Ethics complaint filed against Judge Michele Morel
By Kyle Barnett -
Mar 14, 2013
An employee at the St. Charles Parish Clerk of Court's office has filed an ethics complaint against 29th Judicial District Court Judge Michele Morel.
In the complaint, deputy clerk Tiffany Templet Dewhirst said she was summoned to Morel's office on the afternoon of March 1.
Dewhirst claims Morel confronted her about faxing documents from the Clerk of Court's Office to the Times Picayune. Those documents concerned an incident where Morel was asked to recuse herself from a case having connections to an FBI investigation involving her father, former District Attorney Harry Morel.
According to the letter, Morel said it was not Dewhirst's job to "fax information to the newspaper or any other type of media."
Throughout the conversation, Morel allegedly cursed at Dewhirst even though the clerk said she was just doing her job.
When Dewhirst asked why Morel was just now talking to her about the incident when it happened weeks before, Morel said that she would have "chewed (Dewhirt's) f**king head off" if she would have spoken to her right after she had faxed the documents, according to the complaint.
Dewhirst also wrote that Morel ordered her not to "go out of my way for the Times Picayune or any other media who needs information regarding her father or her" and that she should forward all requests to Clerk of Court Lance Marino himself or ask those requesting the documents to come to the courthouse to retrieve them.
Morel also reportedly told Dewhirst someone else in the courthouse was releasing information to the media regarding her father, but would not reveal that person's name.
Dewhirst concluded the letter by writing "I feel as though Judge Morel has used her position as Judge to intimidate me."
Marino verified Dewhirst had filed a complaint against Morel with the state Judiciary Commission of the Supreme Court.
He said he was out of the office for professional training at the time, but when he returned Dewhirst alerted him to the incident.
"She wrote it down right after it occurred, in her words, so she wouldn't forget anything and she made me aware of it," he said.
On March 5 Marino said he met with Morel to speak about Dewhirst's claims.
"I made sure to let her know that if she ever has a concern with any of my employees or their procedures or behaviors please let me know first because I wasn't there. And also, yes, we do share public records – that is our job. We are custodians of the records and also comply with public requests as well as press requests for any information," he said.
Marino said Morel did not say much to dispel the reasoning behind the dispute.
"There seemed to be, as I spoke to Judge Morel, an element of disagreement on the tone that was actually used and the exact words," he said.
Although he said he did not know what the next steps were for the Judiciary Commission or if a similar situation had ever arisen at the Clerk's Office before, Marino said he saw nothing wrong with the way Dewhirst handled the situation.
"We are going to continue to comply with public records requests through the public and the media and government because we are in charge of public records and of course total access," he said.
Read the complaint letter below (warning: contains graphic language)