Judge bars media from Morris hearing

Published 2:15 pm Thursday, December 15, 2016

by Tracy Agnew
Suffolk News-Herald

A Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judge on Thursday barred reporters from five media outlets from covering a case involving a state delegate.

Delegate Richard Lee “Rick” Morris is charged with 14 counts of various crimes, stemming from alleged abuse of his wife and an adolescent child in the home.

His wife, Kathryn Morris, also is charged with assault and battery after Morris took out warrants against her following his arrest.

The case was set for a hearing to begin at 1 p.m. Thursday in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. Reporters from the Suffolk News-Herald, Virginian-Pilot, Daily Press, Smithfield Times and WAVY-TV10 were in attendance at Suffolk courthouse.

However, Judge Robert S. Brewbaker Jr. signed an order barring the reporters from the courtroom after hearing objections from both the Commonwealth’s Attorney as well as the delegate’s attorney.

The reporters were not permitted to speak before he made his decision.

Following the issuance of the order, the reporters protested the decision, and a bailiff relayed the message. The judge agreed to allow one of the reporters into the courtroom to state the reasons why they wanted to be allowed in.

A reporter from the Virginian-Pilot went in and argued that Morris is an elected official, and reporting on the case would serve the public interest and transparency.

Brewbaker responded that he did consider that before making his decision, the Virginian-Pilot reporter told colleagues. But he said he also had an obligation to prohibit coverage when the testimony is being given by a minor, and that that overweighed the reporters’ objections.

In Brewbaker’s written order, he cited Virginia code section 19.2-266.

“After hearing the argument of counsel and after due consideration, the objections of the Commonwealth and the defendant are granted,” the order reads. “The media is hereby prohibited from being present in and from providing coverage of today’s hearing and proceedings.”