DA: 3 firings weren’t political

Published 11:59 pm Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Two employees who were dismissed from the district attorney’s office Monday said in a written statement released Tuesday that they were terminated for political reasons, an allegation the DA has denied.

Brett Holmes and Brandy Smith, a former investigator and former secretary in the DA’s office, along with a prosecutor, Grace Jeter, were dismissed Monday morning. Jeter has declined comment.

In a written statement released late Tuesday, Holmes and Smith said, “It has been told by Greg Gambril that we were terminated because of a budget crunch caused by the loss of certain grant monies. Even though she was the most experienced prosecutor on staff, Grace Jeter was told she was being terminated because of the loss of grant funding from the Office of Prosecution Services. Grace Jeter was not paid from that grant nor from any other grant.

“Investigator Brett Holmes was the second most tenured investigator in the office and his sole responsibility was aiding in the preparation of the prosecution of all drug cases,” the statement said. “The prosecution of those drug cases is funded almost exclusively by the Byrne Grant, which was funded at 200 percent of last year’s level.

“Finally, Brandy Smith was the second most tenured member of the support staff excepting the office manager. Mrs. Smith’s salary was not tied to or connected with any grant. All three of us were advised that we were being ‘let go’ because of the loss of grant funding,” the statement said.

“In addition, the excuse offered by Greg Gambril as to our termination is not consistent with his own efforts in the funding arena. Unbeknownst to most Covington County residents, Greg Gambril recently had local legislation passed doubling court costs with 100 percent of the additional revenue going to his office. Furthermore, the office receives some of its funding from the Byrne Grant which, as stated above, was funded at 200 percent of what it was last year.”

Gambril said Tuesday night that those who were dismissed “know full well there were additional reasons” for their terminations. “I’m not going to go in to the details,” he said.

He said the increase in court costs that passed the legislature this past year would not go into effect unless it is approved as a constitutional amendment in next June’s statewide elections. The increase in grant funding, he said, is earmarked for the ZeroMeth initiative and cannot be used for salaries.

Holmes, reached at home Tuesday night, said the “other reasons” cited by Gambril ran contrary to recent actions.

“Both Brandy and I recently received raises in the past month,” Holmes said. “And about a month ago, he sent Brandy a letter stating what a fine job she was doing.”

In their statement, Holmes and Smith concluded by saying they believed that all three terminations were politically motivated.

“We are not concerned about retribution and that is not our objective in issuing this statement. We simply intend for the people of Covington County to know the truth: We were and are good friends with attorney Walt Merrell who is widely rumored to be the front runner for the District Attorney election in November 2010,” the statement said. “We were fired not because of economics, but because of self-preservationist politics.

“As such, it should be noted that our termination is not why we now speak,” the statement said. “We simply speak now because we no longer have to sit quietly and bite our tongue while another fraud is perpetrated on the public. The truth is the truth and the public deserves to know.”

Asked if the terminations were political, Gambril said, “No, not at all.”

“It was no revelation to me,” he said of the possibility that Merrell, a former assistant district attorney, would run against him. “It has not been a secret in my office for several years.”

Gambril, a first-term district attorney, said he definitely plans to seek re-election next year.

“Prosecution has been my calling since 1992 and I plan to do this for the rest of my life,” he said.

Merrell said he has been encouraged to seek the office of district attorney and is considering a run. He will not make a final decision until this fall, he said.