The state Supreme Court denied an appeal last month in a racketeering lawsuit in which allegations arose that a now-retired Monroe judge at Fourth Judicial District Court issued favorable rulings to the defendant because of a supposedly close, personal relationship.
On June 22, the Supreme Court rejected a writ filed in Billy and Edna Foster v. Adrian Fisher, Latondra Fisher, and Cognitive Development of Monroe Inc.
The Foster v. Fisher case stemmed from dispute over ownership of a mental health rehabilitation service company, Cognitive Development of Monroe Inc., or CDCMI, that was launched in 2003. The plaintiff, Billy Foster, and the defendant, Adrian Fisher, were 50-percent owners in the company and disagreed about how to manage the company until one day in June 2006 when Foster found new locks on the office’s doors among other changes. Foster did no further work for the company but sued, seeking damages and liquidation of the company.
Retired Judge Carl Sharp, of Monroe, presided over the Foster v. Fisher case at Fourth Judicial District Court until he retired from the bench in July 2018, prior to the expiration of his term. After Sharp’s retirement, Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Marcus Hunter took over the case and dismissed the lawsuit, including the claims that both parties leveled against each other.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeal upheld most of Hunter’s ruling but reversed the court’s decision to deny Foster’s 50-percent ownership in the company as well as the court’s refusal to liquidate CDCMI. Second Circuit Judge James “Jimbo” Stephens of Baskin wrote the Feb. 5 opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel also including judges Jeff Cox and Shonda Stone.
Monroe attorney James “Jim” Rountree represented Foster. In his March 18 writ to the Supreme Court, Rountree argued the Second Circuit profoundly misunderstood part of Sharp’s judgment concerning Foster’s exit from the company and asked the Supreme Court to reverse the appeal court’s decision. The high court denied his writ.
Rountree’s response to the Supreme Court’s decision was terse.
“When the law and facts do not control the outcome of a case, you have to wonder what does,” Rountree said.
Alan Breithaupt, an attorney with the Breithaupt, DuBos and Wolleson law firm in Monroe, represented Fisher in the case. Breithaupt said his clients were pleased to learn the Second Circuit’s judgment would stand.
“Adrian Fisher fulfilled each and every promise that he made to provide the services that made Cognitive Development Center of Monroe a successful provider of mental health rehabilitation services and other services for our community,” Breithaupt said. “On the other hand, the Court of Appeal recognized that plaintiff, Billy Foster, chose to stop providing services to the Company, as he had promised under his agreement with Mr. Fisher.”
Under the Second Circuit’s ruling, the case was remanded to Hunter’s court to begin the judicial liquidation of CDCMI.
Some of the controversy surrounding the case centered on claims that Sharp failed to render judgment in the case after a trial began in 2015.
“It was under advisement for more than two years before the trial judge retired without making a decision,” stated Rountree’s March 18 writ to the Supreme Court. “Judgment was rendered by an appointed judge without reference to the evidence in the record, and it was decided by the court of appeal based on facts attributed to the trial judge that were opposite of his findings.”
At the time, Sharp did not provide any reasons for his early retirement. In 2003, the Supreme Court suspended Sharp for 60 days because he failed to issue a judgment in five separate cases and failed to accurately report those cases to the court. Supreme Court records show Sharp was the subject of other complaints about delays in deciding cases as well.
Other controversial aspects of the Foster v. Fisher case pertained to allegations of Sharp’s supposed relationship with the defendant, Fisher. Rountree claimed he and his client had learned of rumors that Fisher and Sharp had a “close personal relationship.” Specifically, Rountree said he learned from a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity that Sharp and Fisher also were members of the same fraternity and were shown together in pictures.
“Billy Foster was told that Adrian Fisher and Judge Sharp were seen together approximately one month previous to this motion and that Adrian Fisher or a company that he owns was doing work at Judge Sharp’s home,” stated Rountree’s Dec. 7, 2016 motion to recuse Sharp.
A transcript of a Dec. 2, 2016 court hearing revealed a conversation between Rountree and Sharp about the specifics of the allegations.
Referring to Fisher, Rountree said, “Well, he’s a fraternity brother of yours.
“How do you know that?” Sharp said.
“How do I know that?” Rountree said.
“Yeah,” Sharp said.
“Is it true?” Rountree said.
“I think so,” Sharp said.
“Your picture was in the paper with him,” Rountree said.
Later in that hearing, Sharp addressed Rountree’s objections directly. In his explanation, Sharp referred to “Judge Jones” being parked at the defendant’s home, an apparent reference to retired Judge Benjamin “Ben” Jones, who now serves as the district court’s administrator.
