The state Office of Inspector General defamed ex-Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Murphy Painter by accusing him of stalking and harassing a former female employee after she told an investigator the alleged actions never took place, attorneys claim in recently filed court documents.
The ex-employee, Kelli Suire, also told a Louisiana Department of Revenue investigator that Painter did not sexually harass her, Painter’s attorneys contend in the documents.
They also contend the Inspector General’s Office and Inspector General Stephen Street smeared Painter’s name by alleging he illegally accessed confidential law enforcement databases to look up personal information on people, mostly females including Suire and U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s wife, who were not tied to any criminal investigations.
A Baton Rouge federal jury acquitted Painter in 2013 on 29 counts of computer fraud and false statements to the FBI related to the Office of Inspector General’s allegations involving the law enforcement databases.
Last fall, another federal jury in Baton Rouge found that Suire defamed Painter in her 2010 state court lawsuit claiming Painter had stalked and sexually harassed her. However, that jury said Painter failed to prove Suire defamed him in a 2010 Office of Inspector General search warrant application based on those same allegations.
Now, Painter’s attorneys — former state ethics judge and administrative law judge Robert Aguiluz, and New Orleans lawyer Al Robert Jr. — are asking state District Judge Janice Clark to rule in Painter’s favor in his 2011 defamation lawsuit against the Inspector General’s Office and Street.
Aguiluz and Robert filed that request last week.
Street said Tuesday he could not discuss the specifics of Painter’s latest court filing but stressed, “The truth is an absolute defense.”
“We stand 100 percent behind every word of the report we published,” he added, referring to a scathing February 2011 Office of Inspector General report that alleged Painter stalked and sexually harassed Suire.
Painter’s attorneys maintain the report — and an Aug. 16, 2010, search warrant application filed in Baton Rouge state court by Office of Inspector General investigator Shane Evans — both defamed Painter.
Evans wrote in the warrant application that Painter repeatedly requested Suire become romantically involved with him and became angry when she ignored or refused him — allegations that Painter has emphatically denied.
Evans later testified at Painter’s 2013 federal court trial that Suire did not say Painter had “stalked” or “sexually harassed” her. Evans said Suire was very careful not to use those words. He said “stalked” and “harassed” were his own words.
“In his application for the warrant, Evans omitted that the in-depth independent investigation by the (Louisiana Department of Revenue) concluded that there was no harassment and that during the investigation Suire acknowledged that there were no sexual advances or harassment,” Aguiluz and Robert argue in the court documents.
The lawyers also contend Painter was defamed by the Office of Inspector General and Street on the office’s website and in some of Street’s comments to news reporters, and that Office of Inspector General exceeded its power and statutory authority in filing the search warrant application. The Office of Inspector General, they say, should have turned over the probe into purported criminal activity to the appropriate law enforcement agency.
Street said he stands behind everything his office did in the Painter case.
Painter’s 14-year reign as ATC commissioner came to an abrupt end Aug. 13, 2010, four days after Suire, his former administrative assistant, complained to the Office of Inspector General about him. He was indicted in 2012 by a Baton Rouge federal grand jury that received some of the allegations contained in the 2011 Office of Inspector General report.
Painter was never formally charged with the crimes of sexual harassment or stalking.
Suire moved to Florida after the state settled her claims. She received $100,000.