A former cabinet secretary will be able to continue his defamation lawsuit against the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, a civil district court judge in Baton Rouge ruled Monday morning.

The state asked 19th Judicial District Court Judge William Morvant to toss out the lawsuit claiming Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera was protected by the same legislative exception that allows lawmakers to say whatever they want without fear of being sued.

Morvant ruled, however, that while the auditor’s investigative report released – finding former Louisiana Veterans Affairs Secretary David LaCerte had allowed fraudulent behavior in his department – was protected, the accompanying press release was not. “I don’t think the press release falls within that immunity,” he said from the bench.

Morvant allowed the case to continue towards trial. He asked LaCerte’s lawyer, Jill Craft, to rewrite the petition to focus on the press release within the next 30 days.

The press release amounts to unwarranted accusations that LaCerte broke the law, she argues.

“He looks forward to the day when he can vindicate his good name,” Craft said of LaCerte after the hearing.

The press release read, in part: "A joint investigation into the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor and the Office of State Inspector General found improper use of funds, improperly documented work and travel, and a failure to inform authorities about potential crimes involving residents at three War Veteran Homes."

The release goes on to claim LaCerte engaged in questionable hiring and pay practices, along with stating that his military service record did not match the service cited in his biography posted on the department’s website.

Purpera’s release also states that both interim secretary and newly appointed secretary agreed with the findings and have taken corrective actions. It also mentions that LaCerte’s attorney at the time denounced the findings as “blatantly false.”

Jenifer Schaye, the auditor’s general counsel, countered after the hearing that the press release merely quoted what was in the report, therefore had immunity. “The facts prove the point and are enough to overcome defamation,” she said, adding that the report is supported by piles of evidence. She noted that Purpera routinely issues press releases to along with the reports auditors produce.

LaCerte resigned his post in fall 2015 amid a probe into his office. The report and accompanying press release were released on Feb. 1, 2016. His attorney at the time denied the allegations in the report.

LaCerte served the agency under Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration between 2010 and 2015.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.