Inside Report: Battle lines drawn in Painter trial

The brawl is on.

Former state Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Murphy J. Painter asked a Baton Rouge federal judge to throw out his indictment on charges of computer fraud, aggravated identity theft and lying to government investigators.

Painter alleged investigators of the Louisiana Office of Inspector General deleted data favorable to him from his desktop computer after they seized it on Aug. 13, 2010. If not, Painter contended, someone else made those deletions because of some lapse in OIG security.

U.S. District Judge James J. Brady, on Nov. 21, denied Painter’s request.

“This court is not convinced that these files were deleted by any individual,” Brady added.

Painter’s computer expert testified earlier he had no evidence of any deletions that occurred after the machine was seized on the afternoon Painter was fired by the Jindal administration.

And an FBI agent, certified as a forensic computer examiner, testified there were no such deletions.

Painter’s federal indictment alleges he used confidential law enforcement databases to search for possible criminal arrests and convictions, as well as personal information, on individuals who were unrelated to ATC investigations.

The names of those individuals are not included in Painter’s indictment, but several people were named in a related OIG report in February 2011. Among them are Wendy Vitter, wife of U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La.; television reporter Keitha Nelson; Painter’s former administrative assistant Kelli Suire; and Suire’s attorney, Jill Craft.

Suire had sued the state, alleging she had been forced to find a new job because of sexual harassment and stalking by Painter.

Painter denies those allegations, but the Jindal administration paid Suire $100,000 to end her suit.

The former ATC commissioner alleges Jindal fired him because he refused to issue a liquor license for an entertainment square outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

Suire and Painter remain locked in litigation, but Painter recently missed a court deadline for filing all requests for pertinent information and pre-trial testimony from Suire’s side. And U.S. District Judge Shelly D. Dick refused to extend that deadline.

Brady, in the criminal case, ruled the OIG report on Painter will not be allowed into evidence. The judge reserved the right to amend that ruling “if the need arises.”

The judge said he would not decide whether to admit testimony of some of Painter’s former ATC employees “until the trial,” which is scheduled Dec. 9.

So, in Painter’s corner, are defense attorneys Michael S. Fawer and Al J. Robert Jr.

Robert is smart, technologically savvy and mentally agile.

Fawer is a lion among Louisiana lawyers, and has 53 years of courtroom experience. His track record includes the 1986 acquittal of former Gov. Edwin Edwards on federal racketeering and mail fraud charges that focused on $1.9 million Edwards received from hospital and nursing home interests.

In the government’s corner are three steel magnolias — Assistant U.S. Attorneys M. Patricia Jones, Cam T. Le and Shubhra Shivpuri. None appears cowed by Fawer’s ferocity. All are determined and capable prosecutors.

Bill Lodge covers federal courts for The Advocate. He can be reached at blodge@theadvocate.com.