Stacey Kalberman was unfairly forced from office as retribution for investigating Gov. Nathan Deal’s 2010 campaign, a Fulton County jury ruled Friday.
The jury, after deliberating 2 1/2 hours ordered the state to pay the former ethics commission director $700,000.
Jurors began deliberations midday Friday.
Lawyers for Kalberman and for the commission spent much of the morning on closing statements, urging jurors to remember their key arguments and to discount the other side.
Kalberman sued her former employer, claiming she and her former top deputy, Sherilyn Streicker, were forced from their jobs. Jurors heard three days of testimony from current and former commissioners and employees, culminating Thursday night with several hours of testimony from Kalberman herself.
Kalberman’s attorneys worked all week to show that the commission’s decision in June 2011 to cut her salary by $35,000 and to eliminate Streicker’s job were a response to the pair’s desire to issue subpoenas for records in the investigation.
Streicker’s wrongful termination suit is still pending. Perhaps the state would like to save the expense of a trial and offer a settlement commensurate with Kalberman’s verdict so we can move on with the real issue at hand, which is reforming our broken ethics system. Yet sadly, as I’ll detail below, this isn’t likely to happen for unlikely reasons. (Disclosure note, Streicker and I are friends).
David Pennington wasted no time taking advantage of the verdict with the following press release:
“Nathan Deal’s abuses of power, ethics flaws, and strong arm, good old boy politics no longer have a place in our state. If we, Republicans, actually want to defeat Jason Carter this November, we must ensure an ethical conservative is on the top of the ticket. I am the proven Conservative who can defeat Carter.”
For for those of you (I’m looking at you Debbie Dooley) who have criticized me for not dropping what I was doing on a Friday night to get this posted and claiming that it’s because I’m not working for ethics reform, let’s address that, and the Pennington ethics candidacy.
Mr. Pennington and I met before he announced. I won’t go into the specific details of our conversation as it wasn’t an interview. In it we discussed ethics as well as his plans for how he thought he could win. Ethics as an issue was not part of that plan. Further, I told him that I did not see his path to victory and advised him that he wouldn’t be able to muster the support needed to win the nomination. I told him those he could draw support from would likely harm his ability to attract the voters he would need, and thus I would not be supporting him. Now, his campaign is about ethics, and the pictures from his campaign look like this and this. It’s making a mockery of a serious issue.
Worse, the fact that polls show him on his way to certain defeat will not advance the cause for ethics reform, but nearly certainly set it back. Those choosing to make ethics an issue are refusing to adopt any coherent tactical strategy to actually win will is give political cover to those who will abuse the 2015 session, to ensure that the voices for ethics reform continue to be ignored. They will point to the “ethics” candidates’ minuscule vote totals as proof that “ethics” isn’t a winnable issue.
Instead of choosing one or three of the bad actors who could be defeated, the “ethics” people are sending me daily emails saying the Speaker and anyone who has ever been seen in public with him will be “targeted” and defeated. It’s the Salem Witch Trials for ethics transgressors. This is not only juvenile, but counterproductive, since these toothless claims will be used against anyone who stands up for ethics reform next cycle. It sets all of us up to be mocked.
The jury verdict is evidence that our ethics system is broken. It should be the proof that we need an independent system, free from political appointments where those who would curry favor with the governor or legislators that fund them can cause taxpayers harm. It should not dole out justice based on the relative power of those they are supposed to fairly regulate. But that point will be lost because of the strategy and tactics (or lack thereof) adopted by those who currently champion this cause.
And that, not this verdict, is what makes this a sad day for Georgia.