Utah judicial commissioner resigns after calling people ‘heifers’ and other slurs

The Utah Judicial Council made the rare decision to remove him from office, but T.R. Morgan resigned before members could take a final vote.

(Scott Sommerdorf | Tribune file photo) The Matheson Courthouse, where the Utah Judicial Council meets.

Utah’s judicial policymakers voted this week to remove a commissioner from the bench, after finding he harassed a law clerk when using derogatory terms like “homos” and “heifers” to describe people.

It was a rare move — though T.R. Morgan resigned from his position before the Utah Judicial Council could formally vote to remove him. He did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Morgan had been a commissioner since 2016, according to the Court Commissioner Conduct Committee’s findings of fact, and had worked in the Farmington courthouse. Commissioners are considered “quasi-judicial officers” by the courts, and generally preside over family law-related cases.

A law clerk complained about Morgan last summer after she resigned from her position, in part because of his behavior. The findings of fact state the clerk reported that Morgan made her uncomfortable when he made inappropriate comments about members of the LGBTQ community, including referring to them as “homos.” The clerk, who identifies as queer, said Morgan used the term “over and over,” even after she asked him to stop.

The findings also noted an instance when Morgan said, while discussing a request for two women to marry, “Why can’t I get a hot lesbian couple in my court?”

Morgan also made disparaging comments about transgender people, according to the findings, calling them “mentally ill” and “brainwashed kids who think they’re something they are not.”

The clerk also reported Morgan would make inappropriate sexual comments towards her while discussing child custody cases, saying, “if we were to have sex,” and then would add, “you’re welcome, by the way,” and would wink at her.

Morgan told judicial officials that this was his attempt to “role play” in an effort to imagine himself in the shoes of those who were appearing in his courtroom. The court commissioner conduct committee found this to be inappropriate.

The findings also say that Morgan gave the law clerk unwanted shoulder rubs, which continued even after the woman asked him to stop.

The clerk also reported that Morgan called another judicial assistant “a heifer.” The committee noted that this might not have been unwelcome, as the judicial assistant would respond by also calling Morgan “a heifer.”

”There is also some indication that it was actually the judicial assistant who first used this term,” the findings read. “But Commissioner Morgan’s use of the term made others in the office uncomfortable, and he was eventually asked to stop using the term, and he did so.”

Morgan also reportedly discussed his religion with the clerk, the document said, pressuring her to adopt his same beliefs in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The woman reported Morgan told her he had biases against men being caretakers or stay-at-home dads — but there was not evidence that Morgan’s rulings reflected his biases, the findings said.

The clerk became increasingly uncomfortable working under Morgan, according to the document, and would avoid the courthouse or work from home. When she left her job in June 2020, she sent a letter to the presiding judge in the 2nd District Court explaining her concerns. The letter was forwarded to the Human Resources department and an investigation began.

HR staff concluded that Morgan committed harassment, but noted that since Morgan was a judicial officer, the office couldn’t discipline him. The case was then referred to the Court Commissioner Conduct Committee, which ultimately recommended to the judicial council that Morgan be removed from office.

“The Committee sees no reason for judicial officers to be treated differently — and certainly not more leniently — that other judicial branch supervisors,” wrote Judge Ryan Harris, chair of the committee.

The conduct committee found Morgan committed harassment towards the clerk who complained, and members said they were concerned that Morgan didn’t seem to understand the power imbalance inherent in the judicial workplace. Morgan reported to them that he considered her “an equal” and he did not believe he was in a position of power over her.

The committee members said they were also concerned Morgan did not stop much of the behavior even after the clerk asked him to do so.

“Commissioner Morgan’s persistence in taking certain actions even after he learned that such actions were unwelcome and that others considered them inappropriate is a matter of no small concern,” Harris wrote.

The Utah Judicial Council followed the recommendation Tuesday, voting to remove Morgan from office, but noting the sanction couldn’t be imposed because Morgan resigned.

It was a rare decision, said Tania Mashburn, spokesperson for the courts.

“Leadership currently at the courts can’t remember it happening before,” she said.