Opinion

Judge Morgan's lawsuit is unfair to Federal Way taxpayers | Mirror editorial

Over the past year, Federal Way Municipal Court Judge Michael Morgan surely has learned a few lessons on how to behave at work — or rather, how not to behave.

On Dec. 5, the independent Commission on Judicial Conduct reprimanded Morgan for inappropriate behavior while on the job. The behavior included disparaging, threatening or otherwise unbecoming comments toward city and court employees. Morgan is required to improve his management skills through training, as well as complete a course on judicial ethics and receive an evaluation by a counselor.

Some of the actions addressed by the commission took place shortly after Morgan became Federal Way’s first elected judge in 2006. Some of the inappropriate behavior came in the wake of former judge Colleen Hartl’s resignation last December over a sexual affair with a public defender.

The commission reprimanded Morgan over instances of behavior unbecoming of a judge, not his competence as a judge. However, Morgan admitted to intimidating comments that indicated he would fire court clerks and that he did not like staff questioning his authority. That is unacceptable behavior by any supervisor, let alone an elected judge, which is a position that typically commands respect and deference without the need to demonstrate who's in charge.

The reprimand highlights another issue. Morgan is suing the City of Federal Way to block the public release of an investigation into allegations of a hostile work environment at the court. “The Stephson Report” currently lingers in the appeals process after a county judge initially ruled the investigation should be made public.

Morgan, the Federal Way court’s presiding judge, cites judiciary independence as the reason for blocking the report’s release. Morgan has said the report would damage his reputation as well as that of the court.

In actuality, the lawsuit is damaging his reputation while slapping taxpayers. Attorney fees for the city have reached almost $80,000 so far. The longer the lawsuit stays in court, the higher that number will climb. Furthermore, it is fair to question how much time Morgan has devoted toward the lawsuit while being paid to work as a judge.

Consider if Morgan hadn’t filed this lawsuit. That report on the court’s workplace environment would likely have generated a little buzz and embarrassment before fading into a footnote. Instead, the lawsuit draws even more attention to the report while fueling curiosity about whether Morgan has something to hide.

The Mirror urges Morgan to drop the lawsuit and move on.

There is a difference between being principled and being stubborn. The latter attitude stands in the way of closure for a tiresome drama that erodes public confidence in an otherwise competent municipal court.

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