Former judge Ken Anderson will serve jail time and give up his law license in a settlement that resolves criminal and civil cases against him, which allege that, as Williamson County district attorney, Anderson withheld exculpatory evidence and an innocent man spent nearly 25 years in prison.
As part of a comprehensive settlement that resolves three cases, visiting Judge Kelly G. Moore on Nov. 8 found Anderson in criminal contempt of court for Anderson’s conduct in Michael Morton’s 1987 trial on charges for his wife’s murder. But Moore dismissed with prejudice misdemeanor and felony charges against Anderson. In a disciplinary case, Moore accepted an agreement in which Anderson will resign his law license and the Commission for Lawyer Discipline will dismiss its suit.
“Mr. Anderson has not been convicted and will not be convicted of any criminal offense,” said Anderson co-counsel Eric Nichols at the hearing.
When approving the settlement, Moore said this has been an unusual case and it requires an unusual resolution. The court faced “serious issues” related to the statute of limitations, he said.
“In a case like this, it’s hard to say what meets the ends of justice,” said Moore. Turning to Morton, who was in the audience, Moore said that there’s no way to resolve the tragedy of what happened to Morton.
He added, “Mr. Morton, the world is a better place because of you. … God bless you, sir.”
By Dec. 2, Anderson must surrender to serve 10 days in the Williamson County Jail for criminal contempt of court. But he’ll get credit for already serving one day in jail. Moore also ordered Anderson to pay a $500 fine and complete 500 hours of community service within five years.
The contempt finding stems from Anderson “failing to truthfully respond” during a 1987 pretrial hearing in Morton’s case. The trial judge asked if Anderson had “anything that was favorable to the accused,” and Anderson replied, “No, sir.”
Anderson agreed not to contest the contempt finding, and he waived his right to appeal it.
But he will not face any criminal charges that arose from a court of inquiry. Judge Louis Sturns of 213th District Court in Fort Worth wrote in his April 19 findings of fact and conclusions of law that a police investigator provided Anderson with information about “a stranger’s repeated appearances in the wooded area behind the Mortons’ home” and a transcript of Morton’s mother-in-law describing Morton’s son “observing a ‘monster’ who was not his father and who hurt his mother.”
Failing to disclose the evidence was a misdemeanor tampering-with-physical-evidence offense because it was “concealment of records,” it was done consciously, and Anderson knew it would “impact the defense,” Sturns wrote. He also found that Anderson’s conduct constituted a felony offense of tampering with a government record, which requires intentionally concealing a record to “defraud or harm” someone.
But Anderson argued in an application for writ of habeas corpus that the statute of limitations would bar both charges.
During the Nov. 8 hearing, Richard Roper, the attorney pro tem for the state, said, “We are declining criminal charges.”
Roper filed a Nov. 8 State’s Response to Habeas Corpus Petition that said the state wants Anderson’s arrest warrants withdrawn and his bonds terminated. The state doesn’t oppose the court granting relief, said the response.
Moore granted Anderson habeas relief, dismissing the misdemeanor and felony charges with prejudice.
In the disciplinary case against Anderson, his co-counsel Mark Dietz told the court that Anderson would resign in lieu of discipline.
Disciplinary counsel Laura Popps told Moore that the CFLD will submit the resignation documents to the Texas Supreme Court for approval, and once the high court approves Anderson’s resignation, the CFLD plans to nonsuit its claims.
Moore noted about the resignation, “It’s treated as a disbarment for all purposes.”