D.C. Superior Court judge stepped down after questions about sexual assault allegation

A public warning from Lauren Clark, left, in D.C., ricocheted to Alabama, where Carole Griffin gave voice to a devastating allegation. The two met in August 2019. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

A prominent D.C. Superior Court judge acclaimed as a criminal justice reformer during his 40 years on the bench retired earlier this year, days after receiving questions from The Washington Post about an allegation that he sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl when he was in his early 30s.

Judge Truman A. Morrison III admitted “sexual touching” of the teenager that was “totally inappropriate” and “wrongheaded” but said: “I certainly did not think that I ever forced myself on her.”

A seven-part Post investigative podcast launched Thursday chronicles how the allegation came to light. The catalyst was the publication of a Post story in January 2019 that focused on a young woman’s quest for justice after she was sexually assaulted by a stranger while jogging in her Northwest Washington neighborhood. The man — a local chef — later admitted to attacking her and five other women. Morrison sentenced him to 10 days in jail, served in two-day weekend stints.

Weeks after that story was published, a woman in Birmingham, Ala., wrote to a Post reporter that she had sensitive information pertinent to the previously published article. Eventually, the woman, Carole Griffin, put her account on the record.


“Canary: The Washington Post Investigates,” is a podcast that follows the intertwining stories of two women who came together after one of them publicly shared her story of sexual assault. The Post’s first long-form investigative podcast chronicles what it takes for survivors to step forward.


Morrison, 76, stepped down from his senior status role at D.C. Superior Court in March, three days after receiving The Post’s inquiry about the allegations against him. At the time, he was the court’s second-longest-serving judge.

The court’s chief judge, Robert E. Morin, declined to comment through a spokeswoman. Both the court and the D.C. Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure declined to provide Morrison’s retirement letter.

Griffin, seen at home in Hoover, Ala., struggled with the decision to come forward with allegations against Judge Truman A. Morrison III. (Jared Ragland for The Washington Post)
Clark was sexually assaulted by a stranger in Washington in 2013. The man admitted to attacking six women in all, and Morrison sentenced him to 10 days in jail. Clark's quest for justice was chronicled in The Washington Post in 2019. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)
LEFT: Griffin, seen at home in Hoover, Ala., struggled with the decision to come forward with allegations against Judge Truman A. Morrison III. (Jared Ragland for The Washington Post) RIGHT: Clark was sexually assaulted by a stranger in Washington in 2013. The man admitted to attacking six women in all, and Morrison sentenced him to 10 days in jail. Clark's quest for justice was chronicled in The Washington Post in 2019. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

The Post’s new podcast“Canary: The Washington Post Investigates” — documents Griffin’s decision to come forward with her allegations and follows the reporting process to corroborate her account.

Griffin, now 60, owns a popular bakery and adjoining French cafe in Birmingham, managing 50 employees. Her parents, longtime therapist, ex-husband, son and current partner, among other friends and confidants, gave interviews corroborating that she told them years ago that Morrison had sexually assaulted her. All of them said that Griffin gave specific details. All provided Morrison’s name but one, who described him as a judge.

Griffin said she met Morrison when she was 13 years old and he was an attorney at the D.C. Public Defender Service. Her parents were close friends with Morrison, and their families vacationed together.

Griffin is seen in 1976, the year she says Morrison assaulted her, when she was 16 and he was 32. (Family photo)
The Morrison property in southwestern Virginia, where Griffin says the assault happened. (Family photo)
LEFT: Griffin is seen in 1976, the year she says Morrison assaulted her, when she was 16 and he was 32. (Family photo) RIGHT: The Morrison property in southwestern Virginia, where Griffin says the assault happened. (Family photo)

Griffin alleged that Morrison sexually assaulted her in 1976 when she was 16 years old and staying at a rural property near Marion, Va., owned by Morrison’s family. She said she fell asleep on a deck with her mother and others sleeping nearby and later awoke to find Morrison — then 32 — penetrating her vagina with his fingers.

Griffin said when she opened her eyes, Morrison was whispering in an urgent tone: “Carole, Carole.” She said he took her hand and placed it on his underwear briefs, which were damp. She said she realized that he had ejaculated.

“I just froze,” she said. “I felt extremely grossed out. I remember a visceral disgust.”

She did not tell her parents — who were with her on the trip — until more than 15 years later. She also did not report it to police. She said she felt shame and fear, and it took her years before she was able to tell close friends and her therapists.

Morrison provided four statements to The Post in response to Griffin’s allegation that he had sexually assaulted her when she was a teenager. In the first, he acknowledged “sexual touching” of Griffin and said he expressed “deep regret” to her family decades ago.

In an email, Morrison, seen on a dock circa 1979, acknowledged “sexual touching” of Griffin. Later, after learning more details of the allegations, he denied touching Griffin while she was asleep but declined to describe the nature of the touching. (Family photo)

In subsequent responses, after learning more details of the allegations, Morrison denied touching Griffin while she was asleep but declined to describe the nature of the sexual touching.

“I will always deeply regret having initiated such conduct with her when she was sixteen and a half years old,” he wrote. “Given her age and my relationship of trust with Carole and her family, it was totally inappropriate.”

In 1979, Morrison was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the D.C. Superior Court. Griffin said Morrison continued to touch her inappropriately until the mid-1980s — when he was in his 40s and she was in her 20s. She described an incident where he groped her buttocks and another where he grabbed her vagina.

