Legal Ethics

Banned Lawyer Gets Reprieve re Alleged Affair With Judge


The ban has been lifted against a Washington state lawyer ordered not to appear on behalf of indigent defendants at his local courthouse, after a judge reportedly blabbed about their alleged affair at a holiday party.

Michael Morgan, the presiding judge, ended the ban this week, apparently in response to a letter written by the attorney, Sean Cecil, to state bar authorities, reports King 5, a Seattle affiliate of NBC News.

In the letter, Cecil says that he began socializing with the now-former Federal Way municipal judge, Colleen Hartl, only recently, and had one “intimate encounter,” as the station puts it, appearing before her 10 times afterward. “That means presiding judge Michael Morgan only has to review those few cases, not hundreds, to make sure justice was carried out fairly,” the station writes on its website.

As detailed in an earlier ABAJournal.com post, Cecil works for a law firm that has a contract to represent indigent defendants and regularly appeared before Hartl. She reportedly told fellow court employees at a holiday party she hosted one Friday in December that the two were having an affair.

Morgan, who attended, left before the revelation but heard about it at lunchtime the following Monday. Hartl—who then reportedly told Morgan she had exaggerated the relationship and the two actually never slept together—subsequently resigned for personal and health reasons, and Morgan issued the ban against Cecil and reported the matter to state bar authorities.

Cecil is currently the subject of a bar investigation, King 5 says, and the Commission on Judicial Conduct is investigating Hartl.

An earlier account in the News Tribune says there was a history of conflict between Hartl and Morgan, and reports that Hartl blamed Morgan for pressuring her to resign.

However, Morgan says in a written communication that he handled the situation appropriately, the Tacoma newspaper reports: “In my estimation, for the good of our court, the only reasonable thing to do was for Colleen Hartl to resign, and I will take the blame for that decision,” he writes.

King 5: “Investigators: Federal Way judge faces new allegations in sex scandal”

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