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Former FW judge censured by Commission on Judicial Conduct

The state's Commission on Judicial Conduct censured former Federal Way Municipal Court judge Colleen Hartl over her relationship with a public defender.

Hartl resigned from the court on Dec. 19, 2007. Hartl allegedly admitted at a Dec. 14 Christmas party to having an affair with public defender Sean Cecil, who began practicing law in 2006 and often represented defendants appearing before Hartl in the Federal Way Municipal Court. Hartl and Cecil claim to have had a single intimate encounter.

"It's something I'll never stop regretting," Hartl said in a March interview with The Mirror regarding her indiscretions.

In censuring Hartl, the Commission on Judicial barred Hartl from working as a judge without its approval. Hartl signed the commission's report, which was issued Aug. 1. The report said Hartl's behavior and subsequent attempts at controlling damage had failed to uphold the court's integrity and impartiality.

Hartl had joined the Federal Way Municipal Court in March 2007. Her resignation in December 2007 led to allegations of a hostile work environment at the court.

Following Hartl's resignation, the city hired attorney Amy Stephson to conduct an independent investigation of the court. Stephson reviewed the workplace environment, including Michael Morgan's managerial role as the Federal Way Municipal Court's presiding judge.

Morgan is suing the City of Federal Way to block the public release of "The Stephson Report." On March 19, Superior Court judge Kimberley Prochnau ordered the report's release, but the case is now indefinitely tied up in the state Court of Appeals.

The city and Morgan also await a verdict as to who pays about $36,000 in legal fees.

"The city will take necessary steps to defend its rights — and the public’s rights — when it is sued over open government practices," Federal Way Mayor Jack Dovey wrote in a July 5 guest editorial in The Mirror.

Morgan has acknowledged the report's contents could damage both his reputation and that of the court. He also cited a state law that says working conditions at the court are the responsibility of the court.

"I will not quietly accept any decision by city government that encroaches on the independence of the judiciary," he wrote in a July 2 letter to The Mirror. "The issue is not about politics. It is about protecting the independence of the judiciary."

The Mirror has called Morgan's legal tango with the city "a waste of money."

"We all should wish for Morgan to complete a successful term as judge and make this city proud. The latter is actually a realistic goal, attainable as soon as Morgan stops stroking his own pride at taxpayer expense," according to a Mirror editorial May 31.

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