Britt, “Rocky” duke it out
Embattled district attorney draws fire from legal opponents for troubles, misdeeds of others
EXCLUSIVE TO THE ALBANY JOURNAL
Story by Bill Davis
Not only is newly re-elected District Attorney living in a goldfish bowl, it would seem that somebody is trying to shatter the glass. Priddy has, through to course of his work, attracted all manner of enemies, principally because the way he conducts his office is totally different from that of his predecessor the late Hobart Hind
The late Mr. Hind, once Britt Priddy’s boss, famous for his thatch of silver hair and wheeling and dealing with local attorneys, has since gone to his reward but Albany’s legal eagles are wistfully reminiscent of the good old days.
The good old days means that attorneys could plea bargain with Mr. Hind and get their clients off the hook.
It’s a totally new ball game with the comparatively youthful Priddy, who once pounded a beat as an Atlanta cop. One of Priddy’s prime critics is defense attorney Ralph Scoccimaro, who accuses Priddy of having “a police officer mentality.”
For example, Priddy is known to treat offenders of the law in stern and uncompromising fashion. He is particularly unforgiving when it comes to motorists charged with DUI.
That puts Priddy squarely in the path of Scoccimaro, whose specialty is defending DUI cases.
Even as you are reading The Journal this morning Scoccimaro has been hauled into court before Judge John Land by District Attorney Priddy.
Priddy has appealed to Judge Land to have Scoccimaro disqualified as defense for another attorney, John Vansant, who is being prosecuted by the DA for driving under the influence.
And this opens another can of worms.
Vansant represented Priddy’s ex-wife in a child support hearing. Further, Vansant was a staunch friend and supporter of the late DA, Hobart Hind, who was defeated at the polls by Priddy.
Does Priddy harbor feelings of vindictiveness toward Vansant on this account? No, Priddy says, Vansant is using all of the above as a smoke screen to cover his own offense of DUI.
Originally, the DUI charge was heard by Associate State Court Judge Howard Stiller, who dismissed the charges against Vansant. Priddy said he scoured the record and could find no extenuating circumstances for dismissal. He then instructed his assistant district attorney Johnny Graham, perhaps the most capable assistant on Priddy’s staff, she is both black and female, to take the Vansant case to the grand jury.
Ms. Graham told the grand jury that the dismissal of DUI charges against Vansant was due to “influence from the good old boy network.”
Vansant, a famed trial lawyer, is scheduled to go on trial in Dougherty Superior court. He will be represented by former assistant district attorney Richard Hodge and Scoccimaro.
Priddy has also endured considerable barbs because of offenses committed by his sister-in-law and brother. In the case of his sister-in-law, once again Ralph (Rocky) Scoccimaro surfaces as Priddy’s enemy incarnate. He represents Priddy’s sister-in-law.
To make matters worse for Priddy and he himself has committed no wrongs, his office manager, a voluptuous 32-year-old blonde, was involved in a one-car wreck in which she totaled her Volkswagen Fox automobile shortly after midnight last Friday. According to Dougherty County Police reports, Belinda Williams, a divorcee, was proceeding west on Old Dawson Road when she crossed to the wrong side of the road and wrapped her Volkswagen around a tree.
Ms. Williams was able to free herself by clambering through the driver’s side window. According to police reports she was picked up by an unknown motorist who transported her to the home of a friend, Al Gleaton, where she spent the evening.
She was in severe pain, suffered a broken nose and facial lacerations, was put to bed and her boss was notified early the next morning.
Mr. Priddy arrived on the scene with Carol White, a secretary to one of his assistant district attorneys. Ms. Williams was taken to Phoebe Putney Hospital. Police said she has been charged with leaving the scene, not reporting the accident and with driving too fast for conditions.
County traffic investigators said she was driving 70 miles per hour in a 45-mile-an-hour zone. They arrived on the scene shortly after 1 a.m.
Assistant Dougherty County Police Chief Woody Hart told The Albany Journal there was no attempt by the DA’s office to “cover anything up. As soon as the district attorney found out about it he was up front with us.” Priddy said he first heard about the accident when a message was left on his answering machine. He said he had left his beeper number with the Dougherty County Police, and they should have beeped him early Friday morning as soon as they examined and investigated the wreck.
There are reports leaked to The Albany Journal to the effect that Ms. Williams was spotted in a luxury nightspot shortly before driving home.
So the duel between Priddy and Scoccimaro continues unabated. It is Priddy’s belief that Scoccimaro has access to confidential police information and is leaking it to the press. Scoccimaro denies this, saying: “I have no comment to make on Mr. Priddy whatsoever except to say that during the trial in which I defended Lionel Dennis, former Albany State running back accused of murdering liquor store operator Doug Peterson, Priddy maliciously and deliberately withheld evidence to the effect that there were third party fingerprints on the cash register from the liquor store. I intend to have this conviction reversed.”
Other attorneys are critical of the district attorney for leniency shown to police informants. Priddy says police informants are an integral part of the prosecutorial process. He says he will continue to assist witnesses who turn state’s evidence.
“Referring to Vansant, DA Priddy said: “He is trying to circumvent the system and get preferential treatment using the threat of embarrassment against me. It won’t work. I think drunken drivers are a menace, I don’t care who they are.”
The embattled district attorney says he is immune to criticism for retrying scion of great wealth and power Walter Rhyne, charged with the gunshot slaying of 6-5,
250-pound Larry Jackson on the night of July 9, 1991. The trial last month ended with a hung jury. Rhyne is scheduled to be retried with Priddy personally prosecuting.