Head of Louisiana Veterans Affairs steps down after probes look at conditions, oversight at nursing homes _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Former Louisiana Veterans Affairs Secretary David LaCerte

A defamation lawsuit that Louisiana's former Veterans Affairs secretary filed against the state's legislative auditor and inspector general in 2017 can move toward to a trial, the Louisiana Supreme Court has ruled.

The high court on Tuesday let stand a state appeals court's earlier refusal to throw out David LaCerte's lawsuit.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera and Inspector General Stephen Street conducted a joint investigation and concluded in 2016 that LaCerte had allowed fraudulent behavior in his department.

They accused LaCerte, a former U.S. Marine, of mismanaging an agency tasked with caring for the state's veterans and embellishing his own military service credentials.

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The state asked that the lawsuit be thrown out, claiming Purpera and Street have constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of speech. But the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal ruled in January that the state defendants cannot, as a matter of law, demonstrate that their speech was constitutionally protected.

LaCerte's attorney, Jill Craft, has said the lawsuit is about restoring his name, reputation and honor. Lawyers for Purpera and Street claim the investigative report's content was not false, defamatory, slanderous or libelous.

LaCerte served the VA agency under Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration between 2010 and 2015. He resigned his post in fall 2015 amid the probe into his office.

Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.