Judge Refuses to Toss Louisiana Whistle-Blower Suit

October 28, 2009

A judge in Baton Rouge, La., has refused to dismiss a whistle-blower lawsuit that former Louisiana Music Commission Executive Director Bernie Cyrus filed against the state Department of Economic Development in early 2007.

Cyrus claims in his lawsuit that then-Economic Development Secretary Michael Olivier forced him to resign after he reported to federal and state authorities that Cyrus’ former boss at the department may have been paid to steer production and tax credits to a motion picture film production company.

The ex-boss, former Louisiana film chief Mark Smith, was sentenced to two years in federal prison in July after pleading guilty to conspiracy and bribery in September 2007.

Daniel Avant, an attorney for the state Department of Economic Development, argued Monday that Cyrus’ lawsuit should be dismissed because his departure from the department “had nothing to do with his disclosures about Smith.

“He has no case,” Avant told state District Judge Kay Bates during a hearing.

Davide Rosiglioni, who represents Cyrus, countered that the man Cyrus complained about is now in a federal penitentiary.

“What Cyrus was disclosing was not gossip. It was fact,” Rosiglioni told the judge.
Smith was Cyrus’ supervisor, Rosiglioni added.

Bates ruled there are genuine issues of material fact remaining, such as whether Cyrus’ performance as head of the Louisiana Music Commission played a role in his departure.

Bates’ ruling means Cyrus’ suit will be heard by either the judge or a jury. A trial date has not been set.

Cyrus sued the department in February 2007, alleging Smith was taking bribes from the New Orleans-based Louisiana Institute of Film and Technology, or LIFT, in return for favorable treatment from the state agency.

Information from: The Advocate, www.2theadvocate.com

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