An investigation by a Federal Way Municipal Court judge concludes that the court’s other judge, Michael Morgan, did not threaten to harm employees, contrary to what a former court supervisor alleges in her $500,000 wrongful termination claim against the city.
Judge David Larson used words such as “not credible,” “baseless” and “puzzling” to describe allegations by former court services supervisor Cindy Roque that Morgan – the court’s presiding judge – had threatened workplace violence in late 2008.
In fact, Roque later asked to be supervised by Morgan and denied that anyone was in danger, according to the report that Larson sent to the Federal Way city manager and four other city officials Dec. 18.
The News Tribune recently obtained a copy of Larson’s four-page investigation through a public records request to the city.
Larson and City Attorney Pat Richardson previously declined to release the document. Morgan was the one who told the newspaper in February about an investigation, but he wouldn’t say who conducted it because he didn’t want to “try the issue” in the media.
Larson says he felt duty-bound to investigate the allegations against his fellow judge, and in the end he made some strongly worded conclusions.
“After review of this situation, I am of the opinion that Ms. Roque is using these events and making allegations of retaliation either to assure her of a job at the city or to negotiate a favorable departure from the city,” Larson wrote.
“My opinion is that her actions and allegations have been calculated to ‘set up’ the city for a claim of retaliation if she is terminated or to prevent her termination.”
Roque was on paid administrative leave at the time of Larson’s investigation. On Jan. 28, more than a month after the judge’s report, she was fired.
Roque filed a claim against the city on Feb. 9, although she has not followed up with a lawsuit.
She said in court documents that she was fired because she raised concerns to the Federal Way Human Resources and Police departments back in November that Morgan might harm himself or others.
Roque was the second-highest-ranking, nonjudicial employee of the court. She had worked there eight months before she was placed on leave.
Deputy city attorney Aaron Walls said the legal claim has been turned over to the city’s insurance company, which will evaluate its merits.
Roque declined comment for this story. Her attorney, Dan Albertson of Tacoma, has not returned phone calls from The News Tribune over the past three months.
Morgan, the presiding judge in Federal Way since 2006, was under considerable pressure last November.
He was weeks away from a hearing before the state Commission on Judicial Conduct, which had investigated him and ultimately would reprimand him. The CJC found that Morgan made comments to court employees that were, or could be perceived as, “disparaging, threatening or otherwise unbecoming a judicial officer.”
Roque reported to Federal Way officials that Morgan indicated earlier in November, “if I’m going down, others here are too.”
According to Larson’s report, Roque said Morgan made a comment about taking “others down with him.”
Morgan did recall making the statement, Larson reported, but said it wasn’t a threat of physical harm; it was about the potential for the CJC hearing needlessly embarrassing past and present court employees.
Roque relayed her concerns about violence to Human Resources on Nov. 19 and to the Police Department two days later.
Federal Way Police Chief Brian J. Wilson took her concerns seriously enough that he recommended Morgan be put on leave and evaluated to see if he was a threat.
City Manager Neal Beets said he did not evaluate Morgan or take him off the job because the elected judge is under the authority of the CJC.
Roque was placed on paid leave by Larson on Nov. 21, the same day the police chief recommended leave for Morgan. It’s not clear from documents why Larson put her on leave.
Court administrator Rae Iwamoto fired Roque two months later. The termination was “based on your conduct that has resulted in a loss of confidence and trust that you can remain a member of the court’s management team,” Iwamoto wrote.
Iwamoto declined to comment for this story based on counsel.
She would not say who directed her not to answer questions.
Larson interviewed Roque, Morgan, Iwamoto and court clerk Christine Faucher for his investigation. Larson cited several reasons he believed Roque’s allegations were not credible, including:
• Morgan said Roque told him on Nov. 18 she would “work with him anywhere.”
• Roque asked to be supervised directly by Morgan just three hours after she reported him to Federal Way police for threatening harm against others.
• Iwamoto asked Roque on Nov. 19 “if there was any threat to anyone else.”
