Mirror editorial: Slam the gavel on court's controversy


An embarrassing sex scandal quickly evolved into an unnecessary drama with the Federal Way Municipal Court.

This avoidable public sideshow needs to end.

Judge Colleen Hartl resigned from the court in December after news surfaced of her relationship with a public defender. The fiasco’s focus soon shifted to allegations of a hostile workplace environment in the court, with a spotlight on Presiding Judge Michael Morgan, who runs the court.

Under law, Federal Way must investigate such allegations when they involve city employees, including elected judges. The city also provides legal representation in matters that occur within the scope of an employee’s job duties.

This brings us to the current lawsuit between Morgan and the city attorney. Morgan wants to block the city from releasing an investigation of the court’s workplace environment.

Indeed, Morgan makes a strong case for attorney-client privilege in trying to halt the report’s release. Morgan said City Attorney Pat Richardson was acting as his attorney on an individual basis during the investigation. He also argued that only the state’s Commission of Judicial Conduct can investigate such allegations in a court.

However, a county judge ruled March 19 that Richardson was acting on behalf of the city and court, meaning the investigation was available for public disclosure. Morgan now has time to appeal the decision.

For the sake of the court’s integrity and taxpayers’ money, this legal volley between Morgan and Federal Way should stop now.

The Mirror urges Morgan to rescind his injunction against the city and allow public disclosure of this investigation into hostile workplace allegations at the court. The injunction only invites unwanted skepticism. Even if the investigation contains damaging accusations, and regardless of whether the accusations are true, Morgan’s recent actions send a message that there’s something to hide.

Likewise, the public expects and deserves honesty from its judges. If Morgan believes in his own competence as a judge, and if he has faith in the Commission of Judicial Conduct’s integrity, then any bruises to his career or reputation will eventually fade.

The city’s judicial and executive branches must maintain their independence from each other to ensure credibility. That balance seems to gnaw at the root of this clash over what qualifies for public disclosure.

The sooner Federal Way reaches a conclusion to this controversy, the sooner the court can settle down and move forward.

For now, Morgan seems to hold the key to that gate.

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