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ATLANTA — When Richard Merritt signed on as a staff attorney with Powell Goldstein more than a year ago, the law firm had to be impressed with his background: eight years as a Marine officer and a degree from the University of Southern California Law School. Merritt didn’t mention on his resume, however, that he had just won a publishing contract for a book, “Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star,” which appears in bookstores this week. With the book’s release date nearing, Merritt told his supervising attorney about it in early March, Merritt said. The firm fired him a few days later. The human resources director told him that, because of the book, they didn’t believe he’d be able to serve clients as well as Powell Goldstein standards would require. The firm’s managing partner, James McAlpin, declined comment on Merritt’s departure, citing a confidentiality agreement. “I wish I could more freely discuss the circumstances surrounding Rich Merritt’s departure from our firm but, as lawyers, our firm feels bound by the confidentiality,” he said. Merritt maintained the confidentiality agreement allows him to discuss his dismissal. Despite the sensational title, the book isn’t a salacious account of what happens in the movie underworld. Rather, it’s a from-the-heart memoir that recounts growing up in a fundamentalist Christian home, attending straight-laced Bob Jones University, discovering a larger world in the Marines, coming out with his sexuality and recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. As for his acting career, it occupied all of four months — and eight movies — in 1995. Still, Merritt, 37, said he understands how even a short-lived career in pornography might be a deal-breaker for a big law firm. “I was hoping [Powell Goldstein] would work with me,” he said, noting that he had a stellar performance review in February. “Powell Goldstein did what any big firm would do,” Merritt said. “I was hoping they would be better than other big firms.” “I really liked PoGo except for their decision to fire me,” he added ruefully. “It was a great job with great people.” He joined the firm in April 2004 after moving from California to Atlanta to be closer to his father, who had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. The firm allowed him to work flexible hours so he could spend time in Greenville, S.C., caring for his father, he said. “They were very supportive.” Merritt said that he was openly gay at Powell Goldstein and that his sexual orientation was not an issue. He said he joined the firm because he understood it to be a progressive place where gay lawyers were welcome. McAlpin said the firm knew Merritt was gay when he was hired and stressed that his departure had nothing to do with his sexual orientation. He noted that Powell Goldstein’s pro-diversity activities include gold-level sponsorship of the annual fundraising gala for the Atlanta Human Rights Campaign, the local chapter of the nation’s largest rights group for gay, lesbian and transgender people. Merritt started writing “Secrets of A Gay Marine Porn Star” three years ago, after overcoming an addiction to drugs and alcohol. Telling his story, he said, was a way to come to grips with his own experience — and a way to help others heal. “Part of my message in the book is that our secrets keep us sick,” he said. Merritt was raised as a fundamentalist Christian in Greenville, S.C., where he attended Bob Jones University, an evangelical Bible college, and, before that, Bob Jones Academy and Bob Jones Elementary School. Early in his college career, he enlisted in the Marine Reserves. Three months of boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., exposed him to people from a wider world and he returned to Bob Jones a changed young man. He was expelled after school officials learned that he’d broken the school’s rules by dancing with young women at a local nightclub and listening to rock and roll music. He transferred to Clemson University and, after graduating, went on active duty, serving in Japan, the Philippines and Korea. Around this time, in the early 1990s, he started to realize that he was gay. In 1995 Merritt appeared in eight gay porn videos under the nom de film of Danny Orlis. He called it a youthful indiscretion brought on by his anger about the Marines’ newly instituted “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which required gay service personnel to keep their sexual orientation secret. “I was furious at this policy. I had just come out of the closet and was in an angry, militant, ‘act up’ phase,” Merritt said. He answered an ad for gay actors and models in San Diego’s Gay and Lesbian Times on a whim while he was stationed at Camp Pendleton and ended up auditioning for a gay porn video. “I thought it would be a way to get back at the powers that be that passed this stupid law,” he said. It was also, perhaps, a way to rebel against an upbringing that censured homosexuality. His porn persona, Danny Orlis, was the name of a character in a Christian children’s book series that Merritt read while growing up. In stories like “Danny Orlis and Trouble on the Circle R Ranch” the capable, Hardy Boys-like hero helped to extricate others from their scrapes. When a movie producer asked the adult Merritt for an actor pseudonym, “it just came out, right out of the unconscious,” he said. In 1998, Merritt was honorably discharged from the Marines and he then enrolled in law school at the University of Southern California, where, for the first time, he could live an openly gay life. “I really liked the Marines, except for the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy,” he said. Before leaving the Marines, he cooperated with a journalist writing a June 1998 cover story for The New York Times Magazine on gays in the military. The story identified Merritt only by the initial “R.” in order not to violate the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. “I did [the story] because I was tired of hiding . . . of not being able to take my partner [to the Marine Corps Ball] but instead going on fake dates with female friends,” he said. Merritt was featured on the magazine’s cover in his dress uniform with his face obscured by his salute. More publicity followed after he left the Marines when the Advocate, a national magazine covering gay and lesbian issues, published a story identifying him as the subject of the New York Times profile. A subsequent Advocate story dredged up his brief foray into porn. In law school, a flirtation with drugs and alcohol soon turned into an addiction, which followed him to his first job at Jones Day in Los Angeles. By 2002, he had moved to a different firm, stopped abusing drugs and alcohol and “started to focus on getting better,” he said. Six months later his father’s diagnosis with Lou Gehrig’s disease prompted his move to Atlanta. His father died in January, two months before Merritt told Powell Goldstein about his book. Merritt said he’s received job offers from other law firms but is taking a hiatus from law for a book tour. He will be signing “Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star” in Atlanta at Outwrite Books on Wednesday. On Thursday he will be sworn in as a member of the Georgia bar. Merritt’s mother will make the journey from Greenville to attend his induction into the bar — but she’ll skip the book signing. “She doesn’t like the substance of the book or the existence of the book,” said Merritt, explaining that his homosexuality conflicted with his mother’s religious beliefs. Even so, he said, he and his mother are close. “She is a great lady and a strong person.” Merritt would like to continue practicing law but with a focus on public interest or civil rights work. “I’d go back into porn before I’d go back to work for a large law firm,” he said cheerfully. Meredith Hobbs is a reporter with a Recorder affiliate based in Atlanta.

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