ATLANTA — The head of the state ethics commission was placed on administrative leave with pay Friday, two days after a judge fined her $10,000 for failing to turn over key documents in a lawsuit against the agency and called her actions “dishonest and non-transparent.”
Commission Chairwoman Hillary Stringfellow told The Associated Press that she notified the agency’s director, Holly LaBerge, on Friday morning that she had been placed on administrative leave until further notice. Stringfellow would only say the action followed the advice of counsel.
A judge on Wednesday fined LaBerge and the state attorney general’s office $10,000 each for not handing over texts, emails and a memo showing LaBerge had communicated with top aides for Gov. Nathan Deal shortly before the commission considered ethics complaints involving the governor’s 2010 personal and campaign-finance disclosures.
Calls to LaBerge and her attorney were not returned. The commission held a special meeting late Friday but did not take any action following nearly 90 minutes of closed discussion. Commissioners said LaBerge would remain on paid leave and planned to reconvene Monday morning.
The fines were issued as part of a lawsuit filed by former commission director Stacey Kalberman, who said she was forced out of her job for investigating ethics complaints against the governor.
A jury earlier this year sided with Kalberman, who was awarded $750,000 in damages plus $450,000 in back pay and attorney fees. After the verdict, the state chose to settle for $1.8 million with three other former commission employees who also said they were retaliated against.
In issuing the fine, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville noted he was “extremely troubled” by LaBerge’s actions throughout the case and said she had “repeatedly proven herself to be dishonest and non-transparent.”
In response to the fine, LaBerge’s attorney said she planned to appeal and praised LaBerge as “the whistleblower that risked her job to disclose a major cover-up engaged in by the attorney general’s office for no other reason than to hide the truth and avoid liability in pending litigation.”
Attorney General Olens said Thursday that attorneys in his office were dealing with a “difficult client” in LaBerge and were not aware of the texts and emails. Olens said state attorneys asked LaBerge multiple times if she had any more documents and were “repeatedly told no.”