Sweatt retires after long law career

By MARK ROGERS,

Served 12 years in DA’s office

Morris Sweatt has prosecuted many cases in Marion and the surrounding counties, and in a few weeks he’ll walk into the courtroom for the last time representing the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

Sweatt, who will turn 78 on Feb. 3, was honored at a reception Friday in Marion County Circuit Court and spoke about his years as an attorney.

“I moved here in 1985 and was in private practice until 2007,” he said. “As an assistant district attorney, we are the front line for the prosecution of cases. The DA does a lot of political work and works with the Legislature a lot. We take the cases that we’re assigned and work them.”

Sweatt’s duties now include handling cases involving the Columbia Police Department, Jefferson Davis County Sheriff and police and Lawrence County Sheriff and police. Though his cases span three counties, two of them are the smaller counties in the district.

“We take the cases that law enforcement bring us and we review it, make sure it’s in good shape and schedule the grand jury,” Sweatt said. “We meet with the grand jury and then the cases that are indicted; we prepare the papers and carry it through the circuit court process. If they don’t want to plea, we make a decision about going to trial. We can also reduce the charge and plea bargain it. The last possibility is a trial. I was involved in one last Wednesday.”

Sweatt said mostly likely the trial he was involved with in Columbia was his last one. He begins a term in Lawrence County next week, but said none of the cases are likely to go to trial during the period.

“There are only three or four cases set and each one of them has circumstances that they won’t go to trial yet,” he said. “It is a lot of cases for each ADA. All of them have a heavy load.”

Sweatt said he has a lot of interests to pursue in retirement and may expand the time he spends playing music on his trombone.

District Attorney Hal Kittrell spoke about the relationship he’s had over the years and had been on opposite sides of cases for years.

“After I became DA, I got an email from Morris and he said he would like to end his career as a prosecutor,” Kittrell said. “Some people are just built for the defense side and some for the prosecution. I thought he was built to be a defender, but when I got that email I was pleasantly surprised. I’d been assistant DA since 2000 and Morris was a public defender and I finally said, ‘I’m tired of fighting him. I’m ready for him to be on my side; it was a no-brainer for me.”

Kittrell said the move to hire Sweatt was a good one.

“He’s covered many cases for us,” Kittrell said. “Morris will try a case – he doesn’t play. He has always had the ability. He’s a smart lawyer. He knows so much. Every one of the ADAs will say they need to run things by Morris. He always has an angle that none of us has thought about. He’s very astute and intellectual. He’s like E.F. Hutton – when he speaks, you’d better listen to him.”

Kittrell said Sweatt’s angles and tactics have allowed him to tackle cases other attorneys might not have.

“There was a case in Jeff Davis County of a man who had been stealing timber all over the state,” Kittrell said. “There was a whole network of civil attorneys working on it. He was having property owners, many of them elderly, sign a warranty deed to sell him the property, basically trying to boot them off their own property. Morris went down and took on a case that nobody else would have and won. It was a pinnacle case. We’ll miss him. He was always working and had had respect. Morris has been a real asset to us.”

Sweatt said he’ll miss working with Kittrell.

“He’s such a gentleman and a great boss to work for,” he said. “When you go to the DA’s office, that’s not the work part; there are other parts that make it stressful and make it a hard job. We’ve got a great staff to do difficult work.”

Kittrell said Sweatt and the others are determined to work for justice.

“We know that we stand between justice and that person getting off and the victims,” Kittrell said. “We mesh very well and Morris was a big part of it. Morris said he’ll still come by to drink coffee. A lot of work gets done in that time because we talk cases. He’s such a valuable asset and his intellect and dry sense of humor are appreciated.”

 

Pictured Above: Morris Sweatt tried his last case in Marion County as an assistant district attorney last week. | Photo by Mark Rogers