Monroe businessman Stanley Palowsky III gained the court’s approval last week to pursue his allegations against two Fourth Judicial District Court officials for engaging in case fixing as part of a scheme to conceal illegal activity at the courthouse.
During a virtual hearing held by ZOOM last week, a special appointed judge ruled that Palowsky could question court officials about his claims that retired Judge Benjamin “Ben” Jones sent an ex parte communication to now-retired Judge Carl Sharp in 2015. Jones, who now serves as the court’s administrator, urged Sharp to change a ruling in a case involving Palowsky’s business, Alternative Environmental Solutions Inc. (AESI), according to Palowsky.
The fate of Palowsky’s business, AESI, is at the heart of his 2013 lawsuit, Stanley R. Palowsky III and others v. W. Brandon Cork and others. In the Cork case, Palowsky said he and AESI were blackballed for blowing the whistle on overbilling and racketeering on environmental remediation projects. It was during the Cork case that Palowsky first accused Allyson Campbell, a law clerk at the district court, of concealing or destroying documents he filed with the court.
In 2015, Palowsky filed a separate lawsuit against Campbell and also sued judges Jones, Sharp, Fred Amman, Wilson Rambo, and Stephens Winters. The judges had conspired to conceal Campbell’s activities, Palowsky claimed.
As reported by The Ouachita Citizen last month, internal documents from the Fourth Judicial District Court appeared on both the deep web and the open web as the result of a cybersecurity incident. Among the documents disclosed by the hackers was a handwritten note from Jones to Sharp as well as a four-page draft of Sharp’s proposed ruling, with notes from Jones written in the margins.
In his note, Jones recommended Sharp dismiss a pending 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 last month 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.
During last week’s hearing, Palowsky’s attorney, Sedric Banks, of Monroe, noted his client could file a pleading containing new allegations against Jones because the five defendant judges had failed to answer the original petition in the Campbell lawsuit. If the court denied his client’s request to pursue the new allegations, Palowsky would have to file another lawsuit, according to Banks.
Shreveport attorney Lawrence “Larry” Pettiette, who is representing Campbell, argued Palowsky prematurely filed the pleading with the new case fixing allegations, by doing so without asking the court for permission.
“The court is the gatekeeper,” said Pettiette. “There’s no question they needed the leave of court.”
Pettiette claimed his client was not tied to the new allegations concerning Jones and Sharp.
“If Mr. Banks thinks he needs to file another lawsuit, file another lawsuit,” Pettiette said.
Monroe attorney Jon Guice, who represents the five defendant judges, echoed Pettiette’s arguments. Guice also argued that Jones and Sharp did nothing improper by communicating with each other because they were each acting as a judge. At the time, Guice claimed Jones was acting as a “supernumerary pro tempore judge” and could not be sued for acts taken in his capacity as a judge.
“Judges can talk among themselves,” Guice said. “Judges can talk to judges.”
Guice made that argument in spite of Jones’ previous, repeated admissions to The Ouachita Citizen that he was not acting as a judge but as a court administrator.
Jones and Sharp’s communications were not shared with other parties in the lawsuit, the newspaper found.
Referring to requirements in the state 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.”
If the court allowed the allegations against Jones to be made part of the court record, the boundaries of discovery could change, according to Guice. He likened the new allegations against Jones to “trying to play football on a field that has no sidelines.”
In response, Banks argued that Jones and Sharp’s correspondence in the Cork case showed two court officials trying to manipulate the outcome of a hearing in a case that could financially affect them.
That would be the case because Palowsky’s success or failure in the Cork case would determine whether damages were awarded in the Campbell case where Jones and Sharp are each defendants, according to Banks.
“He was changing his decision,” Banks said. “It was case fixing.”
Retired Judge Jerome “Jerry” Barbera, of Thibodaux, who is presiding over the Campbell lawsuit, granted Palowsky’s motion to amend the Campbell lawsuit to include the new case fixing allegations. According to Barbera, the court only had to consider whether the new allegations were related or connected to the allegations of the original petition.
“How the information was obtained for this pleading is not before the court,” Barbera said. “It is difficult to see how the new allegations are not related.”
Barbera dismissed the arguments offered by Pettiette and Guice and noted the addition of new allegations would not delay the case, which has yet to begin discovery in preparation for a trial.