GEORGETOWN — Former Williamson County State District Judge Ken Anderson, who oversaw the wrongful murder conviction of Michael Morton as a prosecutor, was sentenced to nine days in jail on Friday and will surrender his law license as part of a deal to resolve criminal charges and a civil lawsuit.
Anderson entered into a comprehensive settlement involving all matters before the court. Those include a charge of criminal contempt tied to an accusation of failing to disclose evidence during Morton's 1987 trial, and the State Bar of Texas’ disciplinary case against Anderson over prosecutorial misconduct allegations. Charges of tampering with evidence were also dropped as part of the settlement.
Presiding District Judge Kelly G. Moore ordered that Anderson's jail sentence — a 10-day sentence with a 1-day credit for time served — should begin on or before Dec. 2. Anderson was also ordered to pay a $500 fine along with serving 500 hours of community service in the next five years. His resignation to the State Bar will be acted on by the Supreme Court of Texas and will be treated as disbarment. Anderson did not address the presiding judge during Friday's session and exited the courtroom promptly after the hearing was adjourned.
"There's no way that anything we can do today will resolve the tragedy that occurred related to these matters," Moore said, before addressing Morton, who was present in the courtroon during the hearing. "The world is a better place because of you."
Morton was sentenced to life in prison for the 1986 murder of his wife, Christine Morton. He was released almost 25 years later in 2011 after DNA testing linked Christine Morton's death to another man, Mark Alan Norwood, who was found guilty earlier this year.
Anderson's lawyer Eric Nichols reiterated that Anderson had not been convicted of a crime.
The State Bar filed a grievance against Anderson last year after a 10-month investigation alleging he had violated state ethics rules by withholding key evidence and making false statements to the court while prosecuting Morton.
John Raley of the Houston law firm Raley & Bowick and Barry Scheck of the New York-based Innocence Project, lawyers for Morton, alleged that Anderson withheld a phone call transcript of a police interview with Morton’s mother-in-law, in which she recounted a conversation with her grandson, and reports from neighbors who said they had seen a man in a green van parked in front of the Morton home several times before the crime.
Anderson has said that he regrets the errors of the justice system in Morton’s case. But he has said that he committed no wrongdoing in the prosecution.
Scheck said he had hoped Anderson would have owned up to his actions.
"I wish he had had enough integrity and respect for his colleagues to say ‘I made a mistake. I was wrong. I feel terrible about it,'" Scheck said. “Instead, to this very day he wants to somehow say the system went wrong."
Morton sat in the front row of the courtroom on Friday with his wife, Cynthia, and his attorneys and celebrated with his legal team following the hearing.
"When it began, I was asked what I wanted. I said 'The only thing that I want, as a baseline, if for Ken Anderson to be off the bench and no longer practice law,'" Morton said. "Both of those things have happened and more."
"I don't know if satisfying is the right word," he added, but he said the Anderson case "had to be done."
State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, also sat with Morton and his family. Ellis was one of the authors of the Michael Morton Act, which requires prosecutors to open their files to defense lawyers before trial and after it begins; the Texas Legislature passed the measure this year.
After the hearing, Ellis suggested he would formulate additional justice reforms in response to the Anderson case.
"There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this case," Ellis said.
Anderson, who was appointed to the bench in 2002, resigned as Williamson County state district judge in September, days before the State Bar case was set to go to trial. Moore subsequently delayed the trial for almost six weeks.
The special prosecutor in the case, Richard B. Roper, said the resignation was part of the settlement and that Anderson would not lose his pension. He said neither he nor the State Bar is able to do anything regarding the pension, saying that's tied to state law.
There will also be an independent audit carried out by into the cases handled by Anderson as prosecutor. Williamson County will conduct the audit, in conjunction with The Innocence Project and the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.
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