Juvenile Court judges push for move to downtown Baton Rouge courthouse, claim safety is a concern at current building _lowres (copy)

The 19th Judicial District Courthouse is located on North Blvd. in downtown Baton Rouge. 

A whistleblower lawsuit filed against the Louisiana State Police Commission by its former executive director was thrown out Monday by a Baton Rouge judge.

Cathy Derbonne, who resigned in 2017 and filed suit the next 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.

Special Assistant Attorney General Christine Keenan argued Monday on behalf of the State Police Commission that Derbonne was responsible for the day-to-day administration and oversight of the commission, including ensuring that the commission and its members abided by their obligations under the law.

Keenan told state 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.

Derbonne's lead attorney, Jill Craft, said afterward she'll ask the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge to review and reverse Morvant.

“I feel good about the legal position we’re in,” Craft said outside the judge’s 19th Judicial District courtroom.

Derbonne, who headed the commission for eight years, contends she had no choice but to resign in January 2017 due to retaliation for calling attention to improper political contributions made by three commission members who ended up resigning.

In legal papers filed earlier this month in advance of Monday’s hearing, Derbonne’s attorneys – Craft and Brett Conrad Jr. – took issue with the commission’s argument that the whistleblower statute doesn’t protect her.

“If defendant’s argument … were to hold water, then no employee would ever be protected against reprisal because every employer would simply claim he/she had an obligation to report the unlawful conduct. This would mean that whistleblowing in a Louisiana workplace would never be protected contrary to the letter, intent, and application of” the whistleblower statute, they argued.

Craft and Conrad called that “an absurd interpretation” of the statute.

Keenan, in written arguments filed last week, said Derbonne’s allegations of wrongdoing are issues that “fall squarely within the scope of her responsibilities” as then-executive director of the commission.

“She had the direct responsibility to ensure these functions were performed correctly and, when they were not, to remedy that deficiency,” Keenan stated. “She cannot now claim protection under the Louisiana Whistleblower Statute for her own performance failures.”

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.

Keenan argued Monday that Derbonne has not alleged any violation of state law on the commission’s part. Commissioners, she said, 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 January 2017 by the state Ethics Board.

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