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Greg Bluestein

Why Holly LaBerge went public

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At the state Capitol, the question on every set of lips is something like this: Why has Holly LaBerge, executive secretary of the beleaguered state ethics commission, come forward at this moment with such explosive information.

We have the answer.

But first, here’s your lede, from our AJC colleague Aaron Gould Sheinin:

The head of the state ethics commission said she was threatened and pressured by Gov. Nathan Deal’s office in 2012 to “make the complaints” against the governor “go away,” according to a memo obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

While on vacation in July 2012, state ethics commission director Holly LaBerge says she received a call from Ryan Teague, Deal’s chief counsel, and texts from chief of staff Chris Riley.

LaBerge claims Teague said, “It was not in the agency’s best interest for these cases to go to a hearing … nor was it in their best political interest either.”

Days later, the commission voted during a public hearing to dismiss the major complaints against Deal, who agreed to pay $3,350 in fees for technical defects to his campaign disclosures.

Prior to that decision, LaBerge’s predecessor and her No. 2 had been sacked when they drew up subpoena documents aimed at the 2010 Deal campaign.

The state has agreed to pay nearly $3 million to settle three lawsuits, and a threatened fourth, brought by former commission director Stacey Kalberman, her top deputy, Sherilyn Streicker, and two other employees who claimed they were fired or forced from office over the Deal investigation or its aftermath.

Last Friday, a letter from LaBerge’s attorney, Lee Parks, was sent to the state ethics commission, explaining why LaBerge was going public. Parks wrote that LaBerge feared that another purge was underway, and she was the target.

You can read the entire letter here, but this is the gist:

“Specifically, Ms. Laberge has given an interview to Dale Russell of Fox 5 News Atlanta in order to take a public stand against the fraud, waste and abuse that has occurred in connection with the trial and settlement of the litigation and threats of litigation that were spawned by the Commission’s handling of the Deal Complaints.

“It …was compounded by the Commission’s inappropriate direction prohibiting Ms. LaBerge from taking disciplinary action against Obertein-Murray earlier in her employment despite well-documented performance duties.

“Given the repeated inaction of the Commission and the State following her complaints, Ms. LaBerge felt compelled to provide the interview to the media in order to expose clear waste involved in the exorbitant settlement of these claims. Ms. LaBerge has acted appropriately throughout her tenure with the Commission and during its handling of the Deal Complaints.

“Yet she is now being isolated in her duties at the Commission and she appears to be the sole target of an unorthodox performance audit of the Commission that is focused on the Deal Complaints. We again remind you that Ms. LaBerge’s employment is protected by her whistleblowing actions and ask the Commission to act in accordance with the law moving forward.”

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