Born: Thursday, July 17th, 1862
Died: Wednesday, March 6th, 1918
Birthplace: Utica, New York
Education: Genesee Wesleyan, B.A. (1880)
Albany Law School, LL.B. (1885)
Career: Assistant City Attorney (1891-1892)
Superior Court (1902-1909)
Served: Friday, February 26th, 1909 to Saturday, March 30th, 1918
Chief Justice: Monday, January 11th, 1915 to Monday, January 8th, 1917
Political Party: Republican
Appointing Governor: Hay (Republican)George E. Morris was the son of Reverend Edward E. Morris, a Methodist minister, and Eliza (McClements) Morris. Except for a few years in public schools, most of George’s education came in church-affiliated institutions. After common school in Utica he attended Cazenovia Seminary and then went to Pennsylvania to work as a farm hand and clerk in a general store to earn tuition for Susquehanna Collegiate Institute at Towanda, Pennsylvania. In 1879 Morris entered Genesee Wesleyan Seminary, graduating in 1880. Morris became superintendent of his father’s Sunday school and taught school in Elmira, New York, while studying law. In 1884 he entered Union University (Albany Law School), graduating with an LL.B. in 1885.
He practiced law in Interlaken, New York, between 1885 and 1887. The lure of the West took him to Kearney, Nebraska, for two years before an old classmate, Joe Lyon, invited Morris to Seattle to help him with his duties as Seattle City Attorney. Morris arrived in 1890 and won appointment as assistant city attorney in 1891, serving for over a year. He then went into private practice, first with Judge Richard Winsor and later alone until elected superior court judge for King County in 1902. Morris was one of the most popular judges in King County, being reelected to the superior court twice by overwhelming majorities. This popularity encouraged acting Governor Marion E. Hay to appoint Morris to one of the two newly created positions on the state’s high bench in 1909. Only Judge Frank Rudkin represented the state’s west side on the bench, prompting Hay to select Emmett Parker of Tacoma and Morris of Seattle. Morris led the Republican ticket when running for election a year later, garnering over 80,000 votes. In 1916, without the assistance of a party label in the nonpartisan balloting, Morris still collected 120,000 votes. While still on the high bench, a serious stomach ailment ended his career and he died after an operation on March 6, 1918.
Judge Morris, a Thirty-second Degree Mason, served as venerable master of the Lodge of Perfection of Olympia. He also belonged to the Mystic Shrine, Elks, Woodmen of the World, Royal Arcanum, Improved Order of Redman, Olympia Golf Club, and Seattle Athletic Club. Judge Morris married Maude E. Myrole in Kent, Washington, on January 29, 1899 and the couple had one son, Theodore.
“He was accustomed to sit with calm mien and half closed eyes intently listening to the views of his associates, sometimes expressed with much force and vehemence,” observed Judge Overton G. Ellis, who sat on the supreme court with Morris. “When his turn came he expressed himself with … vigor … This faculty of sifting to the determinative essentials [of] complicated questions … made Judge Morris invaluable to the deliberations of the Court.”
Upon his death the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote the following about the judge:
A person of rare charm, Judge Morris was held in high esteem, not only by members of his profession, but by the people throughout the state…
A prodigious worker on the bench, his nature was too big and fine to permit him to limit himself to being sociable only with his professional associates. He has the kindly word and pleasant smile for everybody, and old neighbors and friends in Seattle all attest the fact that the judge never lost the “common touch.” He was a splendid story teller, becoming the life of any party he joined, and his social nature inspired him to seek kindred spirits when his time was not devoted to the duties of his profession.
As judge of the superior court … he presided at many notable trials during the nearly seven years he served on the bench of that court, and the number of decisions written by him since he became a member of the supreme court not only marks him as an industrious, but a painstaking judge.
He had himself to thank for his rise in his profession, for whatever came to him he tried to do his best, and as chief justice … he earned not only the commendation of his associates, but of the superior court judges of the other counties and the bar generally for the manner in which he directed the work of its two departments.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 7 Mar. 1918; Washington State Bar Association Proceedings (1918) p. 77; W. C. Wolfe, Sketches of Washingtonians (1906), p. 248.
The preceding biography is from Charles Sheldon's The Washington High Bench: A Biographical History of the State Supreme Court, 1889-1991, © 1992 by the Board of Regents of Washington State University. Reprinted here with permission and licensed to the public under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License by The Temple of Justice Project.