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Whistle-blower case continues

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Confidential informant may be identified

By Alice Du Pont

 Circuit Judge John C. Cooper denied, Monday afternoon, a motion to dismiss the whistle-blower case of former Gadsden County public works director Robert Presnell. At issue was whether or not Presnell filed his complaint with the appropriate entity.
    The question before the court was whether Presnell's written allegations concerning criminal activity by elected officials should have been delivered to the Gadsden County Sheriff's Office or to his immediate supervisor, Johnnie Williams, the county administrator. Judge Cooper ruled that the sheriff's office met the criteria of "other appropriate entity."
    Brian Duffy, representing the county, argued that there was no reason for Presnell to go the GCSO because Williams was the only one who could fire him and he knew nothing of the accusations when he terminated Presnell four hours after the complaint was delivered.  Therefore, Duffy said, there was no reason for Presnell to seek an alternative to reporting his beliefs to his supervisor so that he could take advantage of the protection from being fired under the whistle-blower statute.
    Duffy also told the judge that Presnell could have felt that he was going to be terminated and filed the whistleblower accusation as a way to keep his job.
    Presnell's attorney, Bryan Gowdy,  said he was fired four hours after the allegations were delivered over to the GCSO. The wrongdoing, said Gowdy, involves public corruption and criminal activity.
    "When you have information implicating county commissioners in wrongdoing by making unreported campaign contributions to a third candidate to split the African-American vote it is a third degree felony" Gowdy said.
    Presnell allegations are based on information provided him by a confidential informant. The person is currently seeking immunity through the U.S. State Attorney's office. Another of Presnell's attorneys, Steve Andrews, said that because the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney are involved to disclose the identity of the confidential informant publicly would have a "chilling effect" on the investigation.
    "If the GCSO received the complaint and believed it was true and in good faith, there is no need, at this time, for the identity disclosure to be made," Andrews said.
    Judge Cook said that the plaintiff attorneys will have to disclose the name at some point because the county's attorney has a right to know.
    "I am not a fan of secret witnesses in a civil case. This should be a rare, if ever, phenomenon," Judge Cooper said.
     The reinstatement hearing has been set for Nov. 9.