Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office says it will not release documents sought by The Ouachita Citizen concerning the state’s representation of Fourth Judicial District Court law clerk Allyson Campbell who is being sued by a Monroe businessman.
The Attorney General’s office also exceeded the time frame allowed for the production of records without written notification after receiving a public records request nearly two weeks ago from The Ouachita Citizen.
Ouachita Citizen reporter Johnny Gunter submitted a public records request to the Attorney General’s office on Thursday, Sept. 17. The public records request concerned the Attorney General’s and state Office of Risk Management’s appointment of a special assistant attorney general to represent Campbell in a lawsuit filed against her by Stanley R. Palowsky III. In Stanley R. Palowsky III vs. Allyson Campbell and others, Campbell is accused of destroying or intentionally withholding court documents in Palowsky’s lawsuit against his former business partner, Brandon Cork, and others. Lawrence W. Pettiette Jr. of Shreveport was contracted as special outside counsel to represent Campbell on behalf of the Attorney General’s office.
In the Attorney General’s answer to the public records request, First Assistant Attorney General James Trey Phillips said a copy of a lawsuit against Campbell as well as correspondence from her attorney, Brian Crawford of Monroe, were received on July 31, 2015.
“These documents are exempted from the public records law pursuant to La. R.S. 44:4(15) as it is ‘information concerning pending legal claims in the files of any attorney representing the state or any municipality in connection with the office of risk management,’” wrote Phillips in the Attorney General’s response.
That explanation of exemption under R.S. 44:4(15) was cited by the Attorney General’s office in its answer to every question submitted by The Ouachita Citizen in its public records request.
In Gunter’s public records request, he also asked for a copy of any investigative report by the Attorney General determining whether Campbell was eligible for representation under R.S. 13:5108.1.A(3), which says, “If the attorney general concludes...that the covered individual was free of criminal conduct, then the attorney general shall provide a defense to the covered individual.”
The Attorney General’s response said those documents also were exempted from the public records law under R.S. 44:4(15).
“No final determination has been made by the Department of Justice in regard to potential criminal conduct,” Phillips wrote.
The accusations Palowsky leveled against Campbell as well as possible payroll discrepancies unveiled in an audit of the district court’s finances are the focus of an ongoing criminal investigation by the state’s Office of Inspector General, Louisiana State Police and District Attorney Jerry Jones’s office.
Gunter’s public records request also focused on “any” communications some third party individuals may have had with the Attorney General’s office regarding Campbell. The request referenced judges and attorneys in private practice in Monroe and Baton Rouge.
Beyond communications with Campbell’s attorney, the Attorney General’s staff contacted the administrator at Fourth Judicial District Court, former Judge Ben Jones, to confirm Campbell’s employment with the court.
As to the question about “any” communications with third party individuals, the Attorney General’s office said, “nothing responsive to the request has been located.”
Palowsky’s lawsuit against Campbell also involves five defendant judges including Chief Judge Stephens Winters, judges Carl Sharp, Fred Amman, Wilson Rambo and Jones, the court’s administrator. Palowsky’s attorneys, Joe Ward of Covington and Sedric Banks of Monroe, claim their client has suffered monetary damages because of Campbell’s actions. The lawsuit claims the defendant judges are guilty of “aiding and abetting Campbell by concealing her wrongdoings…”
Meanwhile, according to La. R.S. 44:32(D), a custodian of records must respond to public records requests within three days even if only to say more time is needed to determine whether a record can be released or not. Aaron Sadler, a spokesman for Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, acknowledged receipt of the public records request but did not notify The Ouachita Citizen that a response to its public records request would exceed three days.
When the Attorney General's office acknowledged receipt of the public records request, it also disputed The Ouachita Citizen's report that R.S. 13:5108 bars district court law clerks from state appointed representation. In a Sept. 18 statement, Sadler wrote that Campbell was entitled to representation by the Attorney General’s office because she was believed to be a “covered individual” under R.S. 13:5108. Last week, The Ouachita Citizen reported that a 2006 ruling from the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal determined R.S. 13:5108 excludes law clerks of district courts from the category of “covered individuals.”
Last week, The Ouachita Citizen sent an email to Sadler asking about the status of the newspaper’s public records request. That email was not answered. The newspaper also called Sadler and left a message with Attorney General staff, asking for a response to the public records request. That phone call was not returned.
Sadler did not contact The Ouachita Citizen until after the newspaper asked for a direct comment from Caldwell on Monday as to why his office was refusing to answer the public records request. Caldwell is running for re-election and will face a number of opponents in the Oct. 24 primary election. His office answered The Ouachita Citizen’s public records request on Tuesday, Sept. 29.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article stated the Attorney General's office did not provide written notification it had receivedThe Ouachita Citizen's public records request. However, Aaron Sadler, spokesman for Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, acknowledged receipt of the newspaper's public records request in a Sept. 17 email. The Ouachita Citizen regrets the error.