A superior court judge consolidated two separate lawsuits filed by the former Salem deputy police chief Wednesday, agreeing with the defendants who motioned for the consolidation.
Lawyers representing both sides of the suits by former Deputy Chief Robert Morin against current and former town officials claimed the other side is driven by personal vendettas during a hearing at Rockingham County Superior Court.
Judge William Delker issued his order a few hours after the Wednesday hearing, saying that while there are some distinctions between the cases, the suits “arise out of the same basic core set of circumstances.”
Delker also wrote in his ruling that Morin’s lawyer didn’t clearly articulate how Morin would be prejudiced by consolidation.
“In fact, many of the arguments the plaintiff made at the hearing support the consolidation of these cases,” Delker said
Earlier this spring, Morin sued the town of Salem, Town Manager Chris Dillon and Human Resources Director Anne Fogarty for defamation related to comments they made to investigators from Kroll Inc., who were hired by Dillon to audit the police department’s internal affairs and time and attendance practices last year.
In a separate suit, Morin also sued former HR Director Molly McKean for defamation. She is also quoted in the Kroll audit report, but Morin sued her as a private individual because, his lawyer argues, her comments were given after her time of employment with the town.
The details of Morin’s suit against McKean have been sealed, but his other suit against the town refers to McKean’s comments in the Kroll report.
During the hearing, attorney Joshua Scott, representing the defendants, said there was no reason to keep the suits separate except as “a vindictive attempt to make it so she’s out on her own.”
He argued that the court should consolidate the two suits because they both stem from the same audit report, and because it would be in favor of judicial economy not to duplicate the discovery process and ask the same witnesses to testify twice.
Andrea Amodeo-Vickery, Morin’s attorney, argued her client’s right to a jury trial is not conditional upon whether it’s convenient for everyone involved.
If the cases were to be tried separately, Amodeo-Vickery said McKean would have different exposure and different defenses available to her. Particularly, she would not have been able to claim qualified immunity, which shields government officials from actions taken in their official capacity.
She said McKean stopped working for the town in December 2017. The town hired Kroll to conduct its audit in March 2018.
Shortly after the hearing, Amodeo-Vickery said if the cases were consolidated, she will argue that McKean, Dillon and Fogarty have personal vendettas against Morin.
“I don’t have a vendetta against Morin,” McKean told the Union Leader Wednesday.
She declined to comment further.
Amodeo-Vickery said it’s no secret that Morin and McKean did not get along.
“They were like oil and water when they were both town employees,” Amodeo-Vickery said. “They didn’t see eye to eye on things.”
Morin’s suit against the town accuses McKean and Fogarty of defaming Morin’s character by describing him as “hotheaded,” “intimidating” and “unethical,” as well as claiming he made racist and sexist remarks on his private Facebook account.The state Attorney General’s office has been conducting a criminal investigation into Morin since January for unknown allegations. The investigation followed the release of the Kroll audit report last November. Former Chief Paul Donovan, Capt. Michael Wagner and Sgt. Michael Verrocchi are also under criminal investigation.
Morin retired in June.