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updated: 1/3/2013 3:49 PM

Gurnee memorial lawsuit settlement gets court approval

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  • Kirk Morris

    Kirk Morris

  • Kristina Kovarik

    Kristina Kovarik


Attorneys for Gurnee Trustee Kirk Morris and the village have officially ended a lawsuit that he initiated in 2010 after his private foundation was removed as developer of a memorial to troops who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Under the lawsuit settlement that received a Lake County judge's final approval Thursday, Gurnee's insurance carrier paid $200,000 to the trustee's Pfc. Geoffrey Morris Memorial Foundation. The money was for design work and other improvements the foundation spearheaded for a one-acre site owned by the village on Old Grand Avenue. It is named for Morris' son, a U.S. Marine who was killed in Iraq in 2004.

Unlike a similar tentative settlement that Morris backed out of after his board colleagues gave their approval in late December, the village also agreed to remove the name "Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park" from the public property and return the rights to the foundation. Morris and the village had disagreed on the validity of his claim he could keep the name because he obtained a federal trademark for it.

Morris' attorney, Robert O'Donnell, said the long-running case's settlement agreement is "100 percent official" and that he possessed the $200,000 check for the foundation.

"It will be used by the foundation as seed money for the memorial to be built elsewhere," O'Donnell said.

Last week, Gurnee trustees voted 4-0 in favor of the lawsuit settlement, setting the stage for Thursday's entry in Lake County circuit court. Trustee Greg Garner was absent and Morris abstained from voting.

Controversy over the memorial erupted in October 2009 when Morris and Mayor Kristina Kovarik began feuding. Kovarik argued that Morris' foundation accomplished little in the five years it was unofficially in charge of the memorial and raising private money to build it on the public property.

Morris is challenging Kovarik in the April mayoral election.

In 2010, Morris sued the village over Kovarik's decision to remove his foundation as developer of Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park, arguing the foundation had a right to finish the project. She said residents were not being well served by what became an eyesore on public land.

Morris' suit was dismissed by a Lake County circuit court judge in 2010. However, a mixed appellate court decision sent the case back to Lake County, with a limited focus on whether Morris' foundation was entitled to at least $200,000 in compensation for having improved the village land for the stalled project.

Lights and nine flags representing every military branch were the most visible work done on the memorial from March 2005 until the dispute in 2009. After the controversy arose, Morris and his backers removed the flags and lights.

Given the court will retain jurisdiction over the village's lawsuit settlement with Morris for 30 days, Kovarik said, she's cautiously optimistic nothing will happen to cause it to unravel. Another deal fell apart in the summer when it failed to gain village board approval.

Morris was not a trustee when village board members agreed in March 2005 to establish a memorial park in remembrance of U.S. military personnel who died in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Morris said he intends to announce in March plans for construction of the Heroes of Freedom memorial in another town.

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