Lawyer wants dismissal turned into resignation

Published February 2, 2007

TAMPA - Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober is used to defense attorneys lobbying on behalf of their clients.

But a letter from a Largo lawyer this week wasn't typical fare.

"My client has suffered severe embarrassment and emotional trauma due to your draconian actions," the letter read.

The client: Bethany L. Jackson, an assistant state attorney fired because she didn't report a colleague who smoked pot in her apartment.

Jackson's attorney, John Trevena, not only is helping fight her dismissal but also hired her as an attorney for his firm.

Trevena wants Jackson's former boss to allow her to voluntarily resign so her record isn't permanently marred. He said she was treated differently than other prosecutors around Florida, such as those in Pinellas County who kept their jobs after arrests for drunken driving.

Ober provided a limited response through his spokeswoman, Pam Bondi.

"We stand by our decision," she said. "We will continue to hold our prosecutors to a high standard."

Jackson and Derrick Valkenburg, both prosecutors in the juvenile division, were fired Nov. 6. Jackson failed to report a violation of Florida law; Valkenburg would not voluntarily submit to a drug screening. Neither was charged with a crime.

Jackson, 27, said this week that she didn't witness any illegal behavior. Some people had gathered at her South Tampa apartment on a Friday night. She got everyone a drink, then went to walk her dog.

When she returned, she said, another prosecutor was yelling at a guest for smoking pot.

Jackson said she didn't feel the need to get involved.

"I didn't have anything to do with it," she said.

At work that Monday, Jackson's bosses called her out of a deposition to ask about the incident. She gave her recollection of events and offered to take drug and polygraph tests, she said.

She went back to her deposition.

Her bosses called again. Then they fired her, less than two months after she had been hired. Her dismissal, she said, has been devastating.

Trevena said requiring a prosecutor to report any violation of law that she comes across is an impossible responsibility.

"Basically, you have to be the ultimate rat of rats," said Trevena, who hired Jackson in December.