Ex-comptroller's bench trial ends

It's up to a judge to reach a conclusion in a lawsuit filed nine years ago by Lon Morrey, the last comptroller of Augusta.

 

A bench trial before Superior Court Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet wrapped up shortly after noon Thursday after two days of testimony about Morrey's dismissal in 2000.

Morrey, whose position was eliminated and changed to finance director after he left, alleges that he was fired because of his role in bringing attention to improprieties in the purchasing department. The city argues that Morrey was fired because of poor record-keeping.

Testimony delved into meetings between Morrey and other city officials, including former city commissioners, that occurred a decade ago.

Former city attorney Jim Wall took the stand Thursday morning and talked about the rush to file the 1999 annual audit.

The normal deadline for submitting the audit to state and federal authorities was June 30, but was extended to Dec. 29, 2000.

Wall testified that the process was drawn out to the point that he personally mailed the documents at 5:15 p.m. on Dec. 29 and paid out of pocket to have the letters sent by certified mail. Morrey was on vacation at the time.

"Do you think that was the proverbial final straw?" asked Harry Revell, the attorney representing the city, alluding to the point at which the commission lost faith in Morrey's ability to do the job.

Wall said it was Morrey's vacation that was the final straw.

"I can't imagine being out of town when such an important document" is due, Wall said.

Morrey provided a different perspective. Immediately after his firing, he requested a hearing to clear his name.

He argued that the 1999 audit report was used "as a sham to obfuscate the vital issues concerning poor financial practices followed by the commission.''

In a 2008 interview, he said that after he raised questions about purchasing practices in the city, "my life became miserable."

Years of research and depositions were represented by thick, black binders stacked on courtroom benches.

Attorney Mike Brown, who represents Morrey, said a pre-trial meeting allowed the respective attorneys to decide which documents would be brought to trial and which stacks would be left at the office.

A decision in the case is weeks away. Revell said a settlement wasn't likely.

 

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