Judge won't dismiss Painter defamation suit against the state

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. Show caption
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.

Former ATC commissioner suing state for defamation

A state district judge refused Monday to throw out former Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Murphy Painter’s claim that the state Office of Inspector General defamed him in a scathing 2011 report.

Two years ago, that same judge, Janice Clark, rejected the state’s request to dismiss Painter’s wrongful termination claim, but the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal reversed her last year and tossed that claim.

Preston Castille Jr., an attorney for the OIG and Inspector General Stephen Street, said outside Clark’s courtroom Monday that he’ll ask the same appellate court to overturn the judge’s latest ruling in the case.

Castille said Painter’s defamation claim “is completely without merit.”

Inside the courtroom, Painter’s attorney, Al Robert Jr., disagreed.

“He has been through a tremendous amount of stress,” Robert told Clark. “His name has been dragged through the mud because of this report.”

Painter contends Street and the OIG defamed him in the February 2011 report by alleging he stalked and sexually harassed Kelli Suire Votaw, his one-time administrative assistant.

The report also accused Painter of using his official position at ATC to illegally obtain information on judges, the governor’s staff, Votaw and her attorney, U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s wife and others over a five-year period.

A federal District Court jury acquitted Painter on Dec. 20 on 29 counts of computer fraud and false statements to the FBI. He had been accused of using confidential law enforcement databases to look up information on people who were not tied to any criminal investigations.

Some of those allegations first surfaced in the OIG report.

“From the very beginning, Mr. Painter has objected to the OIG’s investigation,” Robert said Monday outside Clark’s 19th Judicial District courtroom. “Judge Clark is going to give us a chance to get into those allegations.”

The Jindal administration announced in August 2010 that Painter had resigned his position as ATC chief, but Painter said he was fired and alleged his career ended because he refused to grant a liquor license for an entertainment square outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. He claims there were legal problems with the license request.

Painter, 60, of Gonzales, filed his suit in August 2011.

A federal grand jury indicted him in 2012. The panel received some of the allegations contained in the OIG report.

Votaw also sued the state, claiming Painter stalked and harassed her after she left ATC for another job. Painter has denied those allegations. Votaw moved to Florida in 2012 after the state settled her claims. She was paid $100,000.

Painter, the former chief deputy for the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, served 14 years as ATC commissioner.