Originally updated: Feb. 4, 2019, 5:12 p.m.
Former Dawsonville Mayor James Grogan has announced his intention to run for office again this fall after a Monday Georgia Supreme Court ruling on his case vs. the city of Dawsonville.
The court issued a unanimous opinion Feb. 4 stating that while Grogan should not have to pay back the salary and benefits he accrued during the months he spent appealing the city council's decision to remove him from office, it would not reverse the decision of the Dawson County Superior Court that denied Grogan appeal and request for a new trial after his removal.
Grogan, 76, was removed from office May 15, 2017 by a 3-1 vote of city council after an investigation into allegations he had misused city funds and violated the city charter.
Grogan appealed the decision and continued to act as mayor until Oct. 9, 2017, when Superior Court Judge C. Andrew Fuller ruled in favor of the city and dismissed Grogan’s appeal, stating he could not review the case.
Fuller also ruled in March 2018 that the city could recoup the $25,060.88 in salary and benefits that were paid to Grogan during the five-month appeal process.
On Oct. 10, the case went before the Supreme Court and Grogan’s lawyer, Steven Leibel, presented arguments as to why dismissal of Grogan’s appeal by the superior court should be reversed and Grogan afforded a new trial by jury.
Leibel said that a new trial before a superior court judge would give Grogan an opportunity to clear his name and afford him due process.
“The remedy is his name is good and he can go and run for election and say ‘I went through the process and I was cleared,’” Leibel said. “If he is convicted then there is an argument that he would be ineligible to run for further office.”
The Supreme Court stated Feb. 4 that the issue is moot because Grogan can’t be put back in his position.
Grogan ran for re-election in March 2018 to
finish the rest of his term, and lost.
“Even if we were to conclude that the superior court erred in dismissing his appeal… and even if the superior court were to conclude on remand that Grogan was improperly removed, there is no remedy that could now be afforded Grogan,” the opinion reads.
City Attorney Dana Miles said in a statement Feb. 5 that the city was “pleased to have its position affirmed” by the Supreme Court’s decision “related to James Grogan’s appeal of the City and Superior Courts ruling removing him from the office of Mayor for violations of the City Charter and ordinances.
“Grogan had appealed the City ruling to Superior Court where he lost,” the statement reads. “The Supreme Court decision brings the case to a conclusion satisfactory to the City as Grogan’s removal for cause remains in place.”
The opinion states that Grogan’s argument that he may be disqualified in future elections is incorrect.
“Nothing about Grogan’s removal shows that he was charged with, much less convicted of, a criminal offense,” the opinion reads. “Because Grogan was not 'convicted and sentenced' of a criminal offense, he would not be barred…from holding political office (in the future).”
Miles said in his statement that the Supreme Court did nothing to overturn the decision by city voters to not return Grogan to office, and that “contrary to Grogan’s contention that this decision has cleared his name, the Supreme Court issued no such ruling.”
The Supreme Court did however rule that the superior court erred in its decision to grant relief by allowing the city to collect the salary and benefits paid to Grogan during his appeal.
The opinion states that the city did not allege the money was paid to Grogan due to some “act of fraud or deceit by Grogan” and that it would be “unfair to allow the City to have received the benefit of Grogan’s services without paying for them.”
“Indeed, at oral argument, the City acknowledged that Grogan did in fact perform the duties of mayor during the time for which he was paid, and the City presents no authority that it can recover under such circumstances,” the argument reads.
Because the Supreme Court ruled that the city is not entitled to recoup the salary and benefits, the city is also no longer able to pursue lawyer fees either.
Leibel said Monday that he was happy with the decision and that it “took a cloud off” Grogan, as having to pay back the city would have bankrupted him.
“I think (Grogan) had a great victory,” Leibel said. “He has been vindicated because he is eligible to run again, because we feel the decision was correct and he doesn’t owe anybody a dime, and the case is over. Everybody can go back to square one and get back to making the city of Dawsonville better.”
Grogan was similarly happy with the verdict.
“I feel vindicated by this and I have said from the beginning they were wrong in everything they did and I am pleased to have the Supreme Court rule in my favor,” Grogan said. “It’s been a terrible year and a half, I’ve suffered from it, my family has suffered from it, so I am very, very pleased with what has taken place.”
He also said he saw no reason why he should not run for office again.
“Before the election last year there were so many negative things printed about me in the media that weren’t true,” Grogan said. “I contributed to the city and I still have something to offer the city. I was given the bum’s rush out the city for no reason.”
In March 2018, the Dawson County Sheriff's Office began investigating the city's financial documents after the city council voted unanimously to report "financial discrepancies that occurred around the former mayor's administration" to law enforcement.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigations declined to take the case, citing a conflict.
Sheriff Jeff Johnson said Feb. 5 that the investigation is not complete, and his office is currently conducting follow up interviews.
The amount of money involved in the investigation has not been released, but included in the financial documents is a report and 500 pages of supporting documents compiled by attorney Abbott Hayes, who the council hired in April 2017 to investigate Grogan and the allegations that he misused city funds.