CRESTVIEW – Former Okaloosa County Commissioner Graham Fountain has moved recently sworn attorney Ginger Bowden Madden’s transition team to a six-figure job as general manager for their office.
Madden has also received resignations from four assistant prosecutors and two investigators. Bill Bishop, the former Okaloosa District assistant attorney, is among those urged to resign.
Fountain will oversee the administrative side of the prosecution as executive director of Florida’s First Judicial Circuit, according to Greg Marcille, who will serve as Madden’s chief assistant until he retires in July.
“Budgeting, staffing, equipment purchases, and anything else that goes into the day-to-day unlawful function of the office,” is Fountain’s responsibility, Marcille said. According to records, Fountain receives an annual salary of $ 100,000.
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Fountain announced on May 5, 2020 that he would not seek a second term as Okaloosa County Commissioner, suggesting health concerns played a role in his decision. A week later, he announced that he would lead the transition team when Madden, who won an unhindered election to succeed Bill Eddins as prosecutor, was ready to take office.
He and Madden said at the time the transition team’s appointment was announced that there is no guarantee that Fountain would get a job once the transition is complete.
“I would never say never. I think Graham has a lot going for it, ”Madden said at the time.
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Fountain said Madden reached out to him in December to work with prosecutors.
“She asked me and I said I’ll try and see if I like it,” he said. “I’ll try. I can probably help her for a while.”
Madden was unavailable for comment.
Prior to hiring Fountain, Marcille served as chief assistant to Attorney Bill Eddins as the executive director of the office. The roles of assistant prosecutor and executive director had been merged under Eddins at a time when state budgets were tight.
According to Fountain, Marcille had been “stretched too thin” for lawyers to oversee and manage day-to-day operations.
Madden takes office when the state is back on a budget cut cycle. Last year, due to the economic hardship caused by COVID-19, Florida legislation withheld 1.5 percent of the quarterly budget for the offices of prosecutors and public defenders during the current fiscal year.
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In an article published by Florida Bar News in August 2020, a prosecutor estimates that 96% to 97% of a prosecutor’s budget is spent on salaries.
“Counties pay for our rent, our electricity, our computers. Our state budgets are mostly made up of salaries. If you cut 6 percent, you cut people,” said Phil Archer, president of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association.
Eddins estimated last July that the setbacks would eliminate $ 800,000 from the coffers of the First Judicial Circuit prosecutor’s office.
When Madden was preparing for office in early January, she released six employees. Fountain told two investigators that budget considerations resulted in their jobs being cut. Four assistant prosecutors, including Bill Bishop, the former assistant prosecutor for Okaloosa County, either voluntarily resigned or were told that their positions would not be maintained.
Bishop, who had entered the state’s DROP program and was due to retire later that year, was asked by Madden to submit his resignation in January, Marcille said.
“Ms. Madden felt it was a good time to change something,” said Marcille. “Mr. Bishop has decided to step down earlier than intended.”
Greg Anchors, who retired as assistant prosecutor in Walton County in 2018, has been fired from retirement to replace Bishop. The move saves $ 23,000 for the Judicial Circuit as Bishop makes $ 123,000 and Anchors makes $ 100,000.
Deputy Attorney John Dubose, who specializes in the prosecution of economic crimes, also retires from the prosecution; Assistant Attorney Jennifer Lieb, who prosecuted child abuse cases in the Okaloosa district; and Assistant Prosecutor Kathryn Dekker.
Eddins allowed longtime Okaloosa County investigator Melissa Vause and investigator Randall Joiner to resign before their posts were removed when Madden took office on Jan. 5.
In a letter of resignation, Dubose told Madden that he would have stayed “if we had reached an amicable change in duties.”
“We obviously couldn’t,” the letter went on, “and you stated that there is no way my work would resume on January 5, 2021. With that in mind, I have no choice but to resign.”
Vause and Joiner said in identical resignation letters that Fountain had told them “Budget constraints required the removal of numerous positions within our circuit, and mine was one of them.”
Fountain said a decision not to keep investigators was a joint decision by Eddins and Madden.
“There are a lot of numbers in that. These are budget realities. You have decided to make a change,” Fountain said.
According to Fountain, Eddins had already let “eight or nine” people go before Madden took over the position of prosecutor.
“There are currently 26-28 vacancies, lawyers and investigators across the county,” he said. “We’re only doing what we can to get through the next six months of the fiscal year.”
Fountain said he informed Vause and Joiner when they called to inquire about why they had been fired that the decision was a budgetary decision. He said he had assured both investigators that he would help them find a new job.
Marcille said an investigator had been called in to temporarily conduct investigative work at the prosecutor’s office in Crestview. A commissioned investigator will continue to work at the southern end of the district.
Marshall Moll, who briefly served as a prosecutor prior to entering the criminal defense law, was appointed by Madden to take over her previous role as the Okaloosa District Court regulator. He will also handle some cases from the district court in the Okaloosa district, Marcille said.
The six employee resignations have taken $ 547,912 off the attorney’s payroll, according to a request for public records. The hiring of Fountain, Anchors, and Moll added $ 260,000 to office costs.