A sitting judge, a former court administrator and two attorneys could possibly offer testimony this week on whether some Fourth Judicial District Court judges and a district court law clerk colluded to cripple a Monroe businessman's lawsuit against his former business partner, according to recent court filings.
It is unclear whether those four witnesses will be allowed to testify in court. Ad hoc Judge Jerry Barbera is expected to make that decision at a hearing scheduled for Thursday and Friday at the Ouachita Parish Courthouse. Barbera is a retired district court judge from Lafourche Parish. The state Supreme Court appointed Barbera to preside over this matter.
In a memorandum filed Oct. 28 with the Ouachita Parish Clerk of Court’s office, attorneys for Monroe businessman Stanley R. Palowsky III outlined testimony witnesses could offer to bolster Palowsky’s argument that district court officials worked together to derail his lawsuit against his former business partner, W. Brandon Cork. Those witnesses include Judge Sharon Marchman, former court administrator Laura Hartt and Monroe attorneys Cody Rials and Joey Grassi, a former assistant district attorney under Fourth Judicial District Attorney Jerry Jones.
The memorandum lays out a chronicle of events surrounding Palowsky's litigation in Fourth Judicial District Court and offers behind-the-scenes details of interactions among judges and lawyers as well as several instances in which court officials are alleged to have sought to control what specific information would be made available to the general public, including The Ouachita Citizen.
The memorandum represents the latest filing in Stanley R. Palowsky III vs. Allyson Campbell and others, a lawsuit brought by Palowsky against Campbell and five defendant judges.
The recent court filings, including the memorandum, are available at www.ouachitacitizen.com
Testimony by the four witnesses – Marchman, Hartt, Rials and Grassi – could shed light on whether Campbell destroyed or concealed documents filed by Palowsky in the lawsuit against Cork and others, according to Palowsky's attorneys, Joe Ward of Covington and Sedric Banks of Monroe. Banks and Ward also say testimony could reveal whether the five defendant judges aided or covered up Campbell's actions. The five judges include Chief Judge Stephens Winters, judges Carl Sharp, Wilson Rambo, Fred Amman and former Judge Ben Jones, who now serves as the court’s administrator.
Banks and Ward submitted the memorandum for Barbera to consider before the hearing Nov. 5 and Nov. 6. Barbera previously ordered a stay of discovery in the case. Banks and Ward appealed Barbera's stay of discovery to the Second Circuit Court of Appeal in Shreveport. A three-judge panel of the Second Circuit denied their appeal without any reasons other than stating the appeal fell outside the court's jurisdiction.
Barbera has stated he would evaluate what evidence would be introduced during this week's two-day hearing.
Banks and Ward argued they could not mount a proper defense against multiple exceptions and sanctions sought against them by Campbell and the defendant judges through their attorneys. The defendant judges contend they are protected by judicial immunity because their actions were judiciary functions. However, Palowsky argues the defendant judges should not enjoy immunity because their actions involving Campbell were administrative, not judicial.
The chronicle of events in Banks' and Ward's memorandum filed Oct. 28 begins in 2010 with details about Campbell's record of work attendance.
Banks and Ward state they believe Marchman would testify that complaints about Campbell not showing up for work have existed since 2010 and that Marchman made judges Rambo and Amman aware of the situation. The attorneys also say they believe Marchman would testify that Rambo and Amman were not concerned about Campbell's attendance issue because they knew where to find Campbell and had no complaints about the quality of her work. The court’s policy, according to Banks and Ward's memorandum, requires employees to work at the courthouse, not from home or any other location.
The memorandum moves ahead to 2012 and indicates Rials, an attorney, could testify about how he complained to Judge Sharp about Campbell shredding a proposed judgment he prepared in a case pending before Sharp. Banks and Ward state they believe Grassi would testify he overheard Campbell in a local bar bragging about shredding Rials’ judgment and asked her about it.
“Palowsky believes that Grassi will testify that Campbell told him directly that she shredded Rials’ judgment and that she really enjoyed doing that to him,” Banks and Ward's memorandum states.
Banks’ and Ward’s memorandum further states that Grassi conveyed the information to Sharp during the judge's investigation into Rials’ complaint. The memorandum states that Sharp shut the investigation down and sent Rials a letter, “which he will be able to authenticate at the upcoming hearings, stating that Rials’ ‘concern’ that Campbell was ‘personally biased’ against him was ‘reasonable,’ and accordingly, she would be removed from any case involving Rials.”
“Palowsky believes that Rials will testify that the ‘concern’ he reported to Judge Sharp was not that Campbell was biased against him, it was that she shredded a judgment he had submitted to the Court. By referencing an alleged concern of bias as opposed to the actual concern of document shredding, Judge Sharp concealed Campbell’s felonious activities.”
The memorandum also states that it is believed Sharp would testify that the only other judge aware of Rials' complaint at that time was Rambo.
It is believed Marchman would testify that she was unaware of Rials' complaint though at the time, she chaired the court’s personnel committee, according to the memorandum.
