Morgan Will End Greetings For Prospective Jurors After Disagreement With Federal Judges
March 25, 2011
Escambia Sheriff’s David Morgan will no longer greet jurors as they head to service in state or federal court.
“There is no honor in this acquiescence,” Morgan wrote in a letter to Senior U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson. “Yet what can be only described as an impending media circus must be avoided. I cannot and will not be a player to a diminution or denigration of the judicial process.”
Vinson and two other federal judges questioned Morgan’s practice of greeting potential jurors in a parking lot near the Pensacola Civic Center. Prospective jurors are transported by trolley from the parking area to the courthouse. Morgan would personally greet the jurors, often handing them his business card — a practice that he began in January 2007 during his campaign and continued into office.
Good Morning, I’m Sheriff David Morgan. I attempt to get down here on as many Monday’s as possible to thank you for answering the jury summons. I know that this is a disruption of your business or personal day, but you are an integral part of the judicial process. Thank you for your service,” Morgan said this is the typical statement he makes to potential jurors.
On Wednesday, attorney Michelle Hendrix filed a motion for a court order seeking to keep the sheriff away from the potential jurors in the case of her client, Billings murder suspect Donnie Stallworth.
In a March 17 letter, Morgan said greeting the jurors was his First Amendment right of freedom of speech. “Although an elected official, I retain the First Amendment protection of my rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association. I consider the greeting of jurors an exercise of these rights and a function of Sheriff of Escambia County and the Executive Officer of the Court.” To read the March 17 letter, click here.
“I submit that the likelihood that my greeting creates any ‘bias’ in a prospective juror is infinitesimal,” Morgan wrote in a letter to U.S. Judge Casey Rodgers.
“Your interactions with these prospective jurors raise legitimate concerns about the court’s ability to seat fair and impartial juries, especially when considering that the majority of those selected will serve on criminal juries,” Judge Rogers wrote in a March 3 letter to Morgan requesting that he cease meeting with the prospective jurors. “Even if no actual
bias results, the court nonetheless is concerned that your practice at a minimum gives the appearance of bias, which in our view seriously undermines the public’s confidence in the fair administration of justice.”
In the March 24 letter in which Morgan said he would cease to meet with prospective jurors, he stated, “…a simple ‘thank you for your service’ in answering a jury summons and becoming a part of the judicial process (by a sheriff) is painted to be an insidious assault and an attempt to skew the outcome of a trial(s). This is contorted logic at best. And at worst, this acceptance is yet but one more step down the rungs of our societal ladder of decency and civility. I find it despicable.”