DA, new assistants sworn in to office|[01/03/07]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 3, 2008

Richard “Ricky” Smith celebrated his 49th birthday Wednesday by being sworn into office as the 9th Circuit district attorney.

“Not a bad birthday present at all,” said Smith, who ousted incumbent Gil Martin in November’s election. “Makes this one that much more special.”

Smith was the first of eight Warren County officials taking oaths from Circuit Judge Frank Vollor and Circuit Judge Isadore Patrick at the Warren County Courthouse. The others were assistant district attorneys Dewey Arthur and Angela Carpenter, Jury Commissioner Bernard Cotton, Northern District Constable Glenn McKay, Circuit Clerk Shelly Ashley-Palmertree, and deputy circuit clerks Kathy Goza and Johnny Williams.

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About 80 people attended the 15-minute ceremony, which was followed by a reception in the District Attorney’s Office. Among the attendees were Smith’s parents, Richard Sr. and Jeanette Smith.

“We’re quite proud,” Richard Smith Sr. said of his son. “This is something he’s wanted for quite some time, and I believe he’s the right man for the job.”

Smith will have the opportunity to start work quickly. He and his staff will be presenting cases to three grand juries in their first three weeks in office, including the Issaquena County Grand Jury which assembles Monday, the day they officially take office.

“But we’re going to be ready, no doubt about it,” Smith said. “We’ve been using these past couple of weeks to meet with law enforcement officers in Issaquena County, and also Sharkey County, and getting these cases prepared. We’re actually already prepared for the first grand jury.”

Altogether, Smith replaced four of the six employees in the DA’s office. Dismissed were both assistant district attorneys, John Bullard and Mike Bonner; investigator Gary Haygood; and victims rights coordinator Georgia Lynn. The terminations take effect Monday.

Bullard had served in his post since 1991, when Martin was first elected, and Bonner, since 1999. Filling those spots are Arthur, who previously served as a Hinds County assistant district attorney, and Carpenter, a Vicksburg attorney with six years of law experience. Carpenter was notified of her new position just this past weekend.

“I’m very excited,” she said. “I believe in Mr. Smith and believe in what this office is capable of doing. And I’m looking forward to serving this community to the best of my ability.”

Replacing Haygood, who served as an investigator for 10 years, will be Warren County Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Lockridge. Lynn, an eight-year employee of the DA’s office, will be replaced by Smith’s legal assistant, Brenda Theriot. Lynn is also director of the Vicksburg Warren Humane Society.

Janice Harrison, an investigator for 11 years, and Pam Rushing, an office manager for nearly 17 years, were asked by Smith to remain in their roles. Both accepted.

Martin said Wednesday he plans to retire.

“Retiring wasn’t my first choice,” Martin said. “But it’s hard to start all over in private practice after so many years in public service.”

Martin, a Vicksburg native and graduate of University of Mississippi Law School, was in private practice for more than 20 years before becoming the chief prosecutor for the three counties. He is also the founder of Crimestoppers in Vicksburg, as well as an advisory board member of the Warren County Children’s Shelter. He is also past president of the Port City Kiwanis Club and the Y’s Men’s Clubs and served as chairman of the Vicksburg Election Commission and pro tem city court judge.

During their years in office, Martin and his staff modernized the office with complete computerization and the creation of a worthless check unit to help merchants collect bad debts.

“I’m very proud of what we accomplished,” Martin said. “I feel we did what we needed to and served the community well.”