ATLANTA - A Fulton County court judge issued fines to the Georgia Attorney General’s Office and the executive director of the state ethics commission for neglecting to hand over key documents in a whistleblower lawsuit against Gov. Nathan Deal.
On Wednesday, Judge Ural Glanville ordered defendants Holly LaBerge and the Attorney General’s Office to each pay $10,000 to cover the litigation expenses of the plaintiff, former ethics commissioner Sally Kalberman.
Kalberman filed a motion stating that LaBerge and the Attorney General’s Office failed to submit text messages described in a memo as evidence in her whistleblower lawsuit.
Channel 2 Action News obtained the memo from 2012 where LaBerge documented the text message exchange in 2010 and claimed she felt threatened. The memo also describes texts from the Deal campaign that LaBerge said urged her to settle the case.
Kalberman claimed she was forced from her position because of the investigation into Deal’s campaign and a jury agreed, awarding her $1.15 million in the spring of 2014.
“The court is extremely troubled by the behavior of Defendant LaBerge, who has been dishonest and non-transparent throughout these proceedings,” Glanville said in his ruling.
“Although the court is aware that the imposition of monetary sanctions causes more financial pain to the citizens of Georgia, who are forced to bear the continued burden resulting from the events,” Glanville wrote. "The Court has no other recourse when faced with the conduct of the Department and most appallingly, Defendant LaBerge, who has repeatedly proven herself to be dishonest and non-transparent.”
Attorneys for LaBerge told Channel 2 in a statement she intends to appeal the decision.
"The more troubling aspect of the order is the fact that the person who brought the all-important memo to light documenting the threats Ms. LaBerge received from the Governor's Office was Ms. LaBerge," the statement said. "The decision to hide this document during the litigation was not made by Holly; it was made by the lawyer of the Attorney General assigned to represent Holly."
Edward Lindsey who represented the Attorney General's Office released a statement that said:
"The discovery decisions in this case were made in good faith by dedicated career public servants in the State Law Department. While we appreciate the judge recognizing the ethical dilemmas faced by the Department of Law when confronted with a “dishonest and nontransparent client” in Ms. Laberge, the Department believes that the dedicated public servants in its office worked diligently and ethically in this matter to respond to all discovery requests put forth by the plaintiff and her attorney
Clark Cunningham, Georgia State University ethics and law professor said:
"It is very significant that Judge Glanville imposed equal penalties on both the Office of the Attorney General and the Executive Secretary of the Ethics Commission... Given the Attorney General’s consistent refusal to treat this issue with the seriousness it deserves, the citizens of Georgia needed a clear judicial ruling and that is what Judge Glanville has given us."