Arguing that a 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 the murder trial of Michael Morton, who was exonerated after spending almost 25 years in prison.
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 in 1987.
A lawyer for Anderson, now a state district judge in Georgetown, said he will oppose the bar’s motion and plans to move for a dismissal of 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 the defense 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 Sept. 30 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.
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.
As noted in the story, the judge in the court of inquiry issued an arrest warrant for Anderson in April, charging him with tampering with physical evidence and tampering with a government document. I can see Anderson’s point that this wasn’t a normal courtroom procedure and the standards of evidence may have been different, but he got to put on a defense and it’s hard to see how things would play out differently in civil court. Unless some of the previously introduced evidence was suppressed via a successful motion by his attorneys, which would add a layer of irony to the whole thing that I’m not sure any of us could handle. The statute of limitations argument completely fails to impress me. It may be technically right if we are forced to start the clock when Michael Morton was tried, but under the much more sensible interpretation that the limitations period began when the crime was actually discovered there’s no leg to stand on. I say Anderson has had his chance to prove that the misconduct allegations were meritless. The Bar has a responsibility to act, and it should be allowed to do so.