Trial ends; decision still pending in NAF case

By Abby Morris
Star Staff

The trial for the civil suit pitting the city of Elizabethton against North American Fibers, North American Corporation and Charles Green ended yesterday, but the presiding chancellor stated that it will be February, or possibly March, before he is ready to render a decision in what he called "a complex case."
   "This court cannot offer a bench opinion off the top of my head," said Chancellor Richard Johnson. "There are numerous legal issues that this court must sort out and address."
   During the final day of testimony, Green took the stand in his own defense as his lawyer, Stephen Anderson, hoped to disprove the city's claim that Green was the "alter ego" for the companies in the lawsuit and therefore should be held responsible.
   According to testimony, Green was not the president of NAF or NAC at the time the landfill was created or at the time it was capped. Therefore, according to Anderson, he is not responsible for the problems presented by the landfill's being positioned on top of the city's west-end interceptor sewer line, which runs through the NAF property.
   During Green's time as NAF president, the company set up an employee stock ownership plan in which employees of the company were given a percentage of ownership in the company. Because the company was owned and operated by its employees, Green and Anderson stated that Green is not the alter ego of the company.
   Charlton DeVault, attorney for the city in this lawsuit, told the court that if the nuisance existed when Green became the person in charge of the company then he became responsible and liable for allowing it to continue. "That's the basis for our claim against Mr. Green," he said.
   During his testimony, Green stated that he had spoken with officials from the city, including City Manager Charles Stahl, and they had discussed possible solutions for the situation, but there was never a request for North American to remove the landfill.
   Green also stated that he had spoken with his legal counsel about the matter and they had advised about the issue. "They told me that North American has no other obligation than to give (the city) access."
   During cross examination of Green, DeVault produced several letters and financial documents as well as minutes from board meetings of NAC that he said showed that Green was the one who made decisions for the company.
   After the defense and prosecution rested their cases, the chancellor made his decision to delay a ruling until he has had more time to look at all evidence in the case (more than 60 exhibits were entered to the court), as well as to consider all of the testimony.
   After the trial, Green stated that he agreed with the chancellor's depiction of the case as complex. "I think the judge pretty well summed it up. It's been quite a complicated case," he said. "In his opinion, there is no real clear decision as to what the appropriate decision should be at this point in time."
   Green said he hated the fact that the community as well as NAF and NAC have been involved in this case, which has gone on for over two years. "I regret that the case came to this point. I had hoped that we could have settled this thing a couple of years back with some other alternative source other than legal means," he said. "It cost the city and the taxpayers money to do this, and it cost North American and its employees spending money on legal fees. I wish it would have never happened."
   DeVault said he felt the chancellor had summed up the issues surrounding the case very well. "Like he said, it's an important case that involves great public interest and some considerable amount of money, and its going to take a while for him to decide. Now, what he's going to do, I don't know," he said. "But I feel like the city presented all of its evidence, and Mr. Green was able to put on everything he had worked on prior to the trial, so we've got all the facts before the court."