“Given that the destruction of public documents is a felony, certainly the head of the personnel committee should have been made aware of any allegations of document destruction made against any employee. Instead though, Defendant Judges Sharp and Rambo kept the matter to themselves to protect Campbell,” Banks' and Ward's memorandum states.
On April 1, 2014, the memorandum states that Hartt, a former court administrator, learned from an employee of the Ouachita Parish Police Jury that “key fob” (security pass cards) reports would show the comings and goings of court employees, in and out of the courthouse. The Police Jury's offices, like those of Fourth Judicial District Court, are in the Ouachita Parish Courthouse. Hartt reported her key fob findings to Marchman, who, in turn, could testify she reported the matter to Judge Jones, who later succeeded Hartt as court administrator.
It is believed, according to the memorandum, that Marchman would testify that the issue was discussed with Jones and that Hartt investigated possible payroll fraud related to Campbell's work attendance, and Marchman also could testify that the judges met several times and discussed the matter.
“Palowsky reasonably believes that Judge Marchman and Ms. Hartt will testify that on April 15, 2014, there was a review of Defendant Campbell’s hours from January 14 to March 31,” the memorandum continues. “As Judge Marchman and Ms. Hartt will likely testify, said review showed that on seven different days, Defendant Campbell reported that she worked seven hours even though her key fob did not show that she entered the courthouse on any of those days. On most of those days, she had excuses for being late, such as her flight from New York was late or she had tennis matches that morning, but then she apparently would not come to work (as evidenced by lack of key fob activity) and would still report that she worked seven hours.
“It is worth repeating that Defendant Campbell was being paid with public, i.e., taxpayers’ money, while she did such things as fly home from New York, play tennis, and go to the doctor, when she was supposed to be working for the public. Additionally, Palowsky reasonably believes that Judge Marchman will testify that Defendant Judges Rambo and Amman had been approving her false timesheets for payment.”
Though state law requires the reporting of suspected misappropriation of public funds, the memorandum states it is believed that Marchman and Hartt would testify that the judges discussed Campbell's compensation and work attendance at a April 15, 2014, meeting but never reported “any payroll fraud” to the Legislative Auditor or the district attorney’s office.
According to the memorandum, it is also believed that Marchman would testify the judges approved new measures to be implemented to prevent payroll fraud at the same meeting.
“The judges agreed en banc to remove Campbell from the position of 'senior law clerk,' to terminate her stipend, and to suspend her for one month without pay,” Banks' and Ward's memorandum states.
Beginning on April 28, 2014, the memorandum states all law clerks were required to sign in and out each time they entered or left the courthouse.
“Notably, within one day of the new rule’s implementation, Campbell refused to comply and falsified her sign-in sheet, and Palowsky believes that Judge Marchman will testify to same,” Banks' and Ward's memorandum states.
Banks' and Ward's chronicle also includes details about a possible obstruction of due process for numerous individuals in light of 52 documents – described as post-conviction relief applications – that may have been found under Campbell's desk at the courthouse.
Banks' and Ward's memorandum states they believe Marchman would testify that 52 files requiring Campbell's attention were found underneath the law clerk's desk while Campbell was serving her suspension during May 2014. Palowsky's attorneys say they believe evidence would show Sharp gave Campbell the writs and asked her to address them. The oldest writ was dated Nov. 2, 2011.
“When questioned as to why they were sitting in her office, Campbell had no explanation,” Banks' and Ward's memorandum states.
It is also believed Marchman would testify that Campbell gave the employee who found the 52 writs in her office a $200 gift card, according to Banks’ and Ward’s memorandum.
The memorandum also said Marchman would testify she told Judge Wendell Manning on June 17, 2014, that she had planned to recommend Campbell’s termination, but instead would recuse herself because she had learned that Campbell was actively seeking someone to oppose her in the next election.
“As instructed by the chief judge (Manning), Judge Marchman asked Defendant Judge Jones to handle the issue of the 52 (post-conviction relief) applications,” Banks' and Ward's memorandum states.
The memorandum states that Jones discussed the issues of the 52 PCR applications and the related gift card at a personnel committee meeting on July 8, 2014, but the judges took no remedial action concerning Campbell's actions.
Palowsky’s legal entanglement with the court began in 2013 after he sued his business partner, Cork, at Alternative Environmental Solutions Inc. Palowsky claimed Cork and others were engaged in a kickback scheme with subcontractors to skim monies from AESI invoices. Palowsky's lawsuit against Cork and others stated that because of Cork’s and other co-defendants’ actions, AESI lost its major client and sustained damages in the tens of millions of dollars.
The lawsuit was assigned to Rambo while Campbell was serving as his law clerk. Documents filed by Palowsky's attorneys were noted as missing in their client's lawsuit against Cork, leading to a motion for Rambo's recusal because of delays in rulings on motions that were found to be missing and for bias. Rambo recused himself from the Palowsky case in November 2014 though he said he exhibited no bias. Palowsky’s lawsuit was then assigned to Sharp.
