Former Williamson DA says it’s too late for disciplinary action in Morton case

Posted Friday, Aug. 30, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Parties in a disciplinary case against the prosecutor who pursued a defendant’s since overturned murder conviction in 1987 will have to wait another week for a decision on whether they will go to trial.

The State Bar of Texas filed a grievance against former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson last year accusing him of violating state ethics rules by withholding evidence and making false statements to the court during Michael Morton’s 1987 trial.

During a hearing on Friday afternoon, both sides presented their arguments and requested a summary judgment that would keep the case from going to trial.

Eric Nichols, Anderson’s lawyer, argued that the State Bar’s claims, filed more than 24 years after the original trial, were invalid because of the statute of limitations.

“The statute of limitations serves a purpose,” Nichols said. “One of the purposes is to ensure that we are trying cases at a time when everyone — no matter what your slant on things, no matter what your opinion is on things — when everyone has access to the evidence that is needed to try the case in fairness.”

Nichols also argued that claims that Anderson concealed key pieces of evidence should be thrown out because the evidence has been held by public entities since 1989.

Anderson fell under scrutiny after Morton’s lawyers discovered evidence that they say he deliberately withheld in the case. The evidence includes a phone call transcript in which Morton’s mother-in-law recounted to police a conversation with her grandson who said he saw a monster — not his father — beat his mother to death. Morton was not home at the time of the beating, and neighbors reported seeing a man in a green van parked in front of the Morton home several times before the crime.

After a 10-month investigation, the State Bar filed a grievance against Anderson. Anderson, now a state district judge, has denied the complaints of professional misconduct.

The State Bar’s attorney, Laura Bayouth Popps, argued that Anderson’s files on the Morton investigation were not public record and could not have been obtained by a public information request within the time frame of the statute of limitations.

“By virtue of being the lead prosecutor, Mr. Anderson had a constitutional and ethical duty to disclose this,” Popps said. “This does not take hiding the evidence in the attic or putting it in the trunk. All we have to show is that he had a duty to disclose, and he didn’t.”

Popps also argued that the statute of limitations does not apply, alleging that Anderson's efforts to conceal the evidence were ongoing, not a one-time offense.

“We would have liked to try this. We also would have liked for Mr. Morton not to have spent 25 years in prison,” Popps said. “Because of the fraud and concealment that took place here, no one was able to try this case any sooner.”

Morton served almost 25 years after he was sentenced to life in prison for the August 1986 murder of his wife Christine Morton. He was released in 2011 after DNA testing on a bloody bandana found near the crime scene linked the death to another man, Mark Alan Norwood, who was found guilty earlier this year.

State District Judge Kelly G. Moore, the judge presiding over the Anderson case, said he will announce his decision in a week or 10 days. If Moore denies the requests for summary judgment, the case could go to a jury trial as early as Sept. 30.

If Anderson, who was appointed to the bench by Gov. Rick Perry in 2002, is found to have engaged in prosecutorial misconduct, he could be disbarred.

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