Arguing that a Sept. 30 trial is no longer needed, the State Bar of Texas has asked a judge to summarily rule that former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson engaged in professional misconduct by hiding evidence in Michael Morton’s 1987 murder trial.
Such a ruling would allow the State Bar, which oversees lawyer discipline, to proceed directly to a state district court hearing on sanctions against Anderson, who could be disbarred, temporarily lose his law license or receive a public reprimand for his handling of Morton’s prosecution.
A lawyer for Anderson, now a state district judge in Georgetown, said he will oppose the bar’s motion and plans to file a competing motion seeking to dismiss the State Bar’s lawsuit.
The civil lawsuit is separate from criminal charges that are also pending against Anderson, but both cases rely on the same accusations — that Anderson hid evidence that could have raised questions about Morton’s guilt, then lied when he assured Morton’s trial judge that he had no favorable evidence to turn over to defense lawyers, as required by law.
Morton served almost 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife, Christine, before he was exonerated in 2011.
In its motion for summary judgment, the State Bar’s Commission for Lawyer Discipline argued that a trial wasn’t necessary because its allegation — that Anderson violated his duties as a lawyer — had already been proved in a court of inquiry that examined Anderson’s handling of Morton’s prosecution.
District Judge Louis Sturns concluded the court of inquiry in April, finding that Anderson subverted justice by intentionally hiding two pieces of evidence:
• The transcript of a police interview revealing that the Mortons’ 3-year-old son, Eric, witnessed the murder and said Michael Morton wasn’t home at the time.
• A police report about a suspicious man who had parked a green van near the Morton home and, on several occasions, walked into the wooded area behind the house.
Sturns ordered Anderson’s arrest and charged him with two crimes: tampering with physical evidence by concealing documents to impair their availability as evidence, and tampering with a government record by concealing official reports. Sturns also ordered Anderson to answer a contempt of court charge.
The criminal case against Anderson is still in the early stages, and Anderson’s legal team has filed an appeal arguing that the charges are improper because the statute of limitations had passed two decades ago.
Anderson’s lawyers believe the State Bar’s lawsuit also is barred by the statute of limitations and plan to file a competing motion for summary judgment asking that the lawsuit be dismissed, lawyer Eric Nichols said.
In its motion, the State Bar argued that Anderson mounted a vigorous defense during a weeklong court of inquiry hearing in February and isn’t entitled to retry the facts after losing that case. The law “prevents relitigation of particular issues that were litigated and decided in a previous lawsuit,” argues the motion from Linda Acevedo, the commission’s chief disciplinary counsel.
Nichols disagreed, saying the court of inquiry didn’t result in a final decision or judgment against Anderson, who insisted he did nothing wrong, and operated under looser rules of evidence, providing a questionable result.
The bar’s motion also argued that testimony during the court of inquiry “conclusively demonstrated” that Anderson knew about the transcript and green van report before Morton’s trial, acknowledged their importance to the defense, yet told the trial judge he possessed no evidence favorable to Morton.
As a result, the motion said, Anderson violated three rules of professional conduct by:
• Failing to disclose favorable evidence to defense lawyers.
• Making a false statement of law or fact when representing a client.
• Acting in ways that impeded justice.
District Judge Kelly Moore of Brownfield, about 40 miles southwest of Lubbock, was appointed to handle both the civil and criminal cases against Anderson. Moore has yet to act on the bar’s motion.