Coroners targeted in lawsuit letter

Published 5:00 am Monday, April 15, 2002

Former Coroner-Medical Examiner Morris Henderson and hisappointed successor Clay McMorris are the targets of a potentiallawsuit alleging the county officials used their positions to steerbusiness away from Harrigill Funeral Home.

Under legal rules, Harrigill Funeral Home owners Don and HildaHarrigill have notified the county regarding their lawsuitintentions. The notice of claim was sent March 28 and a lawsuit maybe filed after a 90-day waiting period.

The letter does not detail allegations against Henderson andMcMorris, but it claims the men used their positions of trust todeter families from using Harrigill Funeral Home. As early as July1999, the letter said, the defendants misrepresented facts aboutthe funeral home to customers and the general public.

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“Defendant Henderson and McMorris have on several occasions inthe past 12 months while acting in their official capacityconspired to conceal relevant information regarding the businesspractices of the claimants,” the letter said.

The letter said damages cannot be determined at present, but thelawsuit will seek the maximum allowed by law.

Henderson, who retired in March after more than 22 years inoffice, denied the charges but directed other requests for commentsto Bob Allen, board of supervisors attorney.

“The people of Lincoln County know me and know I have donenothing wrong,” Henderson said.

McMorris, a deputy coroner whom supervisors appointed to replaceHenderson until a November special election, had no comment.

The Harrigill letter was addressed to Tillmon Bishop as clerkfor the board of supervisors. In a call to Harrigill, Bishopacknowledged receiving the letter and said it had been forwarded toAllen.

Allen said the county is following its normal procedure afterreceiving a notice of claim.

“Any pre-suit notice that is filed is taken seriously and it isbeing looked into,” Allen said.

The attorney indicated the investigation is still in its earlystages.

“It’s getting no more or less attention than any other letter weget like that,” Allen said.

In addition to his coroner duties, McMorris is a funeraldirector at Brookhaven Funeral Home.

Henderson is still with the county as a deputy coroner. He waspart owner of Hartman-Henderson Funeral for about 20 years, but hehas not been a part of the funeral home business since it was soldin 1994 to Harrigill.

When contacted, Harrigill did not elaborate on the letter. Hesaid he was waiting for a response from the county, which heexpected to take most of the 90-day period.

“We’re just waiting for time to go on so we can take the nextstep with it,” Harrigill said.