Olens: Politics the “Only Reason” for Allegations Against Him

July 15, 2014 18:24 pm

by Ed · 10 comments

Attorney General Sam Olens just issued a statement mostly answering the questions about his involvement with the ongoing ethics scandal with Nathan Deal. He says the allegations against him are politically motivated.

He also said he can’t give too much detail as he still has attorney privilege, which has not been waived, due to representing Holly LaBerge in her official capacity. He also said there are two ongoing investigations which further limits his ability to comment.

This is his full statement:

My office has received a number of questions regarding the news this week about the Ethics Commission and Holly LaBerge’s Memorandum of Record.  I want to address as many of them as I can now.

From the outset, though, I want to make clear that many of those questions relate directly to the legal representation this office has provided Ms. LaBerge and the Ethics Commission in the context of litigation.  This office is still in an attorney-client relationship with Ms. LaBerge in her official capacity, and that means the full answer to some of the questions you have would require the disclosure of attorney-client privileged information.  Yesterday, we formally requested that she waive that privilege so that we could set the record straight, but to date we have not received that waiver.  Unless and until that privilege is waived, I am severely limited in the extent to which I can fully answer some questions.

I know this is frustrating to you; I can assure you, I find it even more frustrating.

Ms. LaBerge’s memo is dated July 17, 2012.  After our office was given the memo in August 2013, our civil trial team reviewed the memo to determine if it was subject to the pending discovery requests.  Our chief prosecutor also reviewed it the week we received it to determine if any criminal laws had been violated if the allegations in the memorandum were true.  I was made aware of the memo after our chief prosecutor concluded his review and determined that the allegations in the memorandum did not constitute crimes under state law.  In addition, our civil lawyers determined it was not responsive to the discovery request in the civil litigation.

In late 2013, federal subpoenas were issued to current and former employees of the Commission.  Our office explained to Ms. LaBerge that we did not represent her with respect to responding to the subpoena and explained to her and her private lawyer that the only thing we could tell her is to cooperate fully, and that the memo was responsive.

There have been several questions about the responsiveness of the memo to certain specific discovery requests:

  • Ms. Kalberman requested “correspondence” between Ms. LaBerge and the Governor’s Office.  The memo is not correspondence; it is a document written by Ms. LaBerge and retained by her.  It did not become correspondence when she gave us a copy 13 months later.
  • Ms. Streicker requested documents “concerning the violation of any law, rule, or regulation” by Governor Deal, “including all complaints filed with the Defendant, all files concerning the investigation of such complaints, and all documents obtained as part of such investigations.”  The memo was not about violations of law, rule, or regulation, it was not a complaint, it was not concerning the investigation of a complaint, and it was not a document obtained as part of an investigation.

I recognize that this may seem like a technical response.  Let me be clear – I wish that a request had been issued to which the memorandum was responsive.  That would have been easier for the office.  But the lawyers in my office represent the State and its agencies, and have a legal duty to do so zealously.  Their obligation is to work with our clients to produce all documents responsive to a plaintiff’s request; it is not their obligation to produce documents that plaintiffs haven’t asked for.  I also recognize that plaintiffs’ counsel may disagree with our office’s position on this.  I am not surprised.  Lawyers can and often do disagree about almost anything.

I will say this – it is in the public record that these matters were testified to in some detail by Ms. Murray-Obertein in her deposition (excerpt attached).  Following Ms. Murray-Obertein’s testimony, Plaintiffs’ lawyers chose not to ask Ms. LaBerge any questions about this issue either in discovery or at trial.

The news reports of the last day may well have uncovered a different discovery-related problem, however.  During the interview of Ms. LaBerge on Fox 5 last night, Ms. LaBerge said that she forwarded text messages from the Governor’s Office to her personal email – and an image of one of those messages was then shown on the screen.  That concerns me, because no one in my office was aware that such emails exist.  After an agreement with Plaintiffs to produce all work-related emails from Ms. LaBerge’s personal email account, our office turned over to plaintiffs every personal email that Ms. LaBerge provided to us.  The text messages in Ms. LaBerge’s email account shown in the interview last night would almost certainly have been responsive and should have been produced.  My office is taking immediate steps to learn why we never received the emails.

