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The Tampa Tribune from Tampa, Florida • 22

The Tampa Tribunei
Tampa, Florida
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2-B THE TAMPA TRIBUNE-TIMES, Sunday, October 23, 1983 Merkle From Page IB every morning in the newspapers. He successfully prosecuted former County Commissioners Joe Kot-vas and Fred Anderson for accepting bribes for rezoning. Professional reaction to Merkle is mixed depending on who does the talking. Listen to them talk about Merkle: "He's a hard-nosed prosecutor with a huge ego. I wouldn't want him after me.

He goes for the jugular." "He's the best cross examiner I've seen. He has the ability to think and talk and react almost instantaneously." "He has no fear." "He gives an eloquent closing argument. He can quote the Bible or Shakespeare." "You won't find a prosecutor any straighter." "He's the toughest, most unyielding, most dogged prosecutor I've ever run into. And I'm not altogether sure that's a compliment." "He's not on a job. He's on a mission." "There isn't but one way his way." "I think he's a dangerous man.

He'd do anything to win a case." "There aren't too many people who scare me. But he's one. His position is so powerful. I think he's keeping a fecal roster. I don't think he'd hesitate to send the FBI or IRS to harass me." "He's threatened to put his prosecutors and agency heads on a polygraph to control news leaks." "He lacks an ingredient that even prosecutors need compassion." Many trial lawyers are afraid to talk about Merkle on the record.

Two men who aren't afraid are Earl Simmons, former chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration office in Tampa, and Clearwater trial lawyer Ray Gross. Simmons says he "hates" Merkle. "I wouldn't want him after me. He's tough. But there ain't but one way bis way.

And his personality is like a sandwich. But when he's around his lovely wife, he's a totally Orlando office where six of seven prosecutors resigned after Merkle was appointed by President Reagan called him a "cold, insecure a-h- with strong bureaucratic controls that stifle Initiative." Even three friends all of whom have worked with Merkle and like and respect him see him as being rigid and poor at dealing with people. Breckenridge Wilcox III, a Justice Department attorney in Wash-. ington, D.C., who stays with Merkle while on business trips to Florida, said Merkle is not too receptive to dissenting views. "He will listen to opposing views, but I'm not sure he hears.

He seldom changes his mind," Wilcox said. He also said Merkle needs to be a better diplomat. Lee Fugate, who worked with Merkle in the Pinellas state attorney's office and presently is a trial lawyer, said Merkle occasionally has tunnel vision. "But his most aggravating attribute is that he is right 99.9 percent of the time," Fugate said. Jimmy Russell, Pinellas state attorney and Merkle's former boss, said Merkle's handling of people "isn't all it should be.

If you're intense, you're going to have problems with your co-workers." But he added that the people should be happy Merkle's their prosecutor. "He just doesn't lose cases. Everything he does to professional perfection," Russell said. Many lawyers were outraged by Merkle's accusation during the commissioners' trial that developers Nick and Peter Geraci tried unsuccessfully to make a cocaine deal to raise $150,000 to bribe the commissioners. Merkle was trying to discredit the developers because they denied they had been solicited for a bribe yet he presented no proof.

Gross called the Geraci accusations "character assassination." Another lawyer charged Merkle with "destroying" the Geracis "just to get where he wanted to. He's self righteous, and that's dangerous." Merkle won't talk about it. Department guidelines, he says. And be won't let his underling prosecutors talk either. Either Merkle does the talking or nobody.

Usually no different person. He's charming, a true gentleman." Gross said, "If Bob could get a rein on himself, he could be the world's greatest U.S. attorney. He's well qualified. He's an excellent trial lawyer.

He's well read and articulate." But Gross also tagged Merkle a "zealot" and a "bully." "He'd try and run through a wall if he thought he had to do it to win a case. And if somebody is on the other side, they've got to fall. I think he's honest, but I think he can be blinded by the overwhelming correctness of bis position, and he'd do whatever is necessary to observe that correctness." St. Petersburg attorney Larry Smith said Merkle won't be compromised as a prosecutor and "his strengths far outweigh his weaknesses." But Smith also contends Merkle is probably his own worst enemy. "Frankly, he wasn't very well liked over here.

It was the way he handled people," Smith said. "Everything is a mountain to him. He needs the ability to recognize the molehills. "I think some lawyers are afraid of him because they are judging him based on his explosiveness, abra-siveness and aggressiveness." A former federal prosecutor who worked for Merkle said he had a "love-hate affair" with Merkle. "His Irish charm can lull you into his corner.

Bob's done a lot for this district. He's beefed it up. And his goals are good. But I'm not sure of his motives. Our system is supposed to be based on facts and evidence.

But it's difficult when he's painting everyone to be a criminal or a liar." Another prosecutor who resigned said Merkle is opinionated, talks down to subordinates, is unforgiving, arrogant, rude and cocky. The ex-prosecutor said: "After the John Hinkley trial (President Reagan's attempted assassin), he told the people In his office, 'If I had tried that case, I'd have won hands down. "You can be good and still be humble. And you can at least say good morning to people. I don't think he cares what people think of him." A former prosecutor in Merkle's body.

But Merkle made a few. general observations about responsibility: "No. 1, the fundamental prindi-. pie is every witness is obligated to tell the truth "No. 2, the law allows us to vigorously cross-examine to test the truthful telling process.

