Find out where Judge Morton stands on some of the important issues facing the Harris County Criminal Justice System:

ACCESS TO COURTS/SAFETY PROTOCOLS DURING COVID-19:

During the pandemic, I continued to preside in person in the courtroom for those parties who chose to be in-person or for defendants who were in custody.  Many parties chose to attend proceedings remotely, which I supported and encouraged.  As Harris County Courts are beginning to open back up, I will continue as I have throughout the pandemic to follow CDC and County Health guidance by requiring individuals to wear masks and to social distance while in the 230th District Court, until the County advises otherwise.  I strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated to speed reopening efforts.    

MANAGED ASSIGNED COUNSEL (MAC): 

I support the recommendation by the Texas Indigent Defense Counsel (TIDC) to create Managed Assigned Counsel (MAC), an independent office to handle the appointment of competent and experienced attorneys for indigent defendants and the approval of those attorneys’ invoices.  Currently, the appointment of indigent defense counsel and the approval of their fees is handled by each individual court.  The current system creates a potential perception of bias or favortism towards particular attorneys or, even worse, a "pay to play" scenario where attorneys feel the need to donate to judicial campaigns in order to receive work in a particular court.  As a result, during my first week as a judge, I delegated the appointment of indigent defense counsel to my court coordinator, as I firmly believe that judges should have no hand in selecting the attorneys who represent the parties before them.  I believe Managed Assigned Counsel would fix this issue.    

BOND REFORM: 

The purpose of a bond – whether cash or personal recognizance (PR) – is to ensure a defendant returns to court and complies with the conditions of his or her release.  The Texas Constitution provides that every person charged with a criminal offense is entitled to a bond, with very few specific and limited exceptions.  For a judge to apply one of these exceptions and hold a defendant at "no-bond", the State must first provide evidence of very specific facts.  Where the State is unwilling or unable to provide that evidence, a bond MUST be given, because every accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and the natural state of innocent people is at liberty. 

In the past, judges have set extremely high cash bonds (also known as bail), as a way of ensuring that defendants stay in jail during the pendency of their cases.  This was done under the guise of protecting the community.  The result of such a practice, however, is that individuals with wealth are able to leave jail on bond, while individuals charged with the same crime (but without the same access to money) stay in jail.  Let me be clear:  this practice violates defendants’ rights under both the Texas and United States Constitutions.  By law, cash bail CANNOT be used as a means of oppression, and no person should languish in jail merely because they cannot afford to make their bail. 

Rather, to ensure the safety of the community, nonmonetary conditions (such as GPS monitoring, curfews, restrictions on the possession of firearms, and no-contact orders) should be put in place whenever the bond is set.  If a defendant violates these conditions, the State may request a hearing to revoke the defendant's bond and, potentially, to hold the defendant at no-bond until the time of trial.  

As Judge, I believe strongly that whether a defendant remains in jail during the pendency of their case should not depend on whether that individual is rich or poor.  My focus as Judge of the 230th District Court has therefore been on setting bonds in compliance with the requirements of the Texas Constitution which are designed to ensure the defendant’s appearance in court, while also putting non-monetary conditions of bond in place to keep victims and the community safe.   

MENTAL HEALTH & ADDICTION ISSUES: 

Judges should be alert and cognizant to mental health and addiction issues. Often drug cases involve people with mental health issues who are self-medicating.   Judges need to seek ways to help people with addiction and mental health issues by keeping them out of jail and in treatment.  There are state funded programs that can help with this.  In my court, I strive to ensure that addiction and mental health issues are addressed, not punished. 

VETERANS’ ISSUES: 

As a former military serviceman, I know that men and women who have served our country in uniform have special issues and often deserve special attention, as many of our veterans come home suffering from PTSD or other mental health issues as a result of their military service.  Judges need to be cognizant of those issues and proactive in working with veterans to obtain additional support through referrals to Veteran’s Court.  As a prosecutor, I volunteered my time working in Veteran’s Court and can attest to the positive outcomes there.  As judge, I fully utilize Veteran’s Court. 

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