Gambril, Merrell answer questions in forum

Published 1:41 am Wednesday, May 26, 2010

District Attorney Greg Gambril says a man sometimes must toot his own horn or it might be used as a spittoon.

His opponent, former assistant district attorney, Walt Merrell, says he’s not comfortable talking about himself, so he encourages voters to “ask someone who knows me” and “I’ll stand by what they say.”

Both men participated in the Civitan political forum Tuesday night co-sponsored by WAAO and The Star-News. Their names won’t appear on the ballot until November.

Each was asked to share his guiding principles in determining whether a case would go to trial or be negotiated. Answers to all questions were limited to 90 seconds.

“There’s no way to answer that in 90 seconds,” Gambril said. “My ultimate guiding principle is my faith.”

He added that he also draws on his experience of how previous cases have been handled, considers the strength of evidence and court history.

“There are scores of things on every case,” he said.

Merrell said the question could be answered in one second.

“Justice,” he said. He said no agreement offer should be extended unless it serves justice.

Merrell said the district attorney’s office has tried only one felony in a jury trial in the last eight  months.

“We have felony court 10 months out of the  year,” he said. Unless a prosecutor has evidence of how tough juries can be, he has little to bargain with, he said.

Asked about their visions for the office, Gambril said he would continue in the same manner.

“One of the things I’m proud of is that  we’ve become very proactive,” he said, citing the Zero Meth campaign and work with the drug task force in the schools to prevent drug abuse and crimes.

Merrell said his vision is for a “safer, cleaner world.”

He said there is a rampant drug problem in the county that he’s spent the last six years addressing as a founding member of Crossover Ministries.  “This is not my vision for DA, for our homes, families and communities.”

Asked about enforcing state gambling laws, Gambril said he is against electronic bingo, adding that only paper bingo is legal in Covington County.

He said if electronic bingo devices were installed in the county, he would “prosecute zealously.

Merrell was asked what, if anything, he would do differently if he were district attorney.

He said the number of people on probation in Covington County has increased almost two-fold in the last six years.

“But the rate of arrests is the same,” he said. “I would correct that problem. I would go in the courtroom, try cases, and put plea agreements back on the side of justice.”

In his closing remarks, Gambril countered that he has led the state in the number of jury trials per capita and that the percentage of persons on parole here is similar to other areas of the state.

Gambril is a Democrat, Merrell a Republican.