"No. 3, the judge is there to assure the proper boundaries are observed. "No. 4, frequently people don't have the facts a judge has. If a judge has concerns, he can listen to the facts and make a decision." Gross labeled Merkle's response a "canned textbook answer." Merkle doesn't mind some of his labels, such as being called tough or hard nosed or doggedly determined.

"People are entitled to dogged determination and I don't mean harassment," he said. "It's a search for the truth. And you've got to be persistent because you're always encountering those who don't want the truth to come out." But he rejects statements that he is inflexible. "When you beat the pants off somebody in court, they aren't going to be happy," he said. He said he found statements by lawyers that he might misuse the power of his office or that he can be dangerous "ghastly." "I never have, and I never would do that," he said.

"I've never threatened anyone. No sir. People who say that don't know what they're talking about. "You don't threaten people. You don't harass people.

There's no place for that. I can be tough but fair. J' "I don't sit here foaming at the mouth saying we've got to hammer people. "Maybe it's because I have the misfortune to be as big as I am or as ugly as I am," he said laughing. "I'm really a sweet, gentle guy." Merkle hesitantly concedes that he could use better public relations.

"I kind of shy away from the media. Maybe I need to be more sophisticated in that area," he said. But he won't concede that he needs to improve relations in his department or with the federal agencies be works with, such as the FBI and Internal Revenue Service. And he denies he's threatened to give federal employees lie detector tests to stop news leaks, although several said so, including Simmons, "I think we have excellent relations with all federal agencies. But It's no bed of roses.

You can't please all the people all the time There may be some people who would like to see a problem," he said. "And change is a painful process. We're taking a different approach than the last U.S. attorney, and when you do that, you're saying there's a better way." The thing that seems to upset Merkle the most is a nickname tagged on him five or six years ago by a fellow assistant prosecutor in Pinellas County: Mad Dog. He hates it "Nobody ever called me that at least to my face," he said.

"I find it repugnant." But practically every lawyer interviewed called him "Mad Dog" and seemed to savor saying it. Merkle apparently hasn't -changed much since he was a teenager. Gordon Gibbons, who coached the national champion AAU basketball team last summer and was a classmate of Merkle's at St. Leo Preparatory School north of Tampa in the early 1960s, said Merkle was difficult to understand. Gibbons described Merkle as "one of those guys who was the best at everything he did but he'd let you know that You either liked him or you couldn't stand him.

"He was not the All-American boy not the most popular guy in school. But he was bis own man. He was outspoken. If he didn't like you, he wasn't afraid to let you know. "During basketball season, sometimes he'd go two or three days at practice and not speak to me.

When I'd take a shot, he'd yell at me, 'Throw me the He thought he was better than I. And he probably was." Merkle was such a good running back he said he outran the entire St Leo team in his street shoes to show the coach he wasn't a lineman that he won a scholarship to Notre Dame. He played with Heisman Trophy winner John Huarte in 1964, and All-American end Jack Snow. He was the third-team fullback. He ran the ball four times his junior year for eight yards and caught one pass for 26 yards.

He has a photograph on his office wall of him running the ball after, that catch. Injuries kept him from playing his senior i Merkle learned to be a fighter as a youngster. His father "taught me not to back away from a I And he needed it when his family his parents and nice brothers and sisters moved to-a rural South Carolina town in the 1950s. His father was the only doctor who would treat blacks. And Merkle said the townfolk didn't understand the 14th Amendment or that the Civil War was over.

i "The kids called me a nigger lover, and I'd get jumped on ari beaten up. I couldn't tell you how many times I was beaten up," he said. It helped make him tough. Joe Magri, Merkle's hand-picked first assistant who was a civil, corporate lawyer In Washington, D.C., before Merkle hired him, talks about Merkle like he was the model for the 12 points In the Boy Scout Magri said Merkle inherited an office that was disorganized, had a backlog of cases and had little direction. "He sought to change all that and did change that And that can get peoples' noses out of joint" he said.

"He's very candid. If you haven't investigated the facts of your case, he will tell you and can be rough on a person I don't consider it rough. I consider it honest." he said. Magri also said Merkle never threatened anyone with a lie detector test to plug news leaks. But he said a memo was circulated stating that everything necessary would 6e done to stop the leaks, including the use of a polygraph.

State Attorney Russell said Tampa lawyers simply don't know Merkle well enough. He said, "They would like him better if they get to know him better. If you judge Bob Merkle by your first impression, it's a big mistake. He's just not as tough and hard hearted as he'd appear to be. He's got a lot of heart" -1- BERKELEY PREPARATORY SCHOOL EDSOSP.

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26, 7:30 PM GILLS HALL Marks From Page IB series of "four or five" impressions sent to him by Tampa police. Souviron, who said he was the only forensic dentist in Florida and one of two in the south, clined to comment specifically on the case. "I don't want to jeopardize the investigation in the case because this (the match) is only preliminary evidence," said Souviron. At the time Grams' battered body was found in the yard behind the Tampa dentist's office it was the third time since mid-July that a murdered woman had been found In a conspicuous place. Four more bodies of women were found in Hillsborough County in late summer, but police have insisted that none of the killings were linked.

Law enforcement officials have now made four separate arrests in the seven deaths. The arrest in the Grams case brings to three the number of arrests police have made in the five murders in the city. Hillsborough County Sheriffs Office detectives made one arrest in the two killings it has handled. Friends of Grams said she made a practice of walking the two miles from the shopping mall where she worked to her home at 2911 North Boulevard. She did it for the exercise, said friend and co-worker Anna McClellan.

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