Judge Gavel on a wooden background, Law library concept.

Two small legal practices have moved into downtown office buildings.

The Baton Rouge offices of Irwin Fritchie Urquhart & Moore are now located on the 11th floor of the Chase North Tower, attorney Matt Bailey told the Downtown Development District Board Tuesday. Sprinkle Law Firm has moved into One American Place, said attorney Richard Sprinkle.

A state appeals court Wednesday reinstated a whistleblower lawsuit filed against the Louisiana State Police Commission by its former executive director.

Cathy Derbonne, who resigned in 2017 and filed her lawsuit the following year, claims she was retaliated against for challenging State Police brass and calling attention to a string of illegal campaign contributions made by commission members.

A special assistant attorney general, Christine Keenan, argued to a Baton Rouge state judge last year that Derbonne was responsible for the day-to-day administration and oversight of the State Police Commission, including ensuring that the commission and its members abided by their obligations under the law.

Keenan told District Judge William Morvant that Derbonne isn't entitled to protection under Louisiana's whistleblower statute because the statute doesn't apply to employees who, as part of their regular job duties, report illicit behavior.

The judge agreed, saying what Derbonne complained about “doesn’t make her a whistleblower.” He dismissed her suit, saying she failed to state a cause of action under the statute.

The 1st Circuit Court of Appeal on Wednesday vacated Morvant's ruling and sent the case back to him, saying Derbonne's lawsuit stated both a cause of action and a right of action.

Derbonne's attorney, Jill Craft, called the appellate court decision a great day for her client and the citizens of Louisiana.

"It means that all employees, including those employed by the State, are protected against reprisal when they courageously stand up for what is right," Craft wrote in an email.

Craft said Derbonne was forced from her job and paid a tremendous price for "standing up and doing what was right."

"Today is her first step toward vindicating her rights and righting wrongs on behalf of the people of this State. She looks forward to her day in Court."

The 1st Circuit ruling is expected to be appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Derbonne, who headed the commission for eight years, claims she had no choice but to resign due to retaliation for calling attention to improper political contributions made by three commission members who ended up stepping down.

Shortly before she resigned, Derbonne has said she received an anonymous letter warning of "an emerging plot" to remove her from her post. She is now seeking back pay and benefits for “loss of earning capacity, humiliation and embarrassment, severe emotional distress and mental anguish.”

The State Police Commission is the civil service board for state troopers. Commissioners are appointed by the governor.

Derbonne claims she fell out of favor with the Louisiana State Troopers Association after that group was accused of using a straw donor to give thousands of dollars to seven political candidates and the House Democratic Campaign Committee. The troopers association was fined $5,000 in 2017 by the state Ethics Board.


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