Judge shopping allegation made in Morales case

State’s attorney and public defenders remain at odds

An allegation of “judge shopping” has once again arisen in a Ward County District Court case.

Ashley Gulke had been appointed as the defense attorney for Bradley Joe Morales, 27, last week on charges of attempted murder and possession of a controlled substance. The state’s attorney’s office filed a motion to dismiss the attempted murder charge against Morales on Wednesday, after his alleged victim Sharmaine Leake, 25, died Tuesday of her stab wound. The state then filed a murder charge against Morales.

Gulke filed a motion in resistance to the dismissal because she said it would leave Morales without representation on the murder charge and it was a convenient way for the state to switch judges in the case.

“The appropriate action would be to amend the complaint (in the attempted murder case),” wrote Gulke. “Dismissing the case and filing a new complaint in a new case is a round-about way of changing judges and judge shopping. It also creates a loop-hole whereby Mr. Morales is unrepresented and thereby jeopardizes his right to a fair trial and his right to counsel. It is not the appropriate action to be taken in this matter.”

Judge Stacy Louser signed off on the dismissal of the attempted murder charge on Wednesday.

Gulke represented Morales during his initial appearance on the murder charge before Judge Doug Mattson on Thursday afternoon.

Mattson set bond at $1 million for Morales. He will also preside over Morales’ preliminary hearing in the murder case on Sept. 28.

Mattson also has ordered that Gulke represent Morales on his other open cases before the court. Morales also has a pending burglary charge and had been charged with Class C felony possession of ecstasy on Aug. 16, the same date he was arrested on an attempted murder charge.

The state has not moved to dismiss the Aug. 16 drug possession charge, which is still scheduled to be heard before Judge Louser. Gulke objected verbally to the state’s actions in court on Thursday and tried to tell Mattson that she thinks the state should have amended the attempted murder charge to murder instead of dismissing it and filing a new charge that was placed before a new judge.

Mattson cut Gulke off.

“Let’s stay with this (case),” he told Gulke. “I don’t want to drift off.”

He refused to allow further discussion on the state’s motion to dismiss the attempted murder charge.

“The state has discretion in this area and I guess that’s what Judge Louser did when she signed off on the motion to dismiss,” Mattson told Gulke.

The allegation of “judge shopping” appears to be part of an ongoing issue between the state’s attorney’s office and public defenders.

Last month, Ward County Deputy State’s Attorney Kelly Dillon and defense attorney Patrick Waters faced off at a court hearing before temporary Judge Thomas Merrick over which judge should hear the Cynthia Wilder murder conspiracy case. Dillon wanted Louser removed from the case as the trial judge because she said she lacks confidence in Louser’s ability to control a courtroom and her office disagrees with decisions Louser has made in other cases. Waters argued that Dillon was “judge shopping” and her demand for a change in judge was not made in good faith. Merrick ultimately ruled in favor of the defense and agreed that the state’s attorney’s office was judge shopping .

Louser remains as the trial judge in the Wilder case. In his ruling, Merrick also scolded both attorneys for contentiousness.

Dillon is also listed as the prosecutor in the Morales murder case.

Morales hung his head in court on Thursday and mainly gave “yes” and “no” answers. He told the judge that he is still indigent, since he no longer has a job. He had been planning to represent himself on the burglary charge, alleging that he kicked in the door at a woman’s southeast Minot residence last February and refused to leave when asked to do so. The name of the woman in the case was redacted from documents, but the address on the citation filed with the court is the same address where Leake had been living and where she was stabbed on Aug. 16.

Gulke will now represent him in the burglary case as well, which is before Louser.

Morales has a history of domestic violence against Leake, who had been identified in various court documents as his ex-girlfriend and the mother of his children. She was stabbed in the neck on Aug. 16 during a domestic dispute. Morales told police that he held a towel to her neck and called 911 after she ran out of the apartment and collapsed on the front lawn of her southeast Minot residence. Police performed CPR and she was taken to the hospital for treatment. Leake never regained consciousness.

Mattson also has ordered Morales to have no contact with the three children or with their maternal grandmother. Ward County State’s Attorney Roza Larson also has asked that some documents in the case be sealed because the family has invoked Marsy’s Law protecting victim rights.