The Georgia Supreme Court today issued an opinion on the case of former Mayor James Grogan vs. the city of Dawsonville.
The court has ruled unanimously that Grogan should not have to pay back his salary and benefits to the city but that the Supreme Court will not reverse the decision of the Dawson County Superior Court denying Grogan a new trial.
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 fill the rest of his term, and lost.
“Even if we were to conclude that the superior court erred in dismissing his appeal and certiorari petition and vacated that order, 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.
The opinion states that Grogan’s argument that he is pursuing the reversal of his removal for name-clearing purposes, and that he may be disqualified in future elections, does not hold up.
“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). As a result, Grogan’s challenges to the dismissal of his appeal and certiorari petition would provide him no remedy and are, therefore, moot.”
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.
This story will be updated.