Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Saturday, July 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Staff Lawyer Sues Georgia Ethics Commission

(CN) - A former staff attorney with Georgia's campaign ethics commission who sued and later settled whistleblower retaliation claims against the state, filed a new lawsuit against the agency.

In a lawsuit filed on Tuesday in Fulton County Superior Court, Elisabeth Murray-Obertein claims that Holly LaBerge, the former director of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, waited just one day after the settlement of the attorney's lawsuit was announced to publicly blame her for premature ending of an investigation of ethics complaints leveled against Gov. Nathan Deal.

Murray-Obertain was fired in January 2014. A month later, she testified in a trial over allegations that LaBerge's predecessor, Stacey Kalberman, had been forced out after investigating claims of financial malfeasance by the governor's 2010 campaign.

That trial ended with a jury awarding Klaberman $700,000 in damages. The state later settled whistleblower lawsuits filed by Murray-Obertein and two other former commission staffers, with the attorney reportedly receiving $477,000 of the combined $1.8 million settlement.

Murray-Obertein now contends that after in the wake of the settlement, LaBerge repeatedly disparaged her to Atlanta area media, including reporters for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Fox 5 News Atlanta.

In one interview, Murray-Obertein say, LaBerge told WABE radio reporter Jonathan Shapiro, "That was the one aspect of this agency that was not working. We needed competent, capable staff on board that come to work sober and clean and work on the cases, and that is not what this agency had."

Then, in late August or early September 2014, LaBerge allegedly sent an email to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in which she is purported to have said that "for the ten months preceding Ms. Murray-Obertein's dismissal, Ms. Murray-Obertein was 'not doing any work of any kind' because of substance abuse problems."

In another instance, an interview with Dale Russell of Fox 5 News Atlanta, LaBerge is quoted as saying

Murray-Obertein's "personality changed" during her employment, and as a result, her "work product started going downhill."

According to the complaint, Russell stated Murray-Obertein's personnel file, "which he obtained from Defendant, contained a report stating that Mr. Murray-Oberstein was fired for 'fail[ing] to comply with the state's Drug and Alcohol Free program."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Murray-Obertein was fired on Jan. 28, 2014, two weeks after a Capitol police officer said she appeared to be intoxicated.

The article said the officer approached the attorney after her co-workers reported smelling alcohol on her breath. According to the officer, Murray-Obertein told him she had fallen on an escalator that morning and was in pain. He said that as he continued to talk to her, she volunteered that she had taken a prescribed pill for the pain and had had one glass of wine the night before.

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

At the time, Murray-Obertein and other commission whistleblowers had accused LaBerge of wrongly intervening in the Deal investigation at a time when they were recommending $70,000 in fines be levied against the governor for multiple campaign finance violations.

Instead, the commission voted in 22012 to clear Deal of all the significant violations of which he had been accused and fined him only $3,000 for some minor technical violations of the state's ethics policy.

Murray-Obertein is seeking compensatory damages and injunctive relief.

She is represented by Cheryl Degare of The Buckley Law firm in Atlanta.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.