Law clerk Allyson Campbell could not have destroyed court documents filed in a local businessman’s lawsuit at Fourth Judicial District Court in Monroe unless she looked at the documents and handled them first, her attorney says.
Campbell’s review and handling of court documents in a 2013 controversial lawsuit was significant, because those actions are usually understood to form part of a judicial function, which is protected from lawsuits through judicial immunity, according to Monroe attorney Brian Crawford.
Crawford asked the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge last week to give his client a second hearing to reconsider her liability to Monroe businessman Stanley Palowsky III, who sued Campbell and five district court judges in July 2015. The name of that lawsuit was Stanley R. Palowsky III v. Allyson Campbell and others.
The First Circuit ruled last month that Palowsky could proceed with his lawsuit for damages against Campbell, who was accused of concealing or destroying court documents filed by Palowsky in a separate lawsuit against his former business partner, Brandon Cork. Though the First Circuit ruled Campbell could be sued, the appeal court said the five district court judges enjoyed judicial immunity.
Judicial immunity protects judges from civil claims based on any actions they undertook in a judicial capacity. The judges shielded from Palowsky’s lawsuit included Fred Amman, Wilson Rambo, Carl Sharp, Stephens Winters, and retired Judge Ben Jones, who now serves as the court administrator.
“There is no contention that Ms. Campbell did not review the documents before allegedly destroying or withholding them, but actually implies that Ms. Campbell reviewed the documents to determine whether they were favorable to the plaintiff, and thus, needed to be destroyed,” Crawford wrote.
Crawford’s application for a re-hearing on behalf of Campbell was filed at the First Circuit on April 24.
Law clerks are normally tasked with assisting a judge to perform judicial actions, and any action assisting the judicial function would be protected by judicial immunity, according to the First Circuit’s majority opinion, written by Judge Page McClendon.
Under Crawford’s argument, destroying court filings also was part of the judicial function because a law clerk could not destroy a document without handling it first. That argument differed from the ruling issued by the First Circuit, which found that destruction of court documents was independent, or outside, the judicial process.
“However, that immunity cannot extend to the independent act by a law clerk of intentionally destroying documents or withholding documents from the judge or jury without the judge’ s knowledge,” McClendon wrote. “The intentional destruction or concealment of court documents that was not at the direction or instruction of a judge, as alleged herein, is not part of the adjudicative process. Rather, it is the antithesis of the judicial function.”
came up missing?
The documents allegedly destroyed were filed in Palowsky’s lawsuit against Cork, Stanley R. Palowsky III and others v. W. Brandon Cork and others.
In late 2014, Palowsky’s attorneys, Sedric Banks of Monroe and Joe Ward of Covington, filed a motion to recuse Rambo from presiding over Palowsky v. Cork, claiming the judge had exhibited bias in favor of the defendants.
The alleged bias resulted from the confiscation or destruction of Palowsky’s court filings in the lawsuit, while his adversaries’ documents survived, the attorneys alleged.
“Meanwhile, information surfaced of Judge Rambo’s law clerk (Campbell) withholding and shredding court documents and causing delays in the present litigation,” stated Palowsky’s motion to recuse Rambo from Palowsky v. Cork.
Specifically, Banks and Ward claimed some of the court documents filed on behalf of Palowsky were never delivered to Rambo or incorporated into the court record, though they later found one of the missing documents was entered into the electronic record maintained by the Ouachita Parish Clerk of Court’s office.
When an appeal in Palowsky v. Cork went to the Second Circuit Court of Appeal in 2014, Palowsky claimed some of his court documents were missing from the Second Circuit’s record. His filings were found to be missing from the record though Cork’s filings remained intact, including Cork’s memorandum of opposition to one of Palowsky’s pleadings, according to Palowsky v. Campbell.
Also missing from the Second Circuit’s record was Palowsky’s pleading to add Cork’s attorney — Tom Hayes III, of Monroe — as a defendant, stated the Palowsky v. Campbell lawsuit. The Second Circuit, in an opinion written by Judge Milton Moore III, ruled in early 2015 that Palowsky v. Cork should be immediately settled and proceed no further.
