A group of elected officials accused of conspiring to conceal illegal activities at the local courthouse should not be allowed to review questions before their testimony is taken during discovery in a lawsuit.
That was the thrust of a writ application submitted by Monroe businessman Stanley Palowsky III to the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge earlier this month.
Palowsky is suing several officials at Fourth Judicial District Court in Monroe, including law clerk Allyson Campbell as well as judges Fred Amman, Wilson Rambo, Carl Sharp, Stephens Winters and retired Judge Benjamin “Ben” Jones. According to his 2015 lawsuit, Palowsky claimed Campbell concealed or destroyed documents he filed with the court in a separate lawsuit against a former business partner. Meanwhile, the five defendant judges conspired to cover up Campbell’s activities, according to Palowsky’s lawsuit.
In late August, a special appointed judge granted a protective order to the five defendant judges and ordered that Palowsky must inform the defendant judges about the questions he planned to ask them during depositions. A deposition is the taking of testimony in advance of a trial.
Retired Judge Jerome “Jerry” Barbera, of Thibodaux, also ruled that all deposition transcripts and all documents produced during discovery in the Palowsky case could not be disclosed to the public. The people determining which documents should be made public include the defendant judges themselves, according to Barbera’s ruling.
It was a mistake for Barbera to allow the defendant judges to decide which documents could be presented as evidence at trial, Palowsky argued in his Oct. 19 application for supervisory writs of review.
“It should be without question, then, that the actions of an uncontrollable law clerk and her elected superiors, all of whom are paid with public funds, are of interest to the public,” stated Palowsky’s writ application.
According to Palowsky, if the First Circuit did not reverse Barbera’s ruling, the five defendant judges could continue to stymie his preparation for a trial.
“If the trial court’s abuse of discretion is not corrected now, then Palowsky will be in the position of proceeding to trial without the chance to discover all pertinent facts,” stated Palowsky’s writ application.
In his writ application, Palowsky pointed out that defendants in other civil proceedings do not enjoy the privilege of reviewing questions before their depositions are taken.
“Palowsky would forever have been deprived of the opportunity to depose Defendant Judges ‘cold’ like any other witness or party is deposed,” stated Palowsky’s writ application. “In no other instance is a party entitled to learn 10 days prior to a deposition what the questions or areas of inquiry will be, but here, Defendant Judges will enjoy that advantage which will surely help them prepare for their depositions.”
Palowsky asked the First Circuit to reverse Barbera and allow the defendant judges to be treated like a defendant in any other civil lawsuit. He should not have to “jump through any special hoops” to obtain their testimony, Palowsky said.
According to Palowsky, it was unnecessary for him to give the judges the questions he would ask them because the state Supreme Court already ruled that his lawsuit could continue. In its ruling last year, the Supreme Court found that the judges did not enjoy judicial immunity for acts they carried out as judges but could be sued on the basis of their administrative acts as Campbell’s employers. If the defendant judges were being sued for their acts as administrators, there was no danger of damaging the judicial process, Palowsky argued.
For that reason, it was an abuse of discretion to seal documents in the case from the public, according to Palowsky.
“It is beyond obvious that Defendant Judges (and Campbell) want no member of the public to be privy to any deposition testimony in this matter or any court or personnel documents,” stated Palowsky’s writ application.
“It cannot and must not be forgotten that this case involves the actions of elected officials and their employees, all of whom are paid with public funds.”