CHARLESTON – A former state Supreme Court employee says the reason he was fired last week is because he is suspected of leaking photographs that might have cost Chief Justice Spike Maynard re-election and that he accused the court administrator of making racial comments in the office.
Pancho Morris was fired Nov. 14 by state court Administrator Steve Canterbury. He oversaw the state magistrate court system for the last four years. Before that, Morris, who is black, was a Kanawha County assistant prosecutor.
In a story in Tuesday's Charleston Daily Mail, Morris said he will ask for a criminal investigation of the state Supreme Court for intimidation and retaliation against court employees. He also told the paper that he plans to sue over his firing.
"What I'm telling you is this thing is going to get big," Morris told the Daily Mail. "There was a violation of federal and state laws by at least four individuals on the court."
He told the Daily Mail that Canterbury is one of those individuals, adding that three unnamed justices also are involved.
Morris told the Mail that he was blamed by court officials for leaking the photos of Maynard with longtime friend and Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship together in Monaco in 2006 while the company had an appeal pending before the court. He also said he was suspected because he is a friend of Justice Larry Starcher, who has been a critic of Maynard. Morris was a law clerk for Starcher when he was a Monongalia Circuit Judge.
Morris also told the Daily Mail that he was also suspected of leaking the photos because Brenda Magann, who went on the Monaco trip with Maynard, works in the division he supervised.
"They suspected that I was at the heart of this thing," Morris told the Daily Mail. "And I'm not going to take it lying down. …
"I have a constitutional right to associate with Justice Starcher and any other justice on that court. It's not like I committed some misconduct. If I did that, I would understand."
Morris wouldn't elaborate on Canterbury's alleged racial comments, referring the Daily Mail to his attorney.
Today, Canterbury told The Record that Morris' firing was a personnel matter.
"All I can say is that he was fired from his will-and-pleasure position," Canterbury said. "It's a personnel matter. As far as his accusations, I find them reprehensible. I believe my dozen or so years in state government have shown that I have a sterling record of fairness."
Critics and opponents of Maynard made use of the Monaco photos in this spring's primary election when the Mingo County native lost his chance at another 12-year term.
In an Associated Press story, Morris' attorney Katherine Dolley said her client was targeted by Canterbury "because he blew the whistle to state officials on your use of the 'N' word and other racially derogatory language in the administrative office."
That letter also said Morris plans to challenge his firing, claiming it was "retaliatory in nature, and politically and racially motivated."
Morris told The AP those allegations are partly from information he provided in a discrimination case brought by a Cabell Circuit Court law librarian.
In the AP story, Morris said he thinks his firing is tied to Maynard's departure from the bench.