A jailed Baton Rouge contractor accused of defrauding scores of victims of the unprecedented 2016 flooding in south Louisiana will be examined by a two-doctor sanity commission to determine whether he is competent to represent himself, a judge decided Tuesday.
State District Judge Tony Marabella made that decision after Matthew Morris rejected help from three East Baton Rouge Parish public defenders and said he wants to act as his own attorney.
Morris, 40, said he would rather represent himself because those public defenders have never handled a case involving alleged white-collar crime.
"I don't feel I have a choice," he told the judge.
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Marabella disagreed and said Morris was turning down very competent representation.
"I certainly and sincerely advise against that," the judge stressed.
Morris said he realizes representing himself is a "bad decision."
"I think there's a problem there," Marabella noted. "I think it's a horrible decision."
"It's my life," Morris replied.
At that point, the judge again questioned Morris' decision and appointed two doctors to examine him to see if he is competent to represent himself.
Morris, who is demanding a speedy trial, objected and said he would ask the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal to review the judge's decision.
Marabella scheduled the sanity hearing for Feb. 23. The judge said he will allow Morris to represent himself if the doctors find he is competent to do so.
Morris is charged in East Baton Rouge Parish with four counts of residential contractor fraud and one count of filing or maintaining false public records.
He also is charged in Livingston Parish with 51 counts of contractor and insurance fraud. In Ascension Parish, he faces 84 counts of contractor and insurance fraud, theft and other charges.
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Morris also faces charges in St. John the Baptist and Terrebonne parishes.
Morris, according to authorities, charged clients for work he did not perform for homeowners whose houses flooded in August 2016, taking most of their insurance proceeds and presenting them with a large final bill to finish the job on their gutted homes.
When clients questioned the big bills and terminated their contracts, Morris would file liens against their homes for fees and charges the victims had challenged; Morris claimed the fees and charges were legitimate or called for in the contract, law enforcement agencies have said.
The liens hindered homeowners' ability to finish restoring their houses. Morris has said he ultimately agreed to lift the property liens he placed against his customers.
Two of Morris' previous attorneys have withdrawn from representing him. One of them, Sara Johnson, of New Orleans, cited "irreconcilable differences" in a court filing. The other, Ascension Parish Councilman Travis Turner, recently told Marabella that their attorney-client relationship had soured.
Morris, owner of Complete Construction Contractors, maintains his innocence to all the charges filed against him....Read more