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Judge Morgan under investigation over online election comments

The state's Public Disclosure Commission is currently investigating Federal Way Municipal Court presiding judge Michael Morgan.

On Aug. 7, the commission received a complaint that alleges a computer found in Morgan's personal office was used to claim the identity of a clerk in his court, then respond to fellow judicial candidates' election blogs on The Mirror's Web site and the Tacoma News Tribune's Web site, according to a complaint filed by Federal Way police interim chief Andy Hwang.

The police, with the help of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the King County Prosecutor's Office, determined there were no federal or state statutes that were violated, Hwang said. Thus, he does not feel his department has the authority to investigate the court matter. Anytime an identity is assumed it deserves more attention, Hwang said. This is why he issued the complaint with the PDC.

The police and PDC have not confirmed that Morgan is responsible for the postings. Police and city staff have confirmed his computer was used in the process, Hwang said.

"Hopefully, (the PDC) will be able to definitively say who it is," he said.

False identity

On Aug. 4, court clerk Christine Faucher reported to police and city staff that her identity was fraudulently used to create Internet accounts with the two newspapers. Faucher's name, birthdate (though off by one year) and information associated with her interests and place of employment were used to create the accounts.

The online accounts are required for new users wishing to comment on the newspapers' Internet materials. Both newspapers have blogs where Federal Way's judicial candidates are free to interact with the public.

The IP address used to create an account with The Mirror was provided to Faucher by staff after she contacted the newspaper with her concerns. The address was used to identify from which computer the blog postings were made.

The IP address is associated with the city, according to accompanying documents provided by the PDC. The City of Federal Way's IT personnel tracked the fraudulent accounts to a computer found in Morgan's office at the court, according to PDC documents.

A timeline on the Internet usage, a record of the electronic building access card and security surveillance video were also used to identify Morgan's computer as the source of the fraudulent actions, according to the PDC documents.

The comments under investigation were in response to the newspapers' online blogs of fellow judicial candidates Matthew York and Williams Jarvis, also a contender for the position in the primary election.

Using Faucher's name as the blogger's identity, a statement posted Aug. 3 was critical of one of York's endorsers. York announced on his Web page that attorney Michael Malaier endorsed him in his run for the judge's seat. The fraudulent response pointed out that Malaier oversaw attorney Sean Cecil during the time in which he had an affair with former Federal Way Municipal Court judge Colleen Hartl in late 2007. It questioned York's decision to announce Malaier's support of him.

Two later postings to The Mirror's Web site, again using Faucher's identity, were in response to former candidate Williams Jarvis' blog. Topics in the blog included the Stephson report, which revealed a harassing workplace environment under Morgan's oversight of the court; the Washington state Supreme Court's ruling on the Morgan vs. City of Federal Way case, which sought to keep the report sealed from the public; and Jarvis' prior work performance and qualifications for the judicial position.

Faucher found the materials derogatory to the judicial candidates running against Morgan, according to documents submitted to the PDC. Three comments (two were duplicates) found on The Mirror's site were removed, after Faucher reported the fraudulent activity.

Response from Judge Michael Morgan

The following response was sent to The Mirror from Judge Michael Morgan. The response is printed without any editing:

"I did not post Internet blogs on any candidate websites.

The two Internet blogs were posted while I was in meetings away from my computer.

Furthermore, one of the Internet blogs was apparently written in less than 12 minutes. I have a disability in my right hand and I am physically unable to write a blog of that word length in less than 12 minutes.

I have no reason to post Internet blogs. Campaign supporters had agreed to submit blogs and write letters to newspapers and were working with my campaign consultant to make sure their submittals were appropriate.

As your publication knows, I have been the target of a series of cyber tricks. December 2008, for example, an email was sent in which the sender impersonated me and had created an email account almost identical to my personal email account. I immediately reported this matter to the Federal Way Police Department."

Check it out

To read the full PDC complaint and learn more about the investigation, visit www.pdc.wa.gov/home/enforcement/formal/2009.aspx.

Below is a report regarding the investigation. Scroll to page 6 to see the City of Federal Way's analysis of Internet usage from Judge Morgan's computer during the time the online comments were posted under Christine Faucher's name:

Morgan

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