Whistleblower lawsuit against St. Tammany Coroner’s Office dismissed _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- St. Tammany parish coroner Peter Galvan leaves the federal courthouse in New Orleans after his arraignment, Wednesday, October 16, 2013.

A whistleblower lawsuit filed by a former St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office employee has been dismissed by 22nd Judicial District Judge Reginald Badeaux, who granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

Laura King, a forensic laboratory manager who was fired by then-Coroner Peter Galvan, sued the office and Galvan in 2010, alleging that she was fired in 2009 after questioning the legality of using federal grant money to buy a laptop computer for the office’s executive director.

The defendants filed for summary judgment at the end of December, and a hearing on that motion was held in April. Badeaux’s ruling is dated May 26.

The judge concluded that the plaintiff had failed to establish that an actual violation of the law occurred.

The state’s whistleblower statute outlaws reprisals against employees who advise their employer of a violation of the law and disclose or threaten to disclose it to a public investigatory body or simply refuse to engage in the action, the judgment said.

To prevail under the statute, Badeaux said, the plaintiff has to show an actual violation of state law. A good-faith belief that one has occurred is not enough.

King’s claim that she reported illegal or unethical activities to the Coroner’s Office’s legal counsel doesn’t constitute a disclosure, the judge said.

Badeaux also said King had provided little or no evidence of sexual harassment by Galvan, another claim she made in the suit.

The judge ordered that each party in the suit will bear its own attorneys’ fees and court costs.

St. Tammany Parish Coroner Charles Preston said he doesn’t consider the ruling a cause for celebration. “It was still a long and costly matter for the taxpayers,” he said, noting that legal fees had amounted to $667,000 as of January, almost all of it incurred under Galvan, who resigned in October 2013 as he faced federal charges of conspiring to steal money from the Coroner’s Office.

Terry King, the husband of Laura King, deferred comment to his attorney, Al Robert, who said he would have a statement Wednesday.

Charles Branton, an attorney for Galvan, said the ruling was the right one after six years. “There was so much back and forth, but at the end of the day, there was never a legal claim,” he said, pointing to an affidavit by the grant program that said no money had been misused.

His client would have no comment, Branton said, noting that Galvan had just returned home from prison. Galvan pleaded guilty to using public money for himself and served two years in federal and then state prison. He was released Monday.

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