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Ex-comptroller's bench trial ends

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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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AutumnLeaves
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AutumnLeaves 06/16/11 - 06:21 pm
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What a mess.

What a mess.

corgimom
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corgimom 06/16/11 - 08:18 pm
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Knowing A-RC, I'd say (1) and

Knowing A-RC, I'd say (1) and (2) are true.

Wonder how much taxpayer money was wasted- um, spent- on THIS?

Augusta, the lawsuit city. The laughingstock of Georgia.

Insider Information
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Insider Information 06/17/11 - 01:56 am
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Augusta city government:

Augusta city government: Single-handedly keeping the legal community in business.

When was the last lawsuit against the city in which a city attorney actually litigated the case?

If we must pay outside attorneys anytime someone sneezes, why do we need to pay fulltime attorneys?

1@PEACE
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1@PEACE 06/17/11 - 11:32 am
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Perhaps I am incorrect

Perhaps I am incorrect "Insider", but your post seems to suggest frustration about the City using (and paying for) outside counsel for any litigation when they have an in-house law department. This suggests a fundamental misunderstanding about the overall legal needs of the City as well as the appropriate role of a small legal department. The City of Augusta services roughly 200K people and has roughly 2600 employees. Most local governments this size have at least 10 in-house attorneys. For example, City of Atlanta has about 8K employees and has about 40 attorneys in-house (1 attorney per every 200 employees). Augusta only has 5 in-house attorneys (1 attorney per every 520 employees). Augusta would need 13 in-house attorneys to have the same ratio as Atlanta. Litigating cases is only as small part of the overall legal needs of Augusta and Augusta has chosen to outsource a good bit of the litigation. It seems to me that if the City Attorney is expected to do all the litigation, that he should have an appropriate staff to do so. Otherwise, in my opinion, he is wise to outsource all he can and focus his staff on preventing litigation.
P.S. It looks like City Attorneys are litigating the Speer procurement case and the Baptist Ministers lawsuit.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 06/17/11 - 11:46 am
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1@Peace, interesting

1@Peace, interesting comments. It appears you feel strongly enough about this subject and know enough about it to have created this screename to make your first comment on the Chronicle.

So, since you brought this up and know the facts about the staffing of Atlanta's legal department, how much legal work do they give to outside attorneys? How much work do they do in comparison to Augusta? What city this size has 10 in house attorneys as you say? I'm curious.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 06/17/11 - 04:15 pm
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1@Peace, I'm still waiting

1@Peace, I'm still waiting for your reply. Does Atlanta also use outside attorneys? What are the other cities around here this size that have 10 staff attorneys?

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