Ethics commission lawyer placed on administrative leave

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, is on administrative leave after a Capitol Police officer said she appeared to have been drinking on the job.

Ethics commission chairman Kevin Abernethy told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Murray-Obertein has been placed on leave but would not comment further. Murray-Obertein’s lawyer, Brian Sutherland, would only say that his client was “addressing medical concerns while on administrative leave.”

“No further comment is necessary or appropriate due to the sensitive and private nature of medical concerns,” he said.

The AJC obtained a copy of the incident report that says Officer Woods of the Capitol Police arrived at the ethics commission office in the Sloppy Floyd Building shortly after 10 a.m. Wednesday.

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.

“Once I got within 7-8 inches of Mrs. Murray-Obertein’s person, I could smell the odor of an alcoholic beverage upon her breath,” Woods wrote in the report.

Murray-Obertein refused to take a Breathalyzer and was allowed to leave with her husband.

It is the second time in recent months that police were called to the commission regarding Murray-Obertein’s behavior. In November, according to another incident report, Murray-Obertein was transported to Grady Memorial Hospital after police said she struggled with her motor skills, including slurred speech and “disoriented thought.”

At the time, Murray-Obertein said she was diagnosed with a chronic condition that caused pain and that she was taking several prescribed medications.

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.”