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Wednesday May 25th, 2016 7:05PM

AG defends actions of state lawyers in ethics case

By The Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) -- State lawyers handling a lawsuit against the state ethics commission were dealing with a "difficult client" who acted inappropriately in withholding key documents, Attorney General Sam Olens said Thursday in response to his office being fined $10,000 by a judge in the case.<br /> <br /> Olens defended the attorneys in his office who handled the lawsuit filed by the former director of the ethics commission, saying they acted "ethically and responsibly." Olens added he disagreed with the judge's decision to fine his office but had yet to decide whether to appeal.<br /> <br /> "Unlike lawyers in private practice that get to withdraw from representation when you have a difficult client, we don't have the same luxury," Olens said. "Unfortunately we have learned a lot of facts in the case post-trial that we would have preferred to have learned pre-trial."<br /> <br /> Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural D. Glanville on Wednesday fined Olens' office and current ethics commission director Holly LaBerge $10,000 each for not handing over texts, emails and a memo showing LaBerge had communicated with top aides for Gov. Nathan Deal shortly before the commission considered ethics complaints involving the governor's 2010 personal and campaign-finance disclosures.<br /> <br /> Olens said his lawyers were not aware of the texts and emails and defended a decision by state attorneys not to hand over the memo to opposing lawyers believing it not to be responsive to their request for correspondence. He said state attorneys repeatedly asked LaBerge if she had any more documents and were "repeatedly told no."<br /> <br /> An attorney for LaBerge has said it was the attorney general's office that withheld documents and she should not have been fined.<br /> <br /> "Without Holly coming forward and disclosing the critical memorandum the attorney general wrongly failed to disclose after he received it from Holly during the litigation, no one would have ever known it existed," attorney Lee Parks said in a statement.<br /> <br /> A jury ultimately sided with the former director of the ethics commission, who said she was forced out of her job for investigating the ethics complaints against the governor. After the $1.2 million verdict, the state chose to settle with three other former commission employees who also said they were retaliated against for $1.8 million.<br /> <br /> The state's handling of the case has become a campaign issue as Olens seeks re-election this year. His Democratic opponent, Greg Hecht, has blasted Olens as having "failed Georgia as a lawyer and a leader," calling on Olens to pay the $10,000 fine with his money instead of taxpayer funds.<br /> <br /> Olens said the lawyers in his office are civil servants and shouldn't be dragged into the campaign.<br /> <br /> "They practice law, not politics," Olens said. "These lawyers deserve a proper defense of their actions, not cheap shots."
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