Opinion

Judge addresses city's court scandal

By MICHAEL MORGAN, Federal Way Municipal Court judge

A different publication printed an article Jan. 26 suggesting I was in a “vicious feud” with former Judge Colleen Hartl.

From the time she was sworn into office — where I presented her a bouquet of flowers and she gave me a hug as a show of appreciation — until the time she hosted a staff holiday party on Dec. 14, which I attended to show a sign of support and she hugged me as I left her party, I believe I had a cordial relationship with Judge Hartl.

The public records requested and received by The News Tribune and King 5 television do not reveal any rancorous exchanges between myself and Judge Hartl until after I was informed she had confessed to an inappropriate relationship with a litigant. Just the appearance of such an inappropriate relationship will probably require approximately 100 defendants to be reassigned new lawyers and result in a cost of about $25,000 in legal fees.

The appearance of such an inappropriate relationship can and has also resulted in serious repercussions for the lawyer Judge Hartl confessed to having a relationship with.

The cost of pro-tem judges, three independent investigations, training sessions on ethics, and three counseling sessions for staff as a result of Judge Hartl’s confessed misconduct will exceed the salary savings caused by her position being vacated.

The public records obtained by the media would demonstrate that I did strongly disapprove of Judge Hartl’s alleged misconduct. I do strongly disapprove of the behaviors she confessed to five members of the court’s staff and confessed to on a separate occasion to a member of the court’s staff — which are corroborated by a King 5 investigation that revealed the existence of a recording in which Judge Hartl reportedly tried to orchestrate a cover-up, and is also corroborated by a text message that had romantic overtones that Judge Hartl received from the public defender in issue and showed to four members of my staff.

These same public records reveal that after I addressed with Judge Hartl and city government her confessed misconduct did Judge Hartl make her claims that our working relationship was the reason behind her resignation.

By the same token, Judge Hartl also described a different court employee in writing as a traitor after the employee reported to me Judge Hartl’s alleged indiscretions, so I think reasonable people, when presented with the relevant information in the proper context, can determine if Judge Hartl is making an honest disclosure about our working relationship or is simply trying to divert attention away from her own confessed misconduct by finding fault with someone else.

It is equally revealing to me that in a e-mail referenced by The News Tribune, the paper neglects to mention the passage in which former Judge Hartl writes to me that she never behaved this particular way before she worked with me so maybe the fault (for her actions) did not lay with her, but elsewhere.

The article in question had a quote from a city official referring to personal responsibility. I do take personal responsibility for my actions, and I take

responsibility for being the catalyst for a reluctant judge offering her resignation and a reluctant city government accepting that judge’s resignation.

Based on her interactions with the court staff on Dec. 14 (and the specifics of those interactions which have not been fully disclosed or reported to the media), I do not think Judge Hartl (in a court of our size) could return to the workplace without there being serious repercussions.

I also believe that a judge that admits to an inappropriate relationship with a litigant, does not disclose that relationship as required to opposing counsel and tries to participate in a cover-up should not hold judicial office. Since she has left office, I have heard reports that Judge Hartl has sought, but has not received, pro-tem judge assignments that would suggest other judicial officers share this opinion.

Michael Morgan is a Federal Way Municipal Court judge. Send comments to editor@fedwaymirror.com.

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