Kalberman Receives $700,000 Verdict

April 5, 2014 13:00 pm

by Charlie · 13 comments

Stacey Kalberman received a $700,000 verdict yesterday for wrongful termination from the State Ethics Commission.  The AJC’s favorite sketch artist Aaron Sheinin has the details:

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.

South Fulton Guy April 5, 2014 at 2:36 pm

Those that champion ethics reform continue to be demonized by the establishment. Whether you like them or not two people on opposite ends of the political forum continue strive for ethics reform at their own peril as the good old boys yawn out loud, fight to maintain status quo and oppose their candidacy – Karen Handel and Emma Darnell. Whenever anyone says anything nice about them folks come out of the woodwork to trash them. Hmmm.

Baker April 6, 2014 at 12:02 pm

The professional shakedown artist Emma Darnell? Really?

“At Fulton County, we don’t investigate ourselves”

http://www.courthousenews.com/2010/12/03/32304.htm

Baker April 6, 2014 at 12:09 pm

or there’s this:

“Darnell said later, while talking about buying new cell door locks for the county jail, that she never agrees with Hausmann on anything because of the area she speaks for.”

http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/county-official-asked-to-stop-insulting-north-fult/nQTdG/

…plus I have no doubt Braves executives had her and some other commission members in mind when they decided to pull up stakes and bail…I’m pissed at the Braves for sure but the role of the commission in that move shouldn’t be underestimated…

Dave Bearse April 5, 2014 at 3:42 pm

Yeah it’s breaking news, but drop what you’re doing to post it? Sheesh. And your cred with respect to ethics isn’t in dispute outside of the Tea Party bubble.

Chris Huttman April 5, 2014 at 5:42 pm

The system may be broken, but guess who broke it.

Peach Pundit: Tires don’t work anymore because there was a nail on the road.

I mean seriously is it that hard to believe that the same guy who resigned from Congress to avoid an ethics investigation could also be unethical enough to cause the state’s investigative body to break down? Sure there are some people out there screaming about ethics whenever they don’t get their way but maybe just maybe all of the evidence including this verdict point to the fact that Nathan Deal is unethical and attracts others (like the person working at the commission) who are unethical to work on his behalf.

Chris Huttman April 5, 2014 at 5:47 pm

Also, Sam Olens: how is that water negotiation coming, clearly you’re spending all your time on that right?

South Fulton Guy April 5, 2014 at 6:16 pm

For that matter what have any Georgia State Constitutional Officers done in the last four years beside wearing an “R” next to their name? Honestly….

Chris Huttman April 5, 2014 at 6:45 pm

Fought Obamacare. May be enough to give them four more.

South Fulton Guy April 5, 2014 at 6:56 pm

Chris,

I tried real hard even though I did not prevail is the Democrat mantra; is that what little the GA GOP majority has to say for itself? Really???

objective April 6, 2014 at 3:22 pm

on one hand, Speaker Ralston has said (parpahrasing) that ethics violations is attributable to bad people, and that current policies are acceptable. on other other, ms. dooley is saying replace the people. well, both are fighting with the same sword there. but getting ethics policies passed is so difficulty because -imo- voters generally expect some level of corruption, and it requires those with power to relinquish some. such magnanimity is only displayed by true servant/leaders. you need to get at least one of those in power to work for getting the majority. you gotta be in that game for the long haul- so immediacy is ok, but endurance is better.

Chris Huttman April 6, 2014 at 11:27 pm

Maybe if the next person who sues the ethics commission says something bad about Karen Handel people on this site will notice.

The Last Democrat in Georgia April 6, 2014 at 11:49 pm

Georgia has an ethics commission?

Will Durant April 7, 2014 at 7:13 am

“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.”

I can’t think of any way this could realistically be obtained. If apolitical unicorns were to somehow be found how are they empaneled? If not appointed then they would have to be elected and that would politicize them even more.

Even with the assumption that those smarter than I am could devise some means to make this happen, ultimately real punishment would require a jury of their peers. We all know how that turns out. There are just too many practiced in the fine art of the game with the use of proxies, bag men and other cut outs to obtain concrete evidence. Trying to nail these guys is truly like trying to nail jello to the wall.

Even with the evidence against Balfour in black and white documentation he still walked, haughtily proclaimed his lily white innocence, and in the end got the taxpayers to pay for his defense. In his case it was all because he claimed he didn’t intend to break the law, well that somehow doesn’t work for the rest of us. Maybe it is because it is a rainy Monday morning but I find the idea applying ethics to our current system too quixotic to even contemplate.

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