A former Brunswick News editor who was fired after he allegedly lied about his role in trying to change government documents from the Larry’s Gulch fishing lodge is seeking about $500,000 in damages, his wrongful dismissal trial heard Wednesday.
“It takes a large whack to wake up a wealthy and powerful defendant,” Al Hogan’s defence lawyer Amelie Surette said during closing arguments, citing from case law.
Brunswick News Inc. (BNI) owns all of New Brunswick’s major English daily newspapers, including Moncton’s Times & Transcript, where Hogan served as managing editor before his dismissal in 2015.
The company alleges Hogan tried to cover up a 2013 trip his assistant managing editor Murray Guy took to the government’s fishing lodge on invitation from NB Liquor.
Hogan’s defence team contends BNI’s investigation into the matter was “either intentionally inept or negligently so.”
Scott Ellsworth argued Hogan was never asked if he modified an email about Guy’s trip and if so, why.
“To suggest that Mr. Hogan was somehow motivated by a sinister desire to hide that information … is just not conceivable,” he said.
Earlier in the trial, the court heard that when a Brunswick News reporter discovered Guy’s name on the lodge’s guest list obtained through a right-to-information request, Guy lied to Hogan and said he hadn’t been there.
At the time, Hogan asked him why the list didn’t have his real name, Thomas Guy, that wouldn’t be recognizable to the public. Hogan told him, “better get Darell to change it before it gets released,” referring to Darell Fowlie, a senior adviser to then-premier David Alward.
Hogan deleted both of those lines from the email when he forwarded it to upper management as part of an internal investigation, the court heard.
Hogan testified that at that point he thought Murray had gone to the lodge but not as a representative of the Times & Transcript and felt the list should be corrected, noted Ellsworth.
Mr. Hogan has suffered more than hurt feelings. He suffered public humiliation.– Amelie Surrette, defence lawyer
“That’s clearly what those emails are addressing,” he argued.
“Under no circumstance could one imagine how that type of email would be written to your peer and then 30 minutes later you would lie to your superior.”
Hogan, who was 55 years old at the time and earning $112,375 a year, has been unable to find another job for the past four years.
“Mr. Hogan has suffered more than hurt feelings. He suffered public humiliation,” said Surette.
He is seeking two years’ salary, punitive and aggravated damages.
Email was altered in ‘nefarious way’
BNI lawyer Catherine Lahey argued Hogan “wholly and completely” breached all expectations for trustworthiness.
As BNI vice-president Jamie Irving testified Tuesday, this was a public relations crisis, she said.
Hogan had been with BNI for 18 years and in journalism for nearly 40 years. He held the most senior role at the Moncton newspaper and BNI needed to be able to rely on his judgment, she said.
His suggestion of unfairness is “absurd,” said Lahey. It’s difficult to understand any circumstance an employee would think it’s acceptable to fabricate an email, she said.
“Let’s call it what it is. [The email] was altered. And it was altered in a very deliberate and frankly, nefarious way.”
Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Denise LeBlanc questioned why Hogan was never directly asked if he altered the email and if so, why.
Lahey said the email itself was put in front of him and he was asked, “is this what you sent?” The notion he didn’t understand what was being conveyed is completely unreasonable, she said.
LeBlanc has reserved decision until an unspecified date.