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Federal Way judge reprimanded for behavior

The Commission on Judicial Conduct found Federal Way Municipal Court Presiding Judge Michael Morgan to have displayed behavior unbecoming of a judge.

The CJC reprimanded the judge for his impatient, undignified and discourteous behavior toward court personnel, former court employees and City of Federal Way employees, according to a Dec. 5 announcement by the CJC. Morgan was also found to have made disparaging, threatening or otherwise unbecoming comments.

The reprimand is an intermediate level of punishment dictating the Code of Judicial Conduct was broken.

The reprimand is to be taken seriously and will be seen by judges state-wide, CJC Executive Director Reiko Callner said.

"This is very public," she said.

Morgan may continue to practice, but he is required to engage in training designed to improve his management and administrative duties, according to the announcement. He must also complete a course on judicial ethics and receive an evaluation by a counselor, according to the same documents. The evaluation must be performed within 30 days of the CJC's stipulation and could result in an ongoing procedure, Callner said.

In late April, Morgan was notified of the allegations of misconduct against him. In June, he responded to the allegations and admitted to, on three separate occasions, raising his voice and using profanities toward Federal Way Police Chief Brian Wilson, a court administrator who has since resigned from the court, and a court clerk, according to CJC documents. Morgan also admitted to discussing issues of a sexual nature with court staff, but claimed the conversations occurred as a result of his former colleague judge Colleen Hartl's December 2007 disclosure to staff of an affair she was having with a public defender.

The commission also found Morgan out of line when he made intimidating comments that indicated he would fire court clerks and did not like staff questioning his authority. Morgan's jokes, name-calling and comments about other judges and their personal lives were also found inappropriate, according to the documents.

"I think if you read the totality of the stipulated behavior, it's something to be evaluated by a counselor," Callner said.

Ethics courses are typically imposed after a stipulation has been placed on a judge, Callner said. They are a reminder of the high expectations judges are held to, she said.

"It's a pretty standard operating procedure," she said.

Morgan told the CJC his actions were an attempt to demonstrate his power over court happenings and assert the court's independence from the city, according to CJC documents. On Monday, Morgan declined to comment on the reprimand.

In determining the judge's punishment, the CJC took into consideration that some of Morgan's actions were made shortly after he was elected judge in January 2006. His lack of administrative training before taking the bench as a judge was also noted. Morgan later partook in administrative training, at his own doing, prior to the CJC's reprimand. He must complete this training to the commission's satisfaction, Callner said. Morgan also was cooperative with the agency's investigation and self-admitted to his wrongdoings, according to CJC documents. Morgan has served as a judge since January 2006; his term will expire Dec. 31, 2009. Morgan has not yet declared whether he will seek re-election.

Morgan, who earns $134,622 a year, has the second-highest base salary among city employees.

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