Judge orders ethics chief, AG’s office to pay $20K in sanctions

A Fulton County Superior Court judge on Wednesday sanctioned the Attorney General’s Office and state ethics commission director and ordered each to pay $10,000 in fines for failing to turn over key documents in a whistleblower lawsuit involving the commission and Gov. Nathan Deal’s office, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned.

Judge Ural Glanville, in a nine-page order obtained by the AJC, said former commission director Stacey Kalberman was entitled to evidence that showed top Deal aides texted and called the commission’s current chief, Holly LaBerge, in the days before the commission ruled on complaints against Deal’s 2010 campaign.

Glanville was particularly tough on LaBerge, writing that she “has repeatedly proven herself to be dishonest and non-transparent.”

But Glanville also says both LaBerge and the Attorney General’s Office created a situation that “not only amounts to a flagrant disregard for the basic rules governing litigation and the fair resolution of legal disputes in the State of Georgia, but also an injustice and an undermining of the confidence imposed by the citizens of the State of Georgia in the legal system.”

Edward Lindsey, who defended the Attorney General’s Office against the motion, said the department disagrees with the judge’s decision “and will review its legal options.”

“The department believes that the dedicated public servants in office worked diligently and ethically in this matter,” Lindsey said, adding that they “appreciate the judge recognizing the ethical dilemmas faced by the Department of Law when confronted with a ‘dishonest and nontransparent client’ in Ms. LaBerge.”

LaBerge plans to appeal the ruling, her attorney Lee Parks said. Parks said the original lawsuit named LaBerge in her official capacity as a defendant, but Glanville levied sanctions against her personally.

“With all due respect, we believe the judge wrongly elevated the sanctions motion against the state to something that it was never intended to be — one that sought to have Ms. LaBerge sanctioned personally.”

Parks said the “decision to hide this document during the litigation was not made by Holly.” Instead, it was made by a senior assistant attorney general and backed up by top staff to Attorney General Sam Olens, yet, Parks said, none of them were sanctioned personally.

“That is simply wrong,” Parks said.

The evidence Glanville believes Kalberman should have received was only revealed in July, three months after a jury found Kalberman was forced from her job in 2011 for aggressively pursuing cases against the Deal campaign. Kalberman was awarded $700,000 in damages and an additional $450,000 in back pay and attorneys fees.

Kalberman’s attorney, Kim Worth, filed a motion for sanctions in August and asked Glanville to fine LaBerge, the ethics commission and the Attorney General’s Office a collective $250,000 plus $48,000 in attorneys fees for what she called “manifest injustice and fraud upon the Court.”

Attorney General Sam Olens’ staff has argued in court filings that their office did not act improperly and said LaBerge failed to inform them that the text messages still existed and that she forwarded copies of them to herself.

LaBerge’s attorney, meanwhile, contends that Olens’ office should have been aware of the text messages because they were outlined in a memo she wrote in July 2012 and turned over to the attorney general in 2013.

The memo also was not turned over to Kalberman. The AJC first reported the memo’s existence in July of this year. In it, LaBerge claims she felt pressured and threatened by the messages from Deal Chief of Staff Chris Riley and executive counsel Ryan Teague.

A week later, on July 23, 2012, the commission voted to dismiss major charges against Deal, who agreed to pay $3,350 in fees for technical defects in campaign reports.

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