Sanctions sought against attorney general, ethics chief

Lawyers for former ethics commission director Stacey Kalberman on Friday asked a judge to sanction her former bosses, her successor and the Office of the Attorney General for failing to turn over texts and emails between Holly LaBerge and top aides to Gov. Nathan Deal.

Attorney Kim Worth said in her motion for sanctions filed in Fulton County Superior Court that the defendants’ failure to turn over such important documents as part of Kalberman’s lawsuit are a “manifest injustice and fraud upon the Court.”

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Sam Olens, who defended LaBerge and the commission against Kalberman’s original lawsuit, said “our attorneys acted professionally and appropriately in turning over every responsive document that our client provided to them.”

LaBerge’s private attorney, Lee Parks, said he had not seen the motion and could not comment.

Kalberman sued the state in 2012, claiming she was forced from her job for investigating Gov. Nathan Deal’s 2010 campaign. A Fulton County jury in April agreed, and awarded her $700,000 in damages plus another $450,000 in attorneys fees.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in July, however, that current ethics commission director Holly LaBerge penned a July 2012 memo in which she details what she said were calls and texts from top Deal aides. LaBerge said she felt pressured by Deal chief of staff Chris Riley and executive counsel Ryan Teague to settle the complaints against the governor.

Less than a week later, the commission dismissed the major charges against Deal, who agreed to pay $3,350 in fees for technical violations to his campaign disclosures.

During the course of the lawsuit, Kalberman’s attorneys sought access to LaBerge’s personal email account, which is operated by Google. In lieu of issuing a subpoena for the account, lawyers for both sides agreed that for the sake of privacy, LaBerge would be allowed to sift through her Gmail account for emails that related to the Deal case.

LaBerge produced several, including controversial messages that showed members of the commission were interviewing her while Kalberman was still the director. But, LaBerge did not produce copies of the emails showing her communications with Teague and Riley.

LaBerge turned over the memo to Attorney General Sam Olens’ office as part of the lawsuit’s discovery process, however Olens’ staff never gave it to Worth or attorneys for other former commission employees who had also filed suit or planned to sue. Olens last week said his office determined the memo did not fit the plaintiffs’ demands for documents.

But LaBerge also forwarded the texts to her personal email account. Those texts and the emails were not turned over, either. LaBerge’s attorney, Lee Parks, has said his client told someone in the Attorney General’s Office about the communications but was never asked for them.

Olens, however, has said “no one in my office was aware that such emails exist,” until last month.

On Friday, Olens spokeswoman Lauren Kane said, “Indeed, our attorneys did not know they existed. Only Ms. LaBerge can provide an explanation regarding the newly-revealed emails.”

Worth, Kalberman’s attorney, says in the motion that failure to punish those responsible would set a terrible precedent where “this case would become the guiding precedent for any litigant who wants to play ‘hide-the-ball.’”

The motion was filed with Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville, who presided over the week-long jury trial in March and April. Under state law, Glanville has broad discretion should he rule in Kalberman’s favor. He can force the state to pay additional attorneys fees, issue fines or report Olens and other lawyers to the State Bar of Georgia for professional punishment.

According to her motion, Kalberman wants any additional fees or fines Glanville awards to be donated to the State Bar for ethics research and training.

The other former employees, deputy director Sherilyn Streicker, staff attorney Elisabeth Murray-Obertein and media specialist John Hair, settled their cases for a collective $1.8 million.

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