Ethics commission fires staff attorney

The state ethics commission met on Tuesday and fired its attorney, 20 days after a Capitol police officer said she appeared intoxicated at work.

Elisabeth Murray-Obertein, the ethics commission attorney and key witness in a pair of lawsuits related to the handling of an investigation into Gov. Nathan Deal’s 2010 campaign, has been on administrative leave since Jan. 8, when police were called to the commission office shortly after 10 a.m.

According to a police report, Officer Woods said unnamed co-workers said they smelled alcohol on her breath earlier that day. Murray-Obertein told Woods that she had fallen on an escalator that morning and was in slight pain. When prompted, she said she had taken a prescribed narcotic and had one glass of wine the night before.

Murray-Obertein refused to take a breath test to measure blood-alcohol content, according to the police report.

Murray-Obertein and one former employee have accused commission director Holly LaBerge of intervening in Deal’s ethics case and bragging that the governor “owes” her. Deal was accused of multiple campaign finance violations in his 2010 bid for governor. While Murray-Obertein recommended $70,000 in fines, the commission voted in 2012 to clear Deal of major violations and assess about $3,000 in fees for “technical defects.”

Murray-Obertein is considered a key witness in lawsuits brought against the commission by former director Stacey Kalberman and her former top deputy, Sherilyn Streicker. Both cases are set for trial next month.