We have been asked a number of questions about how our office prepared Ms. LaBerge for her testimony with regard to the memo.  Any suggestion that any employee of our office advised anyone to testify less than truthfully in any way is categorically false.  As much as I want to respond more specifically on this point, attorney-client privilege prevents me from doing so.

I am aware of renewed requests to appoint some sort of independent attorney to investigate these matters.  As I have previously stated, two other investigations – one federal, one state – are currently pending.  This office has been representing Ms. LaBerge and the Ethics Commission in related matters.  The only reasons to interject this office into the investigations at this point are political.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

xdog July 15, 2014 at 7:28 pm

OK, can someone help this non-lawyer understand?

In the second paragraph Olens say he can’t say more because his office and LaBerge are ‘still in an attorney-client relationship’, but in the fifth paragraph he says his office made clear they ‘did not represent her with respect to responding to the subpoena’. Likewise, Olens says LaBerge’s memo wasn’t responsive in the civil matter but it was in the federal investigation.

To what extent does Olens’ office represent LaBerge? Why is a work memo legally ‘responsive’ today when it wasn’t yesterday?

South Fulton Guy July 15, 2014 at 7:34 pm

Sam.. Sam.. don’t let Nathan drag you down…

Bull Moose July 16, 2014 at 12:58 am

I think the Attorney General is going to allow himself to go down with the ship on this one, or at least, that’s how it appears.

Chris Huttman July 16, 2014 at 11:16 am

First attorney general I can remember who hasn’t successfully prosecuted an elected official for public corruption – and in the tea party era no less.

Harry July 16, 2014 at 11:27 am

Or maybe he doesn’t think there are any evidence to prosecute?

Harry July 16, 2014 at 11:28 am

In other breaking news, Holder won’t prosecute Obama.

Ed July 16, 2014 at 11:37 am

Stay on topic. You’ve been told this before.

Harry July 16, 2014 at 4:33 pm

I am on topic.

debbie0040 July 16, 2014 at 1:08 pm

There should be an independent investigation done. It should be conducted by a Democrat and a Republican like Mike Bowers. Gov. Deal has had this dogging him for over two years and it is time to put this to rest once and for all. Gov. Deal has emphatically denied any wrongdoing by him or his staff and an independent investigation would exonerate him if there was no wrong doing. Georgians deserve to find out the truth and stop the political posturing by both sides. There are supposedly two investigations going on at the moment. One is conducted by the state that is overseen by Republicans and one conducted by the Feds overseen by Democrats. No matter what the outcome of the investigations, citizens will question if there were political motives behind the outcome.

Attorney General Sam Olens showed courage in asking for an investigation of Sen. Don Balfour. When he received the memo, he should have shown the same courage by inquiring to see if the accusations in the memo were true. He should have absolutely turned over the memo that contained notes about the communication. Advising someone not to mention a memo is not advising someone to testify untruthfully. I want to hear a point blank denial that no one in the AG’s office advised Ms. LeBerge not to mention the memo.

The current Ethics Commission structure is a joke. It should be totally re-structured so that the GA Supreme Court appoints Board members with political parties having equal representation. They should be able to convene a grand jury like panel with subpoena power to investigate serious offences. Minor clerical errors or late filing under two weeks late, should stopped being classified as ethics violations. If you receive a traffic ticket, you are not classified as a criminal.

Over the past few years, there has been growing distrust of elected officials and government. The recent revelations only serve to make that distrust grow.

benevolus July 16, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Jeez, he may be LaBerge’s attorney but he doesn’t sound too enthusiastic about it.