ATLANTA (AP) — The head of the state ethics commission was fired Monday, less than a week 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."
Four members of the commission voted unanimously to terminate the employment of Director Holly LaBerge, who had been overseeing an agency in turmoil for more than a year with staffing issues, lawsuits and allegations of outside influence.
Commission Chairwoman Hillary Stringfellow said LaBerge's behavior, as outlined in an order by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville last week, "fundamentally conflicts with the specific mission and purpose of this commission."
LaBerge's attorney Lee Parks did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
The commission has been dealing with the fallout from two lawsuits filed by the former director of the commission and her deputy who said they were forced from their jobs for investigating ethics complaints against Gov. Nathan Deal. Attorneys for the commission have argued that serious budget concerns led to the personnel decisions.
The lawsuits revealed that the governor's office helped recruit LaBerge, a former lobbyist for the Georgia Public Defender's Standards Council, and included allegations that LaBerge later claimed the governor "owes her" for taking care of the complaints into his personal and campaign finance disclosures during the 2010 campaign.
Deal has said he doesn't know LaBerge and doesn't owe her anything. The commission ultimately dismissed two of the most serious complaints against him, and Deal agreed to pay $3,350 in administrative fees to resolve the rest.
Earlier this year, a jury sided with the former director, Stacey 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.
Three months later, a memo surfaced that LaBerge had written a year earlier, shortly before the commission considered the Deal complaints. In the memo, LaBerge says she was pressured and her agency's effort to expand rule-making authority was threatened in communications with two of the governor's top aides.
In an interview with Fox 5, LaBerge denied she did anything to help the governor and pointed to the threats as proof she was not a puppet. She pointed to emails that included text messages with the aides.
Lawyers for Kalberman seized on the memo, texts and emails and argued they should have been turned over before trial as part of their discovery requests. Glanville agreed and on Wednesday fined LaBerge and the state attorney general's office $10,000 each for not handing over the documents.
In issuing the fine, 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."
In terms of the memo, Olens has said his attorneys determined it was not responsive to a request for correspondence since it was never sent to anyone. Olens has yet to decide whether to appeal the fine against his office.
Associated Press writer Christina A. Cassidy contributed to this report.
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