Longtime Brighton judge recently announced she is retiring in 2023
By Todd Etshman
Brighton Town Court Judge Karen Morris is happy on a day she is officiating a wedding in her courtroom.
“It’s a great part of the job. It’s fun because everybody’s happy,” says Morris who for nearly 30 years as a town judge has seen both fun, sadness and concern in her diverse role not only as a judge but in other ways, too.
Clearly, she prefers the cheerful aspects of her position. She’s cheerful herself, but recognizes there are serious criminal matters that must be dealt with, too.
Driving while intoxicated, larceny and spousal abuse infractions are among the serious violations of the law commonly heard in Brighton court and other town courts as well.
Life-altering criminal actions require her judicial action and attention. They are all too common issues that she wants to make a difference in curbing. It’s gratifying for her to hear from people whose lives she’s saved or favorably impacted.
“It seems to me that the people most deserving of respect are those with whom you’re sharing your life with,” she said.
Unfortunately, one look at the town docket shows that is not always the case.
Saving potential victims from harm because a defendant changed their destructive behavior is a goal she strives for. Saving defendants from themselves is, too — when it works as it often does.
Morris informed the local Democratic Party that this would be her last term as judge, concluding at the end of 2023. But, she will be seen and heard from in a host of other endeavors and plans to remain in the town she’s called home since she chose it early in her 43-year-long legal career.
She’s pleased the town electorate voted her in eight times and doesn’t regret not ascending to the county Supreme Court or any other court. She means it when she says she’s always been happy here.
She is however, still mulling over the possibility of becoming a mediator for the opportunity it presents of helping people come to a peaceful resolution of their disputes.
A program she created in 2015-16 called “Ticket to Ride” is one of her many career accomplishments. It provides bus transportation for justice-impacted people otherwise known as defendants to get to court, parole or probation meetings or court-ordered appointments for treatment or job training.
The service is no small thing since it is not uncommon for justice- impacted people to not have a license or car or even the money to get to court which typically leads to a bench warrant being issued for their arrest and possibly spending a night in jail.
A failure to appear also creates the expense of having the police enforce the warrant at a time when their services are so desperately needed in other areas. The pass can be used for any area court appearance and kept for an entire day for a defendant to take care of ancillary matters.
Off the bench, Judge Morris is a magician and more.
Not only does she wear a judicial robe, she wears a magician’s robe and Harry Potter-like wizard cloaks, too.
Author JK Rowling’s classic Harry Potter novels have stood the test of time.
“Harry Potter is incredibly non-ending. Kids love it and the audience keeps expanding,” she said of the book series older adults love, too.
She was about to embark on a trip to a magicians’ conference in Columbus the day after we recently met.
“Magic conventions are great fun and inspirational because they offer opportunities to meet and greet fellow magicians, learn from some of the greats, focus anew on my performances and purchase new props,” she said of the Harry Potter inspired magic-wizardry she uses not only to entertain children (free of charge) but to promote a greater understanding of the world of law for her students at Monroe Community College where she’s been teaching since 1980.
Teaching remains in her “retirement” plans since she enjoys introducing young students to law and being a part of their path to success.
She wrote a book titled “Law Made Fun Through Harry Potter’s adventures” in 2012. Since many books and news stories have underpinnings in law, Morris likes to use them as teaching tools for her students.
She wrote another Law Made Fun book in 2016 based on the events of Downton Abbey. Both Law Made Fun books are available at Amazon.com and bn.com/ebooks.
She won’t be retiring from magic, book reviews or writing even if it only means updating her prodigious law books on New York State Criminal Law or Hospitality and Travel Law.
In early February, she and Regional Transit Service vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, Tracy Archie, lead a discussion on the compelling case and book of Alabama v. King by Dan Abrams and Fred Gray at the Prism Multicultural Center at MCC.
You can catch Morris giving book reviews and leading discussions at public libraries and other venues. At noon on March 2 she’ll be reviewing Amor Towles 2021 historical fiction novel, “The Lincoln Highway,” at the Brighton Public Library on Elmwood Avenue.
Top image: Brighton Town Court Judge Karen Morris at her office. She said she plans to retire at the end of the year. However, she won’t be retiring from magic, book reviews or writing.