As noted in Palowsky v. Campbell, Campbell previously wrote a society column for The (Monroe) News-Star and used that space to express admiration for both Hayes and Moore, for whom Campbell once served as law clerk when Moore was a judge at Fourth Judicial District Court.
clerk for Rambo?
Palowsky’s motion to recuse Rambo from Palowsky v. Cork and other subsequent court filings stated Campbell served as a law clerk for Rambo. Palowsky’s attorney, Ward, indicated earlier this year he had discovered Campbell was not the law clerk assigned to assist Rambo on Palowsky v. Cork.
“She wasn’t working on Rambo’s case,” said Ward in the Feb. 7 hearing before the First Circuit in Baton Rouge. “She said she may have done something on that case. She was in the courthouse.”
Crawford’s re-hearing application, however, stated Campbell served as Rambo’s law clerk on Palowsky v. Cork.
“She was therefore authorized to have access to documents at issue in the underlying case,” Crawford wrote.
in Palowsky v. Cork?
Crawford’s re-hearing application also raised the question — again — about whether Campbell handled any court documents filed in Palowsky v. Cork, a point which Campbell has provided apparently contradictory answers since 2015.
According to Crawford’s re-hearing application, Campbell was both authorized to work on Palowsky v. Cork and apparently performed work on the case as well.
“In support of her Exception of No Cause of Action, Ms. Campbell asserted that her alleged actions involving court documents, to which she had authorized access as the law clerk to the presiding judge in the underlying matter, constitute judicial functions; thus, she claimed entitlement to the same absolute immunity as (the) judges,” Crawford wrote.
Campbell previously distanced herself from the claim that she handled any court filings in Palowsky v. Cork. On March 12, 2015, Campbell wrote a letter to Jones, the court administrator, stating Rambo would support the claim that she never worked on Palowsky v. Cork.
“One issue I would like to bring before the Court is that Judge Rambo spoke to the attorneys in the Palowsky case at issue and told them I never worked on their case,” Campbell wrote. “It was never on the docket for me to do so. Second, the attorneys making the allegations against me about withholding/shredding documents in the Palowsky case submitted a list of all motions, etc. filed and, upon inspection of the record, the Court found everything in order. Nothing was missing.”
Campbell’s March 12, 2015 letter to Jones was part of her personnel file, which The Ouachita Citizen obtained along with other internal district court documents through a public records request in 2016.
In Campbell’s peremptory exception of prescription, filed Aug. 10, 2015 in Palowsky v. Campbell, she claimed she did not handle any of the documents included in the Palowsky v. Cork record sent to the Second Circuit for appeal.
“As can be clearly noted from the attached Affidavit of Ms. Campbell, Ms. Campbell had absolutely no involvement in presenting any writ material or record submitted to the Second Circuit,” stated Campbell’s peremptory exception of prescription.
Campbell’s account of having “never worked on their case” changed when she provided an affidavit to the court on Aug. 10, 2015. In her affidavit, she admitted to preparing a memorandum in Palowsky v. Cork.
“She has prepared one memo for a hearing before the Court in Palowsky et al v. Cork, Docket No. 2013-2059, for January 14, 2014,” stated Campbell’s affidavit. “The issues before the Court on that date included defendants’ Motion to Strike, an Exception of Vagueness, and an Exception of No Cause of Action. She does not know the ruling of the Court in those matters and has never worked on the case again, as it has never been on the docket for her to do so.”
In 2015, authorities commenced an investigation of Campbell for official misconduct and corrupt practices. The state Office of Inspector General led the investigation with assistance provided by the Louisiana State Police Bureau of Investigation. Both Inspector General Stephen Street and state Attorney General Jeff Landry concluded the criminal investigation did not produce enough evidence to secure a lasting conviction of Campbell.
During investigators’ Jan. 28, 2016 interview with Campbell, she repeated the claim that she handled one court filing in Palowsky v. Cork. An audio recording of the interview was made and released to The Ouachita Citizen along with the investigative record in response to its public records request in 2016.
“Did you do any work at all in this Palowsky vs. Cork lawsuit?” said State Police Investigator Ron Huey.
“I did one motion in January 2014 that I had to go back and look on my computer to find,” Campbell said. “It didn’t stand out in my mind. I think it was a motion or an exception that, it didn’t stand out. But that’s the only thing I’ve done.”