Former deputy district attorney Roger Whomes entered the race for district attorney this week, assuring incumbent Republican Richard Gammick his first major opponent since he was first elected in 1994.
Whomes said he is running to create a “a change in direction for the county. … I think it’s time for a change. I think it’s time to move forward.”
Whomes said that in cases like the Darren Mack prosecution and a case involving property taxes at Incline Village, Gammick’s conduct has undercut the public’s interest.
In the Mack case, Whomes said, Gammick messed up by intruding into the investigation.
“You are all familiar with Darren Mack,” he said. “Mack butchered his wife and tried to kill the judge. His first call was to his friend Dick Gammick. Gammick made himself a witness in the case. He lost the confession Mack made. He knew Mack had an attorney, and even though he was told not to speak with Mack, he did. The judge found that Mack violated the Constitution. The courts changed the venue, and Washoe County taxpayers ended up paying a lot more money for the case.”
In an essay he wrote for the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, Gammick said, “I suggest that knowledge of the facts reveals how appropriate my conduct really was. … On June 19, 2006, Darren Mack telephoned me. Other law enforcement agencies traced his calls to Mexico. During subsequent telephone conversations, all of which Darren Mack initiated, he made statements confirming that he had killed Charla [Mack] and shot Judge [Charles] Weller. … To ensure that Mack’s contact with me would not be an issue in his prosecution, I asked the Clark County District Attorney’s Office to take the case, and it turned out I was not a witness at trial. If assisting in returning an international fugitive to Reno to face justice is ‘outrageous conduct,’ I’ll continue to be outrageous.”
Whomes is running with the support of some Incline Village residents who mounted a long-running effort to correct the way their property taxes were calculated by a previous county assessor (“Challenge to Gammick?” RN&R, Nov. 5, 2009). At the news conference where Whomes announced his candidacy, a statement of support from Incline tax protest leader Maryanne Ingemanson was distributed.
In that dispute, Gammick was legal counsel for the assessor and also for the Washoe County Board of Equalization and the Washoe County Board of Commissioners. The Incliners argue that because these offices were at odds over the assessments, Gammick could choose who he would represent and call in independent counsel for the others—and he chose to represent the Washoe County Assessor’s Office, the principal adversary of the Incliners.
Whomes said that by failing to settle the case—which the property owners won—at the beginning, Gammick cost the county millions because the publicity helped spread the protest to other taxpayers down in the Truckee Meadows.
“Another thing that they [the Incliners] say is that when this first began in 2003 about seven years ago is that this could have been settled for about $55,000.” When Gammick chose to fight the case, the Incliners “went and hired their own attorneys and have continued to prevail. … Now that trend is being picked up by Las Vegas, it’s gone as far as Ely, taxpayers here in the [Truckee Meadows] valley are filing for refunds because the way the taxes were being assessed was illegal.”
Whomes said he was taken aback when he heard recently that Gammick is suing the winners in that dispute. “They’ve just been served, I understand, just last Friday with the notice that the winners of the lawsuits are now being sued back by Washoe County, which to me is nothing like anything I’ve ever seen,” he said. “You know, you win a judgment, then you get sued back. … All they did is point out, you know, you got to follow the law.” He also thinks Gammick should have done a better job of coming to grips with the conflicts of interest inherent in the district attorney representing agencies at odds with each other.
In his essay, Gammick responded, “As the attorney for Washoe County, I have an ethical and sworn obligation to give my clients the best legal advice possible, which is accomplished through a professional and dedicated staff. Incline Village taxpayers who have complied with the current laws and rules and have received a favorable ruling from a competent court have already received tax refunds. Unfortunately, several decisions and rulings have not adequately resolved many of the legal issues. … Those issues impact much larger areas of the law and the county. The entire legal system in this country is premised on settling issues such as this through a structured set of laws and procedures. A proper administrative appeal gives authorities the opportunity to review these procedures and correct them if necessary. On the other hand, a lawsuit makes the entire process much more formalized, which necessarily incorporates all of those laws and procedures.”
In what appeared to be an afterthought in his essay, Gammick also accused Whomes of being a registered Democrat, which Gammick suggested is inconsistent with supporting a right to keep and bear arms.
Whomes responded, “I’m a lifetime member of the NRA [National Rifle Association]. I grew up in this state. I’ve had guns in my hands since I was 7 years old.”
He added, “I was a Democrat my whole life, and I registered as a Republican to vote for Mr. Gammick, who at the time I had a lot of faith in, in 1994. … But I switched back to the Democratic Party because that’s what I was for most of my life.”
In his Bonanza essay, Gammick called Whomes a disgruntled former employee.
“I have found it is not unusual for disgruntled former employees to harbor resentment which results in half truths and exaggerations. Mr. Whomes left the office on Dec. 6, 2006, and soon afterward became a Washoe County Deputy Public Defender representing criminal defendants, a position which he still holds today. If Mr. Whomes is willing to sign a waiver of confidentiality, I will be glad to discuss the circumstances of his departure and provide even more of the rest of the story.”
Whomes said he was uncertain himself why he left the district attorney’s office, apparently because he was not given a reason.
“Well, quite frankly, I’m not sure because the way the system works is if you have a reason for anything, it has to be in writing, and there is nothing in writing. And I have no idea what Mr. Gammick says to you or to anybody else.”
Gammick himself was a disgruntled former employee of the district attorney’s office when he was first elected. As a deputy district attorney, he filed in 1994 to run against his boss, District Attorney Dorothy Nash Holmes, who then fired him to prevent office conflicts.
Gammick has served as district attorney for 15 years. The D.A. is not term-limited, though in 2008 Gammick did file a brief supporting litigation to overturn term limits on other officials.