Several Fourth Judicial District Court judges accused of concealing illegal activity at the court recently asked a special appointed judge to save them from having to defend themselves against those accusations in front of a jury.
In 2015, Monroe businessman Stanley Palowsky III sued law clerk Allyson Campbell for concealing or destroying documents Palowsky filed with the court as part of a separate lawsuit against his former business partner, Brandon Cork.
Palowsky also sued Fourth Judicial District Court judges Wilson Rambo and Stephens Winters as well as now-retired judges Fred Amman, Ben Jones and Carl Sharp. Jones currently serves as the court's administrator. Palowsky claimed the five defendant judges conspired with Campbell to conceal her activities.
NO JURY TRIALS
On Jan. 26, the five defendant judges filed a motion to strike Palowsky's demand for a jury trial, claiming jury trials did not apply to them, as judges.
Instead of a jury trial, the defendant judges' other option would be a bench trial, presumably before retired Judge Jerome “Jerry” Barbera, of Thibodaux.
In 2015, Barbera was appointed to serve as an ad hoc judge in the Campbell lawsuit. (As previously reported by this newspaper, one of the defendant judges previously presided over a child custody case involving Barbera's niece.)
In their motion to strike demand for a jury trial, the defendant judges claimed Palowsky's request for a jury trial was prohibited by state law.
The defendant judges argued that state law protected them from a jury trial because they, as officers of the court, represented a political subdivision. State law requires that “no suit against a political subdivision of the state shall be tried by jury.”
“Any demand for a jury trial as to the Judges is clearly insufficient,” stated the defendant judges' motion.
It is unclear whether the defendant judges' argument conflicts with the state Supreme Court's ruling in June 2019 at which time the high court ruled the judges were not protected by judicial immunity. Judicial immunity is a legal doctrine that shields judicial figures from liability to damages if they took actions in an official, or judicial, capacity.
“If the challenged behavior stems from a judicial function, the judge is immune from suit,” stated an opinion in the Campbell lawsuit by now-Chief Justice John Weimer. “If the challenged behavior is outside a judicial function, immunity does not apply.”
The Supreme Court found that Palowsky's allegations against Campbell and the judges—if proven true at trial—showed the court officials were acting beyond their judicial authority. In other words, court officials cannot claim protection if accused of criminal activity.
Weimer argued Palowsky's allegations, if taken as true, meant Campbell and the judges were not protected by judicial immunity.
“Thus, judges and law clerks are not above the law, but are rightfully accountable within the civil justice system-just as any other person-when acting outside their judicial function,” Weimer wrote.
The claim that Campbell had a history of destroying court documents or mishandling them was the subject of a Louisiana State Police investigation in 2015. During their investigation, State Police and the state Office of Inspector General reported a handful of complaints that Campbell had mishandled documents.
In Stanley R. Palowsky III and others v. W. Brandon Cork and others, Palowsky filed a motion to recuse Rambo from his case, arguing that Rambo had exhibited bias against him. At a status conference for the Cork case in 2014, Rambo apparently questioned Palowsky's attorneys about why they had not submitted a certain document, which led the attorneys to discover their filings were missing from the court record. After Palowsky suggested Campbell had destroyed or misplaced his court filings, Rambo recused from the case.
In 2014, Monroe attorney Cody Rials also filed a complaint claiming Campbell had bragged at a local bar about how she had shredded a document that Rials filed with the court. At that time, Sharp removed Campbell from any case involving Rials.
Campbell denied wrongdoing in response to both complaints.
The State Police and Inspector General's investigation also revealed Campbell had obtained an unsigned, undated copy of a special appointed judge's proposed ruling and shared it in the judges' offices days before the special appointed judge signed the judgment.
The judgment in question was against The Ouachita Citizen. In 2015, this newspaper sought a copy of Campbell's personnel file in light of allegations the law clerk had been paid for hours she did not earn. The Fourth Judicial District Court sued The Ouachita Citizen to keep the newspaper from gaining access to Campbell's personnel file.