could be released. She gave Morgan one week to appeal the judgment, which he did.

In the Court of Appeals, attorney James Beck argued that the burden was on Morgan to prove the documents should not be released for public viewing.

Beck went on to say he and his legal team are at a disadvantage during the appeal process because they have been denied access to the e-mails.

Beck said that just because the e-mails were passed through an attorney does not make them subject to attorney-client privilege.

Morgan’s attorney, John Schochet, argued the Tacoma News Tribune’s priority was only to view the workplace report, and if the e-mails were to be released, they would reveal the report’s contents.

“This is about Judge Morgan’s right to argue his appeal,” Schochet said.

Neel is expected to have a final decision on the stay of the e-mails by today, April 16.

Contact Jacinda Howard: (253) 925-5565.

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