UPDATE: Editor's Note -- After publication of this article on April 28, 2012 it was brought to our attention that a recommendation letter had been written in support of Dr. Laber. The letter indicates he left his position due to a lack of funding. The letter was not made available at the time of publication. The letter is attached here.
A doctor employed by the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa was publicly reprimanded Friday for receiving more than 200 times the annual limit from a company registered as a lobbying principal with the state.
Dr. Damian Laber said he was unaware of a $100 annual limit that a state employee can receive from lobbyist principals, or companies that hire lobbyists and provide money to buy things of value to influence state employees and legislators, according to the discipline report released by the state Ethics Commission.
The Ethics Commission voted unanimously during its meeting Friday for the public reprimand.
Laber was hired in August 2010 at the OU School of Community Medicine. His employment contract at OU is not being renewed, said OU spokeswoman Catherine Bishop.
“His employment at the university will end no later than June 30,” Bishop said. “The University of Oklahoma takes ethics guidelines very seriously, and it is the policy of the university to abide by all of those guidelines.”
Laber was accused of accepting $27,800 from the drug company Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics Agency, according to the Ethics Commission complaint.
His acceptance of at least part of the Novartis money in the form of speaking fees occurred during the fourth quarter of 2010.
That exceeded the state's ethics rule of a $100 per calendar year limit.
After being told of the allegations, Laber wrote that he was unaware of OU's policies on interaction with pharmaceutical companies, the Ethics Commission's reprimand states.
He also said he was unaware of Oklahoma's ethics rules; he came from a state that didn't have a similar provision.
As a result, he merely continued with the Novartis speaking obligations, which began before he moved to Oklahoma.
The Ethics Commission report notes that Laber's conduct was not intentional and that he stopped making promotional speeches after he was told of the problem.
“However, ignorance of the law is not an excuse,” the report states.
“All employees of the state of Oklahoma are held to know the rules governing their ethical conduct. You therefore should have known that you were prohibited from accepting in excess of $100 a year from this entity under these facts.”