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Judge denies request to dismiss case against school board member

MORRIS – A judge Friday denied Gardner Grade School District board member Gary Morris’ request to dismiss the case against him because of a technicality.

The Grundy County State’s Attorney’s Office filed a complaint in August against Gary Morris, known as Nick Morris, stating the District 72C board member does not live in the school district. The office asked Morris to resign because he lives out of district, but he said he has not.

Morris responded that he lives at 207 E. Odell St. in Gardner, which is the address on his driver’s license, voter’s registration card and checking account.

If the judge sides with the state’s attorney and ousts Morris from the board, the court could impose a $25,000 fine.

Assistant State’s Attorney Perry Rudman submitted evidence from the Will County Recorder’s Office with Morris’ name, allegedly in his handwriting, on a warranty deed for a residence at 607 Westshire Drive in Joliet.

Last month, Morris filed a motion to dismiss the case against him stating he lives in Gardner.

He owns a home in Will County as well. In his filing, he states he has met all the legal requirements for holding his office.

“I have held this address for over two and a half years with no changes to this,” he wrote in the filling. “I personally feel that the Grundy County States Attorney’s Office is making a political statement with this charge. There are other elected officials in Grundy County and the State of Illinois that hold multiple addresses with one of them being their legal address.”

In the complaint, Rudman stated Morris lists his home address on the warranty deed as 607 Westshire Drive in Joliet. He said in court this is the same document that Morris’ acknowledges exists.

Rudman requested the dismissal be stricken because it was filed improperly. The response should have been filed as an answer to the complaint, not a motion.

Judge Lance Peterson agreed and granted the motion to strike. But he said Morris’ motion does indeed answer the complaint in its substance.

“So we don’t waste time, I will allow him to amend the first word of ‘motion’ to ‘answer,’ ” Peterson said.

Morris, who is representing himself in court, said little during the hearing and did not immediately return phone messages left Friday afternoon.

Rudman then asked for Morris’ answer to be submitted as a sworn statement that he inhabits the address in Gardner. The judge agreed the law requires this and told Morris he has one more try.

This is needed, Rudman said, so Morris understands that his statement is under oath and if it is not true, there could be criminal penalties.

“I don’t think it is proper for me to take action or discuss that,” the judge said.

A final concern Rudman had was Morris still sitting on the board and voting on financial matters. He said if Morris votes on action regarding bonds, this could cause the school board problems if Morris is found to be breaking policy. Rudman said he may file a motion to have Morris restrained from voting on issues that could result in voiding school board action.

Peterson advised Morris to talk with the school board’s legal counsel.

In a statement emailed by Superintendent Tony Whiston, he said he could not comment on the issue until it was resolved, but said Morris’ contributions to the district are countless.

“During his tenure as a school board member, he has shown and continues to show his dedication to the students of Gardner Grade School,” he said in the statement.

Morris has 28 days to file his response again. The next hearing is set for 9 a.m. Dec. 19.

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