RALEIGH — A fired whistleblower got her day in court Wednesday more than four years after reporting a criminal scheme between two former district attorneys to the State Bureau of Investigation.
Debra Halbrook is suing the state for lost wages and retirement benefits, which she says were taken away due to her coming forward.
For her, it's the end of an ordeal that has taken years to come full circle.
Craig Blitzer and Wallace Bradsher lost their jobs as the district attorneys for Rockingham and Person/Caswell counties, respectively, on their way to being convicted of hiring each other’s spouses and paying Blitzer’s wife $48,000 for work she never did.
And it all became public in a whistleblower lawsuit from Halbrook, a legal assistant, who alleges she was fired by Bradsher for reporting the scheme to the SBI.
It was in 2015 she first became suspicious that the district attorneys were stealing state money because of a sudden swap in employees. Pam Bradsher had worked for her husband in Person County since 2011 and Cindy Blitzer began working for her husband the day he formally took office in 2015.
But within weeks of Cindy Blitzer’s hiring, the men had their wives swap jobs. Cindy Blitzer, however, was never seen at work.
Halbrook testified Wednesday that Bradsher became suspicious she was the leak. He also learned that she had hired an attorney to represent her.
The lawsuit finally went to trial Monday with witnesses that so far have included Blitzer and one of Halbrook’s co-workers.
On Wednesday, Halbrook caught the attention of jurors as she detailed her fear of Bradsher and a concern that she had "lost everything" for reporting him.
Tears filled her eyes, her lip quivered and her voice shook as she spoke about the fallout in court.
Halbrook was fired, lost close friends and was called a "liar" in public.
She said she began to withdraw and isolate herself from everyone, including her husband.
“It has been very traumatizing,” Halbrook said. “I was left without an income. And the passion I had inside to help people was taken away.”
Halbrook added she worried about Bradsher wanting retribution and felt threatened after she reported him. He moved her to an office he called "The Dungeon" and once revealed the gun he carried.
Halbrook said when Bradsher first took office he was very involved with cases and often in the courtroom. But that began to fall apart as the years stretched on.
When Bradsher did come to court, she said, he would go into fits of rage, slamming doors, flinging papers and trying to punch walls.
All that played into the paranoia she felt after reporting him, she said.
Also on Wednesday, Blitzer testified that he knew his wife wasn’t working for Bradsher despite collecting a paycheck.
“I talked myself into being OK with it,” Blitzer said, “because Mr. Bradsher told me he would get her work and because regretfully and erroneously we needed that paycheck.”
Blitzer said he needed the money because of the large pay cut he took after leaving private practice to become a district attorney.
Bradsher was also expected to testify Wednesday. However, Halbrook’s attorney, Drew Erteschik, convinced Judge Becky Holt to allow parts of his deposition to be read instead of putting him on the stand.
Erteschik told Holt that Bradsher refused to answer questions during his deposition, pleading the fifth throughout on the grounds that he might incriminate himself.
Erteschik said to put Bradsher on the witness stand could turn the courtroom into "a circus."
The judge agreed to leave him out of the courtroom.