Judge Rick Morris Appointed to Preside in Lawsuit to Remove County Judge Gattis
Morris Has Authority to Kill the Lawsuit or Order Case to Proceed
Rick Morris, judge of the 146th Judicial District Court in Belton, Bell County, will preside in the lawsuit filed December 22 by Williamson County Attorney Jana Duty to remove Williamson County Judge Dan A. Gattis from office. Wallace B. Jefferson, Chief Justice of The Supreme Court of Texas, today signed a letter to make the assignment.
As reported by The Austin Bulldog December 29, the visiting judge appointed by the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of whether the lawsuit (Cause Number 10-1428-C26) will ever go to trial.
“The trial court judge has discretion to refuse to order citation, in which case the suit is dismissed,” according to a scholarly paper on the topic of removal lawsuits written by Potter County Attorney Scott Brumley, who is also president of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. “No appeal may be taken from the decision.”
The lawsuit filed by County Attorney Duty alleges five instances of “incompetence and official misconduct” and asks the court to suspend Gattis and appoint another person to perform the duties of county judge until final judgment and, upon trial by jury and a final judgment, to remove Gattis from his position as county judge.
Gattis issued a statement December 29 indicating there has been no misconduct or violations of the law of any kind.
County Attorney Duty says that Attorney James Nassour of the Austin law firm Keel & Nassour L.L.P. will assist her in prosecuting the lawsuit if Judge Morris allows the action to move forward. This is necessary, she said, because Duty is not only the plaintiff in the lawsuit but also a material witness.
“I will take the stand at some point,” Duty says.
Appointment of Nassour as a special prosecutor to assist Duty will require the approval of Judge Morris, Duty said, adding that’s a routine matter not subject to the judge’s discretion.
Duty says she does not know Judge Morris or anything about him, but views his appointment favorably because he works in a small county and will tend to understand the nature of government in Williamson County better than someone from a large metropolitan county.
Jack Richard “Rick” Morris was appointed to the 146th Judicial District Court in May 1989 by Governor William P. “Bill” Clements, a Repubilcan, to serve out the unexpired term of the judge elected to that post in 1988, but who died shortly after taking office.
Morris, 60, was born September 20, 1950, according to the Texas State Directory, and was 38 years old at the time of his appointment. The Republican judge ran unopposed and was reelected in the general elections of 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008. His current term expires December 31, 2012.
Judge Morris is also an elected member of the Judicial Section of the State Bar of Texas, which recommends and monitors legislation affecting the appellate courts and justice system of the state and, when requested, provides resource persons for legislative hearings.
Morris received his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas. He earned his law degree from Baylor University, where he graduated in May 1975.
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