Morrison denied Griffin’s allegations of unwelcome sexual contact in later encounters.

“I certainly did not think that I ever forced myself on her, but the truth remains that it was wrongheaded of me to initiate any sexual contact given her age and our age difference,” he wrote. “Whether or not I thought my contacts were welcome is completely irrelevant. I certainly appreciate that sexual touching of any kind without clear permission is not acceptable at any age.”

Morrison is seen with his parents when he joined the D.C. Superior Court in 1979. (Family photo)

Janet Griffin said that, in the mid-1990s, soon after her daughter shared her account of the incident in Virginia, she flew to Washington and confronted Morrison in the airport.

“I told him Carole had been in counseling for a long time. And I could see his face then and I said ‘You molested her,’ ” she recalled. “ I felt like I saw some remorse.”

In interviews with The Post, several of Morrison’s friends and former colleagues described him as a judge with an impeccable professional reputation and said they had never heard any allegations of wrongdoing.

Nikki Lotze, who served as Morrison’s law clerk in the 1990s, described him as a “terrific mentor” and a “window into the way judging should be done.”

Eleanor Randolph, a former member of the New York Times editorial board and longtime friend of Morrison’s, issued a statement to The Post saying that the publication of Griffin’s allegations “risks making the Me Too movement look less about justice and more about revenge.”

“This respected judge spent his entire public life trying to improve a flawed and unfair judicial system for men and women alike,” she wrote. “He worked hard to keep people from getting lost in the nation’s prisons, and I watched him become a national leader in the fight against the cash bail bond industry which so easily punishes the poor and destroys lives.”


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In the 2000s, Morrison garnered a national reputation as a leading judicial advocate for criminal justice reform. He has long championed an overhaul of cash bail systems that rely upon the payment of court fees to keep defendants out of jail. He has traveled across the United States and the world to advise prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and other officials considering changes to their pretrial detention policies.

Within the Superior Court, Morrison was for years responsible for leading the education of all new and continuing judges. His 30-page essay “Being a Good Judge” has long been suggested reading for judges preparing to take the bench.

In the essay, Morrison describes a judicial system that largely operates immune from any meaningful scrutiny, where judges are ultimately responsible for policing their own conduct.

“Do not overlook the powerfully corrosive effect of doing a job where every day, in every way, you can always have the last word,” he writes.

Morrison, who spent 40 years on the bench, earned a reputation as a leading judicial advocate for criminal justice reform. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Morrison has sentenced high-profile sexual offenders in D.C., including individuals accused of sexually abusing children and mentally disabled people. A Post review of his cases — limited by spotty records and lack of comprehensive data — turned up at least five in which he gave no jail time to defendants convicted of felony sex crimes against minors and, in one case, an intellectually disabled adult.

In 1981, a 30-year-old teacher who engaged in sex acts with five of his male teenage students was convicted of 10 felony charges, including sodomy. The victims were ages 14 to 17.

Morrison said in court, according to Post archives, that he was “mindful of the difficulty of a case of this type that did not involve physical force.” And he said that the victims had what he called “character impediments.” Morrison suspended a prison term and placed the teacher on probation.

In 1984, a social worker at a school for behaviorally troubled youths was convicted of taking indecent liberties with minors after engaging in sex acts with two teenage boys and paying one of them up to $20 to pose for nude photographs. Morrison suspended a jail sentence and placed the social worker on probation.

In the late 1980s, six residents of a D.C. home for intellectually challenged adults told a local TV station that the owner had sexually abused them. One resident told police that the owner had forced his fingers and penis into his rectum, and a doctor found evidence of a “sexual violation,” according to news reports. The owner pleaded guilty to one charge of assault with intent to sodomize. Morrison sentenced him to probation.

There were at least five cases where he gave prison sentences of more than five years for sexual crimes. In a 1990 rape case, in which the perpetrator blackened the victim’s eyes and broke her nose, Morrison gave a sentence of 10 to 30 years.

In the 1988 case of a serial rapist — linked to five sexual assaults and home invasions in D.C. — several victims wrote to Morrison to ask for the maximum sentence: life imprisonment. “Judge Morrison, a life sentence has been imposed on five women,” one wrote. “I think it only fair that [he] also be given a life sentence.”

Morrison crafted a minimum sentence of 18 years served in prison, taking into account time earned for good behavior.

In his essay, Morrison wrote about the 40-year honor of serving as a judge.

“The decisions you make have real and immediate consequence to other people,” he wrote. “Over time, as your decisions loom and pass, you begin, even if subconsciously, to look back over your robed shoulder, back down the decision-making road you have traversed. As you do, you begin to marvel at all that you have both survived and appear to have accomplished in the realm of deciding important and difficult cases.”

Clark, at rear, was stunned to learn of Griffin's allegations against the judge who sentenced her attacker. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

“Canary: The Washington Post Investigates,” is a podcast that follows the intertwining stories of two women who came together after one of them publicly shared her story of sexual assault. The Post’s first long-form investigative podcast chronicles what it takes for survivors to step forward.


Reena Flores, Steven Rich, Madeleine Davison and Julie Tate contributed to this report.

Design and development by Clare Ramirez. Editing by Jeff Leen. Copy editing by Laura Michalski and Wayne Lockwood. Project editing by Courtney Kan. Photo editing by Nick Kirkpatrick.

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