“Palowsky believes that Judge Marchman will testify that on September 12, 2014, there was an en banc meeting (of the judges) which she did not attend but which was recorded,” Banks' and Ward's memorandum continues. “Judge Marchman will testify that she listened to the recording, and during the meeting, Defendant Judge Jones discussed putting a letter in Campbell's file about the missing records which were discovered in her office during her suspension. “
“There was also a discussion of complaints by 'two local attorneys' that Campbell had shredded or withheld their documents from the judge who should have received them. It was discussed that in one case, the Clerk's filing procedure was to blame. It was also discussed that no further action would be taken against Campbell besides placing a reprimand letter about the 52 PCR applications in her file.”
Palowsky's attorneys say evidence would show Campbell emailed Sharp and asked him to state that Rials' allegations against her were “unfounded.”
“Judge Sharp responded that he was the only member of the Court who looked into the allegations, and he found that no misconduct was 'indicated,' which contradicts his November 28, 2012 letter to Mr. Rials in which he stated that Rials' concern was reasonable,” Banks' and Ward's memorandum states. “Regardless, Judge Sharp's response was apparently not good enough because a few minutes later, he supplemented his earlier email and said that she never shredded anything.”
Beginning in February 2015, The Ouachita Citizen submitted a series of public records requests to Fourth Judicial District Court after learning of accusations of payroll fraud and the alleged shredding or intentional misplacement of court documents. Through its public records requests, the newspaper sought to obtain Campbell’s personnel records, including time sheets as well as records related to Rials' complaint.
Jon Guice, a Monroe attorney representing the court, told The Ouachita Citizen that Rials' letter as well as other documents sought in public records requests formed parts of a “personnel matter,” and would not be made public. Guice also represents the five defendant judges in Stanley R. Palowsky III vs. Allyson Campbell and others.
On March 2, 2015, the state Legislative Auditor’s office released a report stating some Fourth Judicial District Court employees may have collected paychecks for hours of work they did not earn.
On March 12, 2015, Campbell wrote a letter to Jones, “expressing her concern about information being 'leaked' to The Ouachita Citizen in violation of public records laws,” according to the memorandum.
“She also wrote about how Defendant Judge Rambo told the attorneys in Palowsky v. Cork that she had never worked on that case, and that no pleadings were missing from that record,” Banks' and Ward's memorandum states.
On March 13, 2015, the judges held a meeting and discussed both Campbell's actions as well as The Ouachita Citizen's public records requests, according to the memorandum. It is believed Marchman would testify that the judges discussed what documents to place in Campbell's personnel folder, ultimately deciding to omit Campbell's letter to Jones about “information being 'leaked.'” However, Marchman also is expected to testify that the judges decided to keep in Campbell's personnel file the emails between Sharp and Campbell in which Sharp is believed to have stated Campbell never shredded anything.
In response to The Ouachita Citizen's public records requests, the court turned over some information but refused to release any documents that could tie Campbell to allegations of shredding documents or being paid for unworked hours. After repeated refusals to turn over public records, Ouachita Citizen reporter Johnny Gunter filed a criminal complaint against the court with Jones, the district attorney, asking for an investigation into the court’s refusal to turn over public records. Gunter also requested an investigation of possible payroll fraud.
After learning that Gunter had filed a criminal complaint with the district attorney, Chief Judge Winters filed a lawsuit against The Ouachita Citizen, asking for summary judgment, according to the memorandum.
“Thus, Defendant Judge Winters decided to file a petition for declaratory judgment, which he did that same day, to avoid any action of the district attorney and to appear to the public as if it were taking 'the high road,'” Banks' and Ward's memorandum states.
Ad hoc Judge Ann Simon heard the case between the court and The Ouachita Citizen and decided to review the contents of Campbell's personnel file to determine whether the records should be released. Steven Oxenhandler, an Alexandria attorney representing Campbell in that matter, argued Campbell's personnel file was protected from production because it was related to the management of an employee.
It is believed Marchman would testify that the court's judges held a meeting on April 14, 2015, to discuss what documents they would produce for the ad hoc judge to review.
“Defendant Judge Winters and Jones were adamant that they would only produce the Rials letter and an outside consultant's report, but Judge Marchman disagreed and urged them to produce all the documents in their possession related to Campbell,” Banks' and Ward's memorandum states. “Palowsky also believes that Judge Marchman will testify that prior to the May 19 hearing (on the court's motion for summary judgment against The Ouachita Citizen), Defendant Judge Jones told her and the other judges, 'There will be no testimony. Testimony will not be good for us.'”
Simon eventually ruled the court could deny the newspaper access to Campbell's personnel file since, according to Simon, Campbell’s right to privacy outweighed the public’s right to know.
“Defendant Campbell judicially admitted in related litigation that documents related to Cody Rials' complaint that she shredded his judgment was strictly a personnel matter related to the management of an employee,” Banks' and Ward's memorandum states. “Of course she had to take that position in the litigation with The Ouachita Citizen to prevent the public from learning what Campbell has actually done during her tenure as a public employee.”
Palowsky contends he has a right of action against the judges and Campbell for damages he has incurred as the result of their acts.
Zach Parker, news editor at The Ouachita Citizen, contributed to this report.