“Listen, let me give you an elocution on this,” Sharp began, “Before this trial started I knew the name Adrian Fisher, but I wouldn’t have been able to point him out. You said I appeared in a photograph with him, maybe, maybe not. I don’t know him. After this trial started when I saw Mr. Fisher in court and probably before then I began to associate his, you know, him with his name. I’ve never been in his home. I didn’t know anything about the businesses Mr. Fisher was involved in. I think or thought at the time he may have been involved in some car dealership a long time ago.
“But that’s about all I know. I found out we are members of the same fraternity or maybe I was reminded of it because I was in his neighborhood one day and there were about twenty-five or thirty cars in front of what I found out to be his residence and I have noticed Judge Jones’ car in there. And I can’t recall how I found out that was Mr. Fisher’s home, but that’s what I knew. I’ve seen Mr. Fisher maybe casually twice while this litigation has taken place. One was at a restaurant called Buffalo Wild Wings and maybe one other time. Actually I think I’ve seen him more than that but I’ve taken steps, the usual precautions you take when you have a hotly contested or a strenuously litigated case.”
When asked about whether Sharp was at Home Depot with Fisher, Sharp said, “I have no recollection of that.”
“I’m not saying it’s true,” Rountree said. “I’ve just been told that.”
“It’s possible,” Sharp said. “I’m at Home Depot a lot.”
During the hearing, Sharp also denied the allegation that Fisher had completed any work for him.
“He’s never done any work for me,” Sharp said. “I don’t — like I’ve told you before I’ve never been in his home and I’m barely acquainted with the man.”
Rountree’s recusal motion also objected to Sharp’s adverse ruling that Foster should not be awarded any part of the company’s profits after his exit from the company in June 2006.
In opposition to Rountree’s allegations, Breithaupt argued the recusal motion was untimely and failed to state any valid grounds for recusal.
“When it became evident at the hearing that Judge Sharp had made certain findings of fact which were adverse to Billy Foster, Foster desperately began to bring forth baseless allegations that Judge Sharp is biased and prejudiced in favor of Fisher to the extent that a recusal is necessary,” stated Breithaupt’s opposition to the recusal motion.
Breithaupt claimed Rountree had previously mentioned Sharp’s fraternity relationship with Fisher around Feb. 17, 2015 — some 21 months before the recusal motion was filed.
“However, the Fosters’ counsel did not suggest any desire to seek recusal of Judge Sharp on this basis,” stated Breithaupt’s opposition.
“Foster seeks to circumvent unfavorable findings of fact by Judge Sharp by filing an untimely motion to recuse contrary to Louisiana law,” stated Breithaupt’s motion. “For clarification, Judge Sharp and Fisher were not in college at the same time. Rather, they each became members of the same fraternal organization, but during different time periods.”
Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Daniel “Danny” Ellender denied the motion to recuse Sharp.
Rountree claimed the Second Circuit’s opinion profoundly misunderstood Sharp’s original ruling when it ruled that Foster had “effectively quit” the company. Instead, Rountree argued, Sharp had ruled more favorably to Foster when the judge stated during an Oct. 18, 2016 hearing, “This is a conclusion of fact: Foster was effectively forced out of the business as an employee in June 2006 and thereafter was effectively denied any rights that he might derive as an owner of the enterprise. That is CDCMI.”
“The decision of the court of appeal resulted from a profound misunderstanding of a statement made during a dialogue intended to encourage Billy Foster to accept the loss of his interest in his business in return for its value when it was taken from him,” stated Rountree’s writ. “It is hard to imagine a more gross departure from proper judicial proceedings.”
The Second Circuit appeared to rely on statements Sharp made in a court hearing in 2017 that the judge believed Foster had “effectively quit” the company in 2006. Rountree claimed the judge’s statement was taken out of context by the appeal court.
“The statement about Foster quitting CDCMI was made in an effort to persuade him (Foster) to accept the loss of his interest in the business,” stated Rountree’s writ. “It is clear from the context of the statement that the appellate court was mistaken in the observation that Foster quit CDCMI and willingly forfeited his interest in the profits.”
In a post-trial brief filed on June 22, 2016, Breithaupt leveled accusations against Foster that appeared similar to those previously alleged against the Fishers. Breithaupt said Foster breached his fiduciary duty to CDCMI by secretly forming the two Another Chance entities, by secretly soliciting CDCMI employees to leave and go to work for the Another Chance entities, secretly applying for mental health rehabilitation and Access-to-Recovery contracts that CDCMI could have performed, defaming Fisher, and intentionally creating dissension among employees.