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Judge ousts Prairie Village councilman who let homeless friend stay at City Hall

Updated: 2013-10-19T03:49:30Z

By KAREN DILLON

The Kansas City Star

A Johnson County judge ordered Friday that a two-term councilman vacate his seat on the Prairie Village City Council immediately because he violated the city’s laws on ethics.

David Morrison was accused of secretly allowing a homeless friend to sleep four nights at City Hall last year.

District Judge David W. Hauber found that Morrison ignored common sense and failed to tell the truth about his actions.

A 12-person jury in an advisory verdict to the judge last week concluded that Morrison had willfully engaged in misconduct while in office and willfully neglected to perform his council duties.

Morrison’s attorneys, Brett Milbourn and Tom Bath, said Friday they were disappointed in the ruling and that Morrison was popular among his Ward 5 voters and had done a lot of good for them.

“We have always felt this was a decision the voters should make, not the courts or the district attorney,” Milbourn said.

“In a day and age when politicians are trying to stay in office when they do things like taking bribes and sexting and abusing women and things like that, here is a guy who did not do any of that, not even close. All he did was, with a lapse of judgment we believe, was perform a humanitarian act for an old friend.”

Milbourn said they would be sitting down with Morrison to review his options. The lawyers said Morrison was unavailable for comment Friday.

District Attorney Steve Howe, who pursued the ouster case, said he was pleased with the court’s decision.

“We hope that Prairie Village will be able to put this behind them and move forward and take care of the people of that city,” Howe said.

Judge Hauber’s ruling said an ouster is a “drastic action and should be involved only where the evidence is clear and convincing, and the misdeeds flagrant.”

City Hall is not available for overnight residency to the public, Hauber wrote. Morrison personally benefited because he was able to demonstrate to his homeless friend that “he was important enough to allow him access unavailable to the public in general.”

Hauber said he accepted the jury’s finding.

“The undisputed evidence reflects a series of events that can only be described as reflecting breathtakingly bad judgment by Mr. Morrison,” he wrote.

An ouster proceeding is a seldom-used tool to remove from office an elected official who has been accused of wrongdoing. Howe has said he could not remember an ouster proceeding in Johnson County since at least 1991.

Experts say in cases such as a city council, it’s normal for voters to decide at the next election whether the elected official should be removed.

But Mayor Ronald L. Shaffer, who pushed for Morrison’s ouster, has said the councilman’s behavior warranted more than that.

In November, Shaffer and the council discussed the issue in private and then voted publicly 12-1 late last year to file an ouster complaint with the Johnson County district attorney’s office.

Howe pursued a civil misconduct case after reviewing the complaint from the council.

Morrison conceded during the trial that he showed poor judgment. He apologized, saying he was only trying to help a friend, Kelley Malone. He had also apologized to the council in November.

During the trial, Morrison said he worked with Malone about 15 years ago at a mortgage company. Both left the firm, and Malone testified that he had difficulty keeping jobs because he got “hooked” on pain medications after a motorcycle accident in 2011, and then began using Oxycontin, snorting heroin and smoking meth, according to the ruling.

In testimony and previous interviews, Morrison said Malone called him on a Saturday last October and said that a gang or a hitman was after him and he feared for his life. Morrison picked him up in his car and suggested taking Malone to a homeless shelter in Kansas City. But Malone didn’t want to go there.

Because it was a weekend, Morrison said it was difficult to reach people to get advice on what to do with Malone. Malone couldn’t stay at Morrison’s house because Morrison’s mother lived there and was ill.

Finally, Morrison took Malone to City Hall because he believed it would be the safest place in the city.

He spoke with police dispatchers as he entered — the police building is connected to City Hall — telling them that he and Malone were going to be working there. He did not say that Malone was homeless and needed a place to stay.

He took Malone to the employee lounge, gave him his City Hall passcode, got him a couple bottles of water and left.

The next day, he took Malone to a Kansas City Chiefs game and barbecue dinner because “I wanted him to feel like a normal guy for that afternoon,” he testified.

Morrison then returned Malone to City Hall, where he gave him phone numbers he could call for help, including that of Police Chief Wes Jordan. The councilman said he expected Malone would leave Monday morning and not return.

Morrison called the chief on Monday to tell him that he thought Malone might be in danger but did not tell Jordan that his friend spent nights at City Hall.

City workers discovered Malone three mornings later in the employee lounge. That triggered an investigation and, ultimately, efforts to kick Morrison off the City Council.

During the trial, Assistant District Attorney Lannie Ornburn argued that Morrison had many opportunities to “come clean,” including when Morrison called the police chief to tell him about Malone.

“He called the chief, but he didn’t tell him (Malone) was just down the hall in the employee lounge,” Ornburn said. “We’re not suggesting David Morrison ever intended to hurt anyone, but he had so many opportunities to come clean. There were so many options available.”

Bath, Morrison’s attorney, said in closing arguments that the charges in the case were excessive. Morrison, he said, received no personal gain from his actions.

Bath also said the ouster proceeding forced the jury to make a decision that should be made by the Prairie Village Ward 5 voters.

He argued that the civil trial was more like a sentencing trial and that Morrison didn’t have a “black heart” as portrayed by the district attorney.

“The law says what the government has to prove is that his conduct … was violent, that it was reprehensible, that there was evil intent. They didn’t,” Bath said.

“This is not about whether he made a mistake,” Bath continued. “He did. It’s not about whether he has been punished. He has. Imagine the public humiliation that has already occurred.”

Morrison had been on the council since 2008. In 2012, he ran unopposed for re-election.

To reach Karen Dillon, call 816-234-4430 or send email to kdillon@kcstar.com.

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