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Sunday, April 6, 2014 - 8:05am

Governor Deal Distances Himself From Verdict In Ethics Commission Trial

Gov. Nathan Deal distanced himself Sunday from a case in Fulton County Superior Court involving the investigation into ethics allegations against his 2010 campaign.

On Friday, a jury determined that Georgia’s ethics commission did unfairly oust its director—Stacey Kalberman—because she was pursuing the investigation into Deal’s campaign activities, and ordered the state to pay her $700,000 in damages.

Reporters gathered at Middle Georgia Regional Airport asked Deal about the ruling Sunday morning when he briefly touched down to sign a bill making changes to the Macon-Bibb County Community Enhancement Authority.

The governor declined to comment on the verdict itself, saying he has no control over the ethics commission.

“I would simply say that any ethics allegations against me were resolved about two years ago,” Deal said.

“The only (substantiated allegations) were technical violations, such as failure to list somebody’s name appropriately that was a member of our campaign staff, those kind of technical violations.”

Deal paid $3,350 in fees to resolve those violations in 2012.

Over the course of last week’s trial, witnesses testified that Deal’s office handpicked Holly LaBerge to replace Kalberman at the ethics commission, thus choosing the person who would take over the investigation into the governor’s campaign.

Former commission Chairman Patrick Millsaps testified that the involvement of Deal’s office in that hiring process “doesn’t pass the smell test,” as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Asked his reaction to Millsaps’ comments, Deal said, “I don’t know, I didn’t hear his testimony.”

Deal’s opponents in his race for reelection were quick to tie him to Friday’s verdict; Republican gubernatorial primary candidate and state schools Superintendent John Barge called on the governor to “step aside.”

Deal declined to reply directly when asked about his opponents’ comments Sunday.

“I think the people of this state, when they vote in the primary on May the 20th, will respond to them appropriately,” he said.

Meanwhile, two other lawsuits stemming from Kalberman’s dismissal remain outstanding.

The ethics commission’s former deputy director Sherilyn Streicker claims she was also forced out for investigating Deal. John Hair, a former media specialist at the commission, claims he was fired after he refused to alter or destroy records related to the investigation.

Asked if he’s concerned that those cases might drag into election season, Deal again declined comment.

“That’s more appropriately asked of the (state) Attorney General’s office, not of me,” he said. “They are the ones who defend cases of this nature.”