VERO BEACH – After 24 years on the bench, Indian River County Judge David Morgan will be stepping down at the end of this year, with four years still left in his fifth term.
Morgan, 63, is a fourth-generation and lifelong Vero Beach resident — except for six years in Macon, Georgia, to earn his undergraduate and law degrees at Mercer University, and then his first three years as a prosecutor assigned to Martin County.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a while,” Morgan said.
He decided to run for re-election in 2018 when his longtime friend and fellow County Judge Joe Wild and two of the four circuit judges assigned to Indian River County — Paul Kanarek and Robert Pegg — retired.
“Everyone was leaving, so I did feel a responsibility to stay on a while and mentor the new judges,” Morgan said.
Judge Morgan: Vero Beach MAGA hat spitting case
One of those is County Judge Nicole Menz, whom Morgan hired in the State Attorney’s Office in 1995 when he was chief assistant state attorney.
More recently, Morgan was the mentor judge to Menz as she transitioned from private practice to the bench after she was elected to succeed Wild.
“Now I’ve had the privilege of working with him as he ends his legal career,” Menz said. “His knowledge of the law has been one of the things that struck me since I met him. There are very few people with the knowledge of the law he possesses.”
Morgan said the cases he is most proud of and most memorable were not as a judge, but as prosecutor in several high-profile death-penalty murder cases while at the State Attorney’s Office.
One that stands out in particular, he said, was Tommy Wyatt, who was 49 when he died in 2013 on death row awaiting execution for four murders 25 years earlier, three of them at a Vero Beach Domino’s Pizza store.
From 2013: Wyatt dies while on death row for Vero Beach killings
Morgan said that while he was in law school and interning for the State Attorney’s Office “I felt a calling” to become a prosecutor because “the greatest civil right is the right to be free from crime.”
Menz said Morgan is “the figurehead of the courthouse, and it’s not going to be the same there without him.”
Wild, who was a year ahead of Morgan when they were students at Vero Beach High School, said they became close friends when they were both working as prosecutors in the 19th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office, which covers Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin and Okeechobee counties.
“Morgan was my boss in the Vero office, then I was mentor judge for him,” Wild said, recalling when Morgan was elected to an open seat in 1996 with 55% of the vote, despite four other candidates.
They still go to lunch together a couple times a week, Wild said.
“I talk to him since I’ve been retired about how great it is to be retired,” Wild said.
Morgan said that after talking it over with his wife, Nikki Robinson Morgan, who retired in January 2019 from the State Attorney’s Office, now “seemed like the right time.”
“I don’t want to wait until I can’t do some of the things I haven’t had a chance to do,” Morgan said, mentioning hiking and camping.
Her said he plans to do some work as a senior judge after waiting the required year.
“But that arrangement gives me the ability to still do some of the outside interests that I want to pursue,” he said.
Because there will be four years left on Morgan’s term when he retires, the governor must appoint a judge to finish the term. Manuel Farach, chairman of the 19th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission, said Gov. Ron DeSantis wants a short list from the commission by Oct. 15.
For more stories from the Indian River County legal system, be sure to subscribe to TCPalm.