During his 18 years with the District Attorney's Office, former Shelby County environmental court prosecutor Donald Siemer developed a reputation as a fierce animal-welfare advocate.
But Siemer's work on animal cruelty cases will come to a halt at the end of the month. The 77-year-old prosecutor was one of five employees laid off from the Shelby County District Attorney's Office after Christmas.
"The told me they needed to make some cuts because of the economy," Siemer said. "They wanted volunteers, but of course, nobody wanted to volunteer. Then at the turn of the year, [district attorney general Bill Gibbons] laid us off."
D.A. spokesperson Jennifer Donnals confirmed that the reduction was due to a state budget shortfall. Taken together, district attorneys offices across Tennessee cut $1.3 million in costs, much of it in personnel cuts.
"It is very distressing and painful to have to eliminate personnel, but these cuts were not optional," Donnals said. "These difficult decisions were made to have as little impact on the efficient operation of the office as possible."
Siemer said most of the laid-off employees were near or past retirement age, but he doesn't agree that the cuts will have little impact on the operation of the D.A.'s office.
"Since they took me out, that leaves two prosecutors in Environmental Court," Siemer said. "One of those prosecutors has to deal with several other satellite courts, so it basically leaves one guy in Division 14. He's a good lawyer, but he won't have time to investigate and develop animal cruelty cases."
Siemer, who once ran a large animal shelter covering four counties in New Jersey, was the county's point man on animal cruelty cases.
"I worked for a year down in the criminal courts. Animal cases would come in and they'd end up at the bottom of the heap because everyone was interested in catching bank robbers, not taking care of animals," Siemer said. "I volunteered to go to the Environmental Court, and I let everyone know to send animal cases to me."
The Memphis Animal Coalition, a group formed to institute change at Memphis Animal Services, has begun a letter-writing campaign urging Gibbons to give Siemer a second chance.
Whether or not Siemer stays on with the D.A.'s office, Donnals said more personnel cuts could be expected before the county starts the next fiscal year on July 1st.