GANT News conducted a questionnaire with the three candidates for the office of Magisterial District Judge, 46-3-02, in Clearfield County. Two of the three candidates responded to GANT’s questionnaire under deadline.
Mike Morris, Clearfield County Coroner, is seeking election as magisterial district judge, and below are his responses to a series of 10 questions.
- Provide a brief biography and background.
My name is Mike Morris and I have been a Clearfield County resident for all but four years of my life.
After graduating from the Clearfield Area High School in 1973, I chose to serve my country as an active duty member of the U.S. Marine Corps until 1977.
I completed basic training at Paris Island and advanced training at Camp Pendleton and Norfolk Naval Station. I served on the USS Saratoga with the Marine Security Detachment where I completed missions in Cuba and a tour of duty in the Mediterranean.
Upon returning to Clearfield, I attended the Pennsylvania State Police Northwest Regional Police Academy and joined the Clearfield Borough Police Department.
I also served as a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician. I later enrolled at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and studied criminal justice.
I was provided with an opportunity for a career change, and I chose to work for an environmental laboratory and consulting firm. There, I expanded my first responder experience to include HazMat emergencies and clean-up efforts. I often served as a liaison to meet both the needs of the industry and the citizens.
I later returned to law enforcement for the Lawrence Township Police Department. During my employment, I was the school resource officer at the Clearfield Middle School.
I found this to be a very fulfilling and satisfying career experience. During this time, I also worked for the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Drug Task Force to help stop the negative effects that illegal substances have in our communities and within our families.
After an injury limited my ability to work effectively a police officer, I was elected by the voters of Clearfield County and am currently serving citizens as the coroner.
I have spent my life serving our country and our community in various ways, and it has been an honor to do so.
- Why did you choose to run for Magisterial District Judge?
I first considered seeking office for MDJ six years ago, as it would have been a good transition from my career as a police officer. However, at that time, Magisterial District Judge Richard Ireland was running for re-election, and after working with him for many years and respecting the work he did, I chose not to oppose him.
MDJ Ireland is now retiring from the position, and I feel that this would be the right time to serve the people of Clearfield County in this capacity.
- What qualifies you to hold the office of Magisterial District Judge?
First, I have had extensive law enforcement, investigative and courtroom experience during all my various positions.
I have completed criminal justice courses and training, and in June, I will have successfully completed the Certification Course for Magisterial District Judge through the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Minor Judiciary Education Board.
Second, I feel that the most important qualification is the trust and the will of the people. If they support me and elect me, that is my mandate.
More than 25 years in law enforcement provided me with the experience to tackle this job. I have developed a sincere understanding of the problems facing our communities and families.
I have strong interpersonal skills to oversee staff and create a positive and healthy work environment. Most importantly, I have the self-awareness to ensure impartiality to serve justice ethically and fairly.
Lastly, I have heard a few people claim that I am not qualified to fulfill this position because I am not an attorney.
This is a false statement. As a police officer, we are required to have the initiative to properly and legally prepare and present summary and traffic cases before the MDJ.
This is unlike trials in the Court of Common Pleas, which are handled by lawyers. District Judges research and apply laws to reach their decisions and resolve disputes.
I am confident in my knowledge of the law, in my ability to receive certification and in my honest character as a person. I would not attempt to serve in the MDJ office, nor would I ask voters to support me, if I was not qualified for this position.
- What is the most important aspect of this position, and how can you ensure you meet all the requirements?
The certification course I am required to complete details the legal requirements of the position and sets forth the rules and guidelines of the office.
The most important aspect of this position is service to the community as their MDJ to render fair, legal rulings tempered with compassion and common sense.
I believe my record shows my willingness to impartially serve our community. My personal integrity ensures that I can meet these requirements.
- What do you think makes you the better candidate for Magisterial District Judge, in Clearfield County?
My years of experience working one-on-one with other people and understanding the various obstacles that members of our community are facing.
I have had extensive interactions with police officers, EMTs, attorneys, medical examiners, courthouse employees, grieving families, enforcement officials, crime victims and criminals.
I have been required to be empathetic and reasonable while making decisions and settling disputes that would give King Solomon pause.
- If elected, what would you make your priority in the upcoming term of office?
I don’t want to be one of those politicians who make big promises about sweeping changes and new priorities.
My first order of business, if elected, would be to spend time with MDJ Richard Ireland and his staff to see what problems and challenges currently exist for them. Budgets are tight in every government office, and there is no need to reinvent the wheel.
Without first-hand knowledge of issues facing the office, one priority I have is to remain proactive. Community outreach is important to me.
As a police officer and as coroner, I volunteer with several groups to provide awareness and education. In the last two weeks, I was on a panel for community education about drug awareness and I assisted the Practical Nursing class at CCCTC with their health and safety program.
As your MDJ, I will continue to reach people at risk before they become a court case.
- What is the greatest challenge facing the office of Magisterial District Judge in Clearfield County? How would you overcome it?
Again, it is difficult to say what is the biggest problem facing the office, without viewing the problems from the inside.
My experience as a county official has taught me that the biggest problems facing public offices are a lack of funding and a lack of staffing.
After taking over the coroner’s office, I faced numerous challenges with budgets, manpower, response times, and changes in the laws and regulations governing Coroners.
These types of issues will always exist, and we work the best we can to operate effectively. For example, I increased the training for staff members and deputies, which made us more efficient in our duties. We reduced response time from two or three hours to less than 40 minutes. I can assure the voters that I will have the same “roll-up-your sleeves-and-go-to-work” attitude.
I will not make big promises that I can’t keep, nor will I stand on the outside looking in and tell you how I would do it differently. Not until I have had the opportunity to observe the obstacles our MDJ office tackles daily can I make comment to the details of overcoming those challenges.
But I assure you that persistence in the face of obstacles and cooperation with my staff will be the key to overcome any problems the MDJ office may face.
- If you are elected, what plans do you have to develop relationships with local law enforcement, court officials and attorneys?
I plan to keep the long-standing relationships I have already established during my work and volunteer experiences. I have developed good rapport with our court officials, police and attorneys.
I am sensitive to their needs and concerns, and I continue to have professional and positive interactions that have developed into meaningful and cooperative relationships. The bridges have already been built, and while my job may change, my character and compassion will remain the same.
- If elected, how would you be proactive and set an example with the communities you serve?
As previously stated, being proactive is one of my priorities. I currently work with several schools, the Clearfield Jefferson County Drug and Alcohol Commission, EMS agencies and Suicide Prevention Teams. I will continue to give freely of my time to support our community and help to make a difference in the lives of others.
- What would you like the voters to consider before they make their final choice for Magisterial District Judge?
Who do you want to be your Magisterial District Judge? Many of the voters in this district know me personally and professionally.
If I am the kind of person you want as Magisterial District Judge, then I will be happy and honored to continue to serve the citizens in Pike Township, Lawrence Township, Curwensville Borough and Clearfield Borough with respect and integrity.