A special appointed judge is scheduled to entertain arguments this week on whether Monroe businessman Stanley Palowsky III may pursue his allegations against two Fourth Judicial District Court officials, who he accused of engaging in illegal case fixing.
In October, Palowsky alleged that retired Judge Benjamin “Ben” Jones, who serves as the district court’s administrator, sent an ex parte communication to now-retired Judge Carl Sharp in 2015 to influence Sharp’s decision in a case that would financially benefit both Jones and Sharp.
The case, Stanley R. Palowsky III and others v. W. Brandon Cork and others, began in 2013 as a dispute between Palowsky and his former business partner, Brandon Cork. In 2015, a second lawsuit spun off from the Cork case in which Palowsky claimed Allyson Campbell, a law clerk at the district court, concealed or destroyed documents he filed with the court as part of the Cork case. According to Palowsky’s second lawsuit, judges Jones, Sharp, Fred Amman, Wilson Rambo and Stephens Winters conspired to cover up Campbell’s activities.
Palowsky filed a supplemental and amended petition to Stanley R. Palowsky III and others v. Allyson Campbell and others on Oct. 15, claiming recently discovered internal documents showed Jones and Sharp corresponding about a pending ruling in the Cork case in August 2015.
As previously reported by The Ouachita Citizen, internal documents from the Fourth Judicial District Court appeared on both the deep web and the open web as the result of an apparent cybersecurity incident. The internal documents included a handwritten note from Jones to Sharp as well as a four-page draft of Sharp’s ruling with Jones’ handwritten notes detailed in the margins.
In his handwritten note to Sharp, Jones expressed his opinion that Sharp should dismiss a motion filed by Palowsky in the Cork case.
“The effect may be that a judge hearing the motion would see all the allegations that do not have anything to do with you and be influenced,” Jones wrote in the note.
In an interview with The Ouachita Citizen, Jones confirmed the letter’s contents. He defended his actions by claiming he was acting as the court’s administrator, not as a judge.
In a Nov. 12 memorandum opposing Palowsky’s new pleading, the five defendant judges appeared to contradict Jones’ comments to the newspaper by claiming Jones was acting as a judge and could not be held liable for damages in light of his correspondence with Sharp. The defendant judges also appeared to challenge the relevance of two court officials’ correspondence because it was derived from a “privileged communication stolen from the Court.”
“Mr. Palowsky alternatively moves this Court for leave to file a pleading based on supplemental allegations concerning discussions between active judges in the course of the adjudicative process,” stated the defendant judges’ opposition memorandum. “In doing so, Mr. Palowsky attempts to use a privileged document previously stolen from the Court to his perceived advantage.”
According to the judges, Jones enjoyed judicial immunity—a legal concept shielding judges for actions they took in their judicial capacity—for his communications with Sharp, in spite of Jones’ admission to the contrary in an interview with The Ouachita Citizen. During that interview, Jones repeatedly told the newspaper he corresponded with Sharp in his capacity as the court’s administrator, not as a judge.
For example, in his October pleading, Palowsky said he was suing Jones for fraud and abuse of process because Jones was not acting in his judicial capacity. In the same pleading, Palowsky said he would not seek damages from Sharp on the same claims because Sharp was, at the time, acting in a judicial capacity as the judge in the Cork case.
Last week, the defendant judges’ argument that they could be shielded from lawsuits like Palowsky’s led to several years of litigation including the U.S. Supreme Court declining to entertain the defendant judges’ pleas for judicial immunity. The high court’s decision, in effect, upheld a Louisiana Supreme Court decision that said Palowsky was free to sue the judges and that the judges’ claims to judicial immunity were unfounded.
The defendant judges’ arguments for judicial immunity, though, arose again in their pleading this month.
“Given the years of litigation concerning the issue of judicial immunity, Mr. Palowsky knew or reasonably should have known that the Judge (Jones) remain absolutely immune from his supplemental claims,” stated the defendant judges’ opposition memorandum.
The defendant judges contended Jones and Sharp had done nothing improper by corresponding about a ruling in the Cork case.
“Nothing about these alleged discussions between two judges serving the Court were ethically or legally improper,” stated the defendant judges’ opposition memorandum. “Any potential discussion took place between judges as part of the case-deciding process. As a result, both Judge Jones and Judge Sharp are entitled to absolute judicial immunity, and Mr. Palowsky simply has no cause of action under his supplemental allegations.”
To support their argument, the defendant judges referred to the Supreme Court’s decision to appoint Jones as a judge pro tempore at the district court for several months in 2015—during which the correspondence took place.
“By this appointment, Judge Jones assumed full and complete authority to perform the adjudicative functions of a district judge for the term of the Court’s order,” stated the defendant judges’ opposition memorandum.
“Judge Jones’ challenged conduct—allegedly consulting with a fellow judge over a proposed order—unequivocally falls within a judge’s authority as an officer of the court, and it certainly constitutes the ordinary exercise of judicial duties,” stated the defendant judges’ opposition memorandum.
Jones and Sharp’s correspondence was not shared with other parties in the lawsuit, based on this newspaper’s review of court records.
Referring to requirements in the Supreme Court’s Code of Judicial Conduct that certain communications be shared with all parties, Jones previously told The Ouachita Citizen, “As a judge, in that capacity, I think that I would be bound to comply with what you’re talking about. But as a court administrator, I did not feel that applies to me.”
Jones repeated the same point later in the interview.
“Why not? Let me just say this. I’m the court administrator,” Jones began. “As court administrator, my duties are to handle the business of the court.”
According to Palowsky, Jones and Sharp had a financial interest in the Cork case because any damages that might be awarded in the Campbell lawsuit would depend on Palowsky’s success in the Cork case. If he failed to secure a favorable verdict in the Cork case, he would not have grounds to claim Campbell and the judges harmed his legal rights.
Meanwhile, Campbell and the five defendant judges also claimed Palowsky filed his new pleading alleging misconduct on Jones’ part, without the court’s consent.
“Mr. Palowsky flouted this requirement and filed his pleading without even attempting to obtain leave of Court,” stated the defendant judges’ opposition memorandum.
Allowing Palowsky’s new pleading to become part of the record would delay the case even further, argued Shreveport attorney Lawrence “Larry” Pettiette, who represents Campbell as a special assistant attorney general.
“Now, five years after the commencement of this suit, discovery is finally set to begin,” stated Campbell’s memorandum opposition. “Plaintiff seeks to delay these proceedings by filing a supplemental petition that adds new allegations—which are not related to the remaining allegations in this lawsuit.”
Palowsky’s attorneys, Joseph “Joe” Ward of Covington and Sedric Banks of Monroe, claimed they were allowed to file the new pleading because none of the defendants filed an answer to Palowsky’s original petition. That meant their client could file the new pleading without gaining the court’s approval, they said.