Trial Investigating Georgia Governor’s Alleged Interference with Ethics Violations Underway in Atlanta
Gov. Nathan Deal Ducks Questioning, but is still “Elephant in the Courtroom” as opening statements begin
Atlanta, GA – A trial investigating Gov. Nathan Deal’s alleged improper interference with ethics investigations of his campaign is underway in Atlanta, though the state’s attorneys have managed to shield him from providing testimony in the case.
The jury trial underway this week in Atlanta is examining whether the former director of the state ethics commission was forced from her job because she was attempting to investigate Deal’s campaign for violations of state ethics laws. This whistleblower lawsuit is among a number of civil suits and criminal investigations into Deal’s campaign improprieties.
“Georgia voters deserve to hear from Gov. Deal under oath how he was involved in the illegal effort to quash this investigation into his campaign’s ethics violations,” said DuBose Porter, chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia. “While he may not have to testify, he will still be the elephant in the courtroom as this trial moves forward.”
Though Deal told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he would be willing to testify, his attorneys successfully suppressed a subpoena, preventing his testimony under oath.
“It’s one thing to say you’re willing to testify, but it’s quite another to have your lawyers fight tooth and nail against having to answer questions under oath,” Chairman Porter said.
Stacy Kalberman, the former director, and her deputy were forced out of their positions after drafting subpoenas to investigate the Deal gubernatorial campaign. Kalberman her pay was cut by 30 percent and her deputy was laid off in an effort to stymie the investigation into Deal’s misconduct.
While the commission claims Kalberman’s pay was cut due to a financial crisis and there was no effort to push her out, the governor’s office had already contacted their preferred replacement, a lobbyist named Holly LaBerge, about replacing Kalberman before she stepped down.
Former Ethics Commission chairman Patrick Millsaps was asked whether this behavior was appropriate, and said under oath that this action “doesn’t pass the smell test.”
The trial will examine statements that allege LaBerge said that the governor “owes her” for ending the investigation into his campaign. After LaBerge entered office, the commission ended its investigation and never issued subpoenas.
Even though Kalberman’s pay was ostensibly cut due to financial cuts, LaBerge received a $15,000 pay raise within two years of taking the position.
The ethics investigation is the subject of a federal grand jury investigation and a separate lawsuit pending in Fulton County Court.
Earlier this year, State Sen. Jason Carter led an effort with Senate Democrats to champion a number of reforms to bring transparency, accountability, and integrity to state government, including the establishment of an independent and fully funded ethics commission. State Republicans refused to act on the proposals.