“Ms. Iwamoto told me that Ms. Roque replied once with silence and the second time she was asked she stated that there was no such danger,” Larson wrote.
• Roque alleged other court employees, including Larson, “were in danger and could be the object of Judge Morgan’s future violent acts,” Larson wrote. “Yet, she never told me directly or e-mailed me that I was in any danger or that any other court employees were in danger.”
Morgan, 50, declined to be interviewed for this story upon advice from the City Attorney’s Office because of Roque’s claim and potential litigation.
He did provide The News Tribune on April 1 the results of a polygraph exam he’d taken in February. Morgan said he took it to remove any remaining doubts about Roque’s claims.
Morgan said he hired Richard Smith of Olympic Polygraph Inc. in Puyallup, and paid Smith $500 in his own money for the exam.
Smith asked Morgan on Feb. 2: “Have you ever stated that you wanted to kill any of your co-workers?” and “Did you ever tell anyone that you wanted to kill your co-workers?”
Morgan answered “no” to both questions.
Smith wrote that based on the polygraph test data, Morgan answered truthfully.
THOUGHTS OF SUICIDE
Roque not only reported concerns about Morgan potentially hurting others, but also harming himself.
In her Nov. 19 statement to the city, Roque said that court clerk Faucher told her that “Judge Morgan threatened suicide” the previous week.
In his polygraph exam, Morgan wasn’t asked whether he had threatened suicide.
Larson’s report acknowledges that others in the office were aware of the pressures Morgan was under, and that in some conversations he shared that the thought of suicide had “crossed his mind.”
According to Larson’s report, Morgan acknowledged making a remark to Faucher that was interpreted by her as “a serious suicidal ideation.”
But Morgan said it was never a true threat. Larson said Morgan told him it was a passing comment describing his feelings about how the CJC was handling its investigation of him.
Morgan dealt with the stress by receiving help from an outside consultant and taking a vacation, Larson wrote.
Larson described his fellow judge as “lucid, not depressed.”
He concluded that “those exposed to Judge Morgan’s statements showed varying levels of concern, but there was no imminent threat of Judge Morgan harming himself.”
Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647 firstname.lastname@example.org
How a Federal Way judge came to investigate colleague
Judge David Larson wrote in his Dec. 18 report that he decided “in close cooperation” with Federal Way’s city attorney to investigate the Municipal Court.
While Larson was filling in as presiding judge in November, it came to his attention that court services supervisor Cindy Roque had reported concerns of violence about Judge Michael Morgan to the city.
Thus, Larson said in an April 1 e-mail to The News Tribune, he had a “non-delegable duty” to look into it, on behalf of court employees as well as the state Commission on Judicial Conduct.
Morgan has served since 2006 as the city’s presiding judge, which means he sets the court calendar, assigns cases and oversees the budget, among other tasks. But Larson said Federal Way’s two judges answer only to the voters and to the CJC.
“Judge Morgan is not my boss and I am not his,” Larson wrote in an April 1 e-mail to The News Tribune.
Pat Richardson, the city attorney, would not tell a reporter whether she advised Larson to investigate his colleague. She said that information was protected by attorney-client privilege.
But Larson made clear in a follow-up e-mail to The News Tribune on Tuesday that the city signed off on his investigation.
“I believed that I had no choice but to investigate and take action,” he wrote. “I did this investigation with the advice of the city attorney and with the assistance of an outside HR consultant.” (The consultant was Ruth Rogers of Federal Way.)
Morgan wrote an e-mail to the newspaper Wednesday, explaining the duties of a presiding judge and saying his court’s investigative options are limited in a situation like this.
“I do not have a budget to hire an outside investigator,” Morgan wrote. “The city can, and has, when they thought the circumstances warranted it, offered to cover the costs of an outside investigator.”
Morgan didn’t ask for outside help in this case, nor did the city offer it.
City spokeswoman Linda Farmer said the city did not consider an outside investigator because it doesn’t have jurisdiction in this matter.
“We would leave it to the CJC,” Farmer said.