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Thursday July 30th, 2015 8:11AM

Trial in Ga. ethics commission lawsuit delayed

By The Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) -- The upcoming trial in the lawsuit of a former state ethics commission employee who alleges retaliation for investigating complaints against Gov. Nathan Deal has been delayed for several weeks.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Constance C. Russell granted a continuance Friday after hearing from attorney Edward Buckley, who represents Sherry Streicker, the commission's former deputy. Streicker claims her position was eliminated and her boss's salary reduced by 30 percent as they were seeking approval to issue subpoenas in the commission's investigation of Deal's 2010 campaign finance reports.

Commissioners have denied any wrongdoing.

Buckley said three key witnesses were unable to testify because of recent medical issues. In addition, Assistant Attorney General Bryan Webb, who is representing the commission, said he was scheduled for trial in a separate case next week. The judge indicated the Streicker trial would be pushed to April because of a busy court calendar next month.

In addition, Assistant Attorney General Kelly Campanella asked the judge to quash a subpoena calling the governor to testify at trial. Campanella said Deal doesn't have firsthand information pertaining to the case.

"He doesn't know anything about the elements of the claim. It's all secondhand knowledge," Campanella said. "He has nothing to add."

Streicker's attorneys plan to file a motion opposing the request, and the judge is expected to rule at a later date. Streicker's lawyers also have sent subpoenas to Deal's chief of staff, Chris Riley; his legal counsel, Ryan Teague; and his personal attorney, Randy Evans. Evans also filed a request with the court to quash his subpoena, according to Streicker's attorneys.

Streicker's lawsuit, along with one filed by her former boss, Stacey Kalberman, have included depositions of current and former commission employees as well as current and former commissioners. In the lawsuits, allegations have been made that the governor's office helped recruit Kalberman's replacement, Holly LaBerge, while Kalberman was still with the commission, and that LaBerge later claimed the governor "owes her" for taking care of his ethics complaints.

Deal has said he doesn't know LaBerge and doesn't owe her anything. He was cleared of major violations in the ethics probe and agreed to pay $3,350 in administrative fees. LaBerge has denied any wrongdoing.

A hearing in Kalberman's lawsuit is scheduled in Fulton County Superior Court on Feb. 14, when a trial date is likely to be set. Kalberman was among the three witnesses who were unavailable for trial next week. Buckley said Kalberman and former Commissioner Kent Alexander had recently had surgery, while the commission's former staff attorney, Elisabeth Murray-Obertein, had been hospitalized.

Commissioners terminated Murray-Obertein last month, nearly three weeks after a Georgia State Patrol trooper was called to the commission's office on a report of an intoxicated state employee. Her attorney, Brian J. Sutherland, said previously she was addressing a medical condition.

Sutherland declined further comment Friday.

Murray-Obertein was among two current and three former commission employees who received federal grand jury subpoenas seeking agency documents in the Deal matter. The scope of the federal inquiry isn't known, and federal prosecutors have declined comment. Deal's attorney has said the inquiry doesn't involve the governor.
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