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Former deputies bring experience to prosecution table

Posted: September 14, 2013 - 11:01pm  |  Updated: September 14, 2013 - 11:59pm
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Assistant district attorneys Pete Lamb (from left), Shawn Merzlak and Madonna Little work on cases in Columbia County Superior Court. The two men are ex-police officers.   Photo by Jim Blaylock
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Assistant district attorneys Pete Lamb (from left), Shawn Merzlak and Madonna Little work on cases in Columbia County Superior Court. The two men are ex-police officers.

 

Two former law enforcement officers have opted to continue their mission to seek justice as prosecutors.

Shawn Merzlak and Pete Lamb, both former local deputies, began their new jobs as assistant district attorneys at the District Attorney’s Office on Aug. 5.

“I think it is going to be a wonderful asset,” District Attorney Ashley Wright said of the men’s law enforcement experience.

Traditionally, newly hired prosecutors in Wright’s office have gone through law school straight from college.

Merzlak began working with the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office as a reserve deputy after graduating high school in 1999. In 2002, he was hired as a full-time road deputy. Putting his bachelor’s degree in accounting and master’s in business administration to work, he became an investigator in the Crimes Against Persons unit focusing on financial crimes.

He left in July 2010 and headed for law school at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

“I was ready for a new challenge,” Merzlak said. “I guess I really enjoy learning and researching and that’s something you get to do in the law. The law is ever-changing.”

Merzlak opted to come back and practice in the Augusta Judicial Circuit because the area is home and he wants to continue serving the community he grew up in.

Merzlak, Lamb and the office’s other new hire, Jared Williams, took the bar exam in July; results are expected in late October.

“All three of us are waiting,” Lamb said. “It’s awful.”

The new attorneys can practice law as long as the proceedings are supervised by a licensed attorney. They stay busy learning the ropes in each of the district’s three counties – Columbia, Richmond and Burke – by attending hearings, trials and other proceedings with other prosecutors.

For Lamb, becoming a prosecutor is an extension of his 30-year law enforcement career at the Augusta Police Department and Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, where he ran the DUI Task Force. He retired in January 2010.

“Everything I have done seems to have prepared me one way or another to do this,” Lamb said, adding that he wants to continue to give back to his community. “I had a feeling like the fight should not be over.”

With his vast experience, Lamb said he could have made a comfortable living as a defense expert, but largely ethical reasons lead him back to seeking justice for victims.

The perks of this job, he said, are the hours. He can spend nights and holidays with his family.

Lamb said he expects his law enforcement experience to provide him with a different perspective on cases. Though law enforcement officers and prosecutors seek the same end – justice – seeking it in court is very different.

“A lawyer looks at the law and looks at a case to prove or disprove much differently than the officer on the street,” Lamb said, adding that effective prosecution is much like a game of chess. “We’re playing the same game, just on a different board.”

Merzlak said he’s loving the new job and is anxiously awaiting his bar results. He expects his law enforcement experience to give him a greater understanding of the officers actions and investigations.

“I definitely think it gives you a better understanding of some of the reports that come in and maybe reasons why a particular officer did a particular thing,” Merzlak said. “I’m hoping that will be an asset in talking to different officers about their investigations.”

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