Painter’s wrongful firing claim rejected

Advocate file photo by BILL FEIG -- Former state Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Murphy Painter leaves Baton Rouge state court in this February 2011 photo.
Advocate file photo by BILL FEIG -- Former state Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Murphy Painter leaves Baton Rouge state court in this February 2011 photo.

Painter says termination was unlawful

A state appeals court on Thursday reversed a lower court and threw out former Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Murphy Painter’s claim that he was wrongfully terminated in 2010.

Painter contends he was fired in August of that year for not bowing to a demand from the Governor’s Office to grant a liquor license for an entertainment complex called Champions Square outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. He alleges there were legal problems with the license request.

“Even assuming that Painter’s allegations concerning the legality of issuing the license are true, his petition alleges only a ‘potential’ violation of the law,” 1st Circuit Court of Appeal Chief Judge Vanessa G. Whipple wrote for the court. “Because there was no actual violation of law alleged, Painter’s petition fails to disclose a cause of action” under the Louisiana Whistleblower Statute.

Painter declined to comment when reached by phone. His attorney, Al Robert Jr., could not be reached for comment.

“This was a big ruse for him to blame somebody for him losing his job,” Jimmy Faircloth Jr., an attorney for the Governor’s Office in the case, said.

Painter, who was the focus of a scathing report by the state Office of Inspector General in February 2011, filed suit in August 2011 against the Governor’s Office, the Inspector General’s Office, Inspector General Stephen Street and others. He alleged wrongful termination, defamation and other claims in his state court lawsuit. He seeks reinstatement.

In a January 2012 ruling, state District Judge Janice Clark refused to throw out Painter’s wrongful-termination claim. The 1st Circuit reversed the judge on that point.

The defamation claim against the inspector general is one of the few remaining claims.

Painter also is scheduled to stand trial Aug. 19 in federal district court in Baton Rouge on criminal charges of computer fraud, aggravated identity theft and making false statements to federal investigators. He is alleged to have accessed confidential personal information using the Louisiana Law Enforcement Telecommunications System and the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database.

Some of those allegations first surfaced in the state inspector general’s report, which accused Painter of using his official position to illegally obtain information on judges, the governor’s staff, U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s wife and others over a five-year period.

Court records also show the state settled a civil suit in July 2011 by paying $20,000 to a former ATC employee — Kelli Suire — who claimed Painter stalked and harassed her. In court documents, Painter has denied stalking or harassing the woman. Suire was Painter’s former administrative assistant.