A Baton Rouge federal judge this week dismissed former state Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Murphy Painter’s 2012 defamation lawsuit against ex-ATC employee Kelli Suire, three days after a federal court jury said Painter isn’t entitled to any monetary damages from his former administrative assistant who accused him of stalking and sexually harassing her.
Back in October, a different jury answered yes to the question of whether Painter proved at trial that Suire either knew her statements in her 2010 state court suit against him were false or that she acted in reckless disregard as to the statements’ truth or falsity.
But at the conclusion of last week’s damages phase of the trial, the jury hearing that phase found Painter didn’t prove he sustained injury to his reputation as a result of Suire’s statements. The jury also determined that Painter contributed to any alleged injuries as a result of his own fault or negligence, and that he was 100 percent at fault.
Suire’s attorney, Jill Craft, said Painter’s attorney had asked the jury to award Painter some $700,000.
Painter’s attorney, Al Robert Jr., said this week the jury’s Aug. 14 verdict “is subject to appeal and we will be considering our options.”
He added, “Although the jury’s decision not to award damages to Mr. Painter is disappointing, it does not affect the earlier jury’s finding that Ms. Suire defamed Mr. Painter when she filed her lawsuit seeking a restraining order and accusing him of sexual harassment.”
Craft, said she disagrees with Robert’s assessment. A defamation claim requires proof of four elements, she said, with resulting injury being the final prong.
“If you do not meet any one of the elements, you do not have defamation,” Craft said. “In this trial, the jury was even instructed that they could award ‘nominal damages’ if they found a technical violation by Kelli, which they did not even do.”
Painter’s state court suit against the state Office of Inspector General is pending. Painter claims OIG defamed him by accusing him of stalking and harassing Suire after she told an investigator the alleged actions never took place. The state denies Painter’s claims.
“It is reasonable to think that the jury accepted Ms. Suire’s argument that Mr. Painter’s reputation was already irrevocably damaged by the falsehoods leaked to the public by the Office of Inspector General and that the jury concluded that Ms. Suire’s defamatory allegations did not cause Mr. Painter any further harm,” Robert suggested. “We look forward to presenting the entirety of our evidence in the case that remains pending against the OIG.”
Maranto to challenge Cazes for West Baton Rouge sheriff in fall election
Military vet, Port Allen police officer and martial arts instructor Troy Maranto has officially announced his candidacy to become the next sheriff of West Baton Rouge Parish for the upcoming fall elections.
In announcing his candidacy, Maranto, 45, pledged to improve law enforcement’s relationship with the community, crack down on online predators, create a fair pay scale for the Sheriff’s Office and increase deputy visibility and patrol efficiency without raising taxes — an obvious jab at current Sheriff Mike Cazes who was unable in March to get voters to approve a half-cent sales tax to address his office’s more than $6 million annual shortfall.
Moranto, who served in Desert Shield and Desert Storm and has worked with the Port Allen Police Department for more than 10 years, says he would also create a parishwide neighborhood watch program.
Qualifying for the Oct. 24 elections doesn’t begin until Sept. 8.
Cazes has also announced via social media that he will seek re-election.
Advocate staff writers Joe Gyan and Terry L. Jones contributed to this article.