Six charges against Morris dismissed

Published 1:22 pm Wednesday, December 21, 2016

One felony child abuse count sent to grand jury

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

SUFFOLK — Six of the seven felony child abuse charges filed against Del. Rick Morris in September were dismissed in a preliminary hearing Thursday by Judge Robert S. Brewbaker Jr.

Brewbaker banned reporters from attending the hearing but, in what appeared to be a unique ruling, allowed a member of the general public to remain in the courtroom.

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The only information concerning what transpired during the seven-hour closed hearing came from Morris’ defense attorney, Nicole Belote, who spoke with reporters outside the courtroom following the hearing. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

 Belote said that one felony count of child cruelty against Morris will go on to Suffolk Circuit Court. According to Belote, Brewbaker dismissed six charges against Morris and ordered three misdemeanors that Morris had filed against his wife, Kathryn Morris, after she had filed misdemeanor domestic assault charges against him, not to be prosecuted.

State Republican legislative leaders called on Morris to resign his 64th House seat after the charges were filed against him in September, but Belote said Morris has no plans now to step down. The 64th includes parts of Isle of Wight and Surry counties.

Morris sits on the House of Delegates Courts of Justice committee, which interviews prospective judges and judges whose terms of office are up for extension.

Thursday’s hearing lasted nearly seven hours, starting at 1 p.m. and wrapping up a little after 8 p.m. at the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in Suffolk.

Morris referred all questions from reporters to Belote after the proceedings, and did not respond to phone calls the following day.  

Belote said she was pleased with the result of the proceedings, considering that six of the seven charges were dismissed without the judge hearing any evidence presented from the side of the defense, though her ultimate goal had been to have all of the charges against Morris dismissed.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Shukita Massey of Hampton declined to comment after the hearing, stating that the case against Morris was still pending. She would not confirm Brewbaker’s rulings on the charges.

Arrest warrants for Morris, 48, were issued in September and describe the legislator allegedly beating his 11-year-old stepson with a belt and a wooden spoon, throwing a hose at him and forcing him to stand in a corner over a three-day period.

According to Belote, around six witnesses were called during the hearing, including Kathryn Morris, a doctor, a neighbor and Morris’s stepson.

Brewbaker prohibited any journalists from being present at the proceedings “after hearing the argument of counsel and after due consideration,” according to an order issued at around 2 p.m. to reporters waiting outside the courtroom.

Reporters requested an opportunity to make their case to Brewbaker as to why they should be admitted, especially considering that Morris is an elected official of public interest. Brewbaker permitted one reporter to address the court after the request was made but did not change his mind, stating that he had considered issues of transparency when making his decision, but that it did not outweigh his obligation to prohibit news coverage when the testimony involves or is given by a minor. 

Johan Conrod, a lawyer for the Daily Press, arrived at the courthouse during the hearing to argue the issue further, stating that he believed the judge had not sufficiently clarified his reasons for a closed hearing in his order.

Brewbaker said that Morris’ hearing was open to the public but not to individuals in the media, according to Conrod, who spoke with the judge.

“It’s not a distinction I have ever seen,” said Conrod regarding Brewbaker’s decision to allow the public, but specifically barring reporters from a hearing.

Brewbaker said that a member of the public was in the courtroom during the hearing, according to Conrod.

A sign on the door to the court read “Closed Hearing” throughout the proceedings.  {/mprestriction}