A Baton Rouge judge set the stage Monday for a state court jury to decide whether the Louisiana Inspector General’s Office defamed former state Alcohol and Tobacco Control chief Murphy Painter by accusing him of stalking and harassing his ex-administrative assistant.
Painter claims the office defamed him in a 2010 search warrant application, which accused Painter of stalking and sexually harassing Kelli Suire. The search warrant was authorized by state District Judge Bonnie Jackson.
Janice Clark, a fellow 19th Judicial District Court judge, ruled Monday that a jury should resolve what she called genuine issues of material fact that remain in Painter’s 2011 defamation lawsuit against the Inspector General’s Office and Inspector General Stephen Street.
Preston Castille, an attorney for the office and Street, argued in court Monday that Clark should rule in favor of the office and Street and dismiss Painter’s suit, but the judge refused.
Earlier this year, Clark took under advisement a similar request by Painter’s attorneys that she rule in Painter’s favor on his defamation claims involving the stalking and harassment allegations. The judge denied that request Monday as well. She did not set a trial date.
Castille and Al Robert Jr., one of Painter’s attorneys, said after the hearing that they are prepared to go to trial.
Castille would not rule out the possibility of asking the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal to review the portion of Clark’s ruling that went against the state. Robert said he does not anticipate seeking any appellate review.
Painter also contends that Street and his office smeared Painter’s name by alleging he illegally accessed confidential law enforcement databases to find personal information on people — mostly females, including Suire and U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s wife — who were not connected to any criminal probes.
A federal jury in Baton Rouge acquitted Painter in 2013 on more than two dozen counts of computer fraud and false statement to the FBI relating to those allegations.
Another federal jury found in the fall of 2014 that Suire defamed Painter in her 2010 state court lawsuit alleging he had stalked and sexually harassed her. That jury, though, said Painter failed to prove Suire defamed him in the Inspector General’s Office’s 2010 search warrant application.
That’s because Inspector General investigator Shane Evans admitted in federal court that the words “stalked” and “harassed” in the application were his words, not Suire’s, Robert argued Monday.
Castille countered that “stalking” is a legal term of art and that what Suire described to Evans when talking about Painter’s conduct met the definition of stalking.
This past summer, still another federal jury found that Painter wasn’t entitled to any monetary damages from Suire.
Painter was ATC commissioner for 14 years. He said he was fired in August 2010, just days after Suire complained to Street’s office about him.