Monroe businessman Stanley Palowsky III cannot be stopped from seeking civil damages against Allyson Campbell, a law clerk at Fourth Judicial District Court in Monroe, in spite of an ad hoc judge’s decision to shield Campbell from litigation, an appeal court ruled last week.
Though Palowsky may proceed with his lawsuit against Campbell, the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge ruled Palowsky could not sue judges in the Fourth Judicial District Court for damages.
Palowsky sued Campbell in July 2015, accusing her of concealing or destroying documents he filed in a separate lawsuit against his former business partner, Brandon Cork. Palowsky also sued Fourth Judicial District Court judges Fred Amman, Wilson Rambo, Carl Sharp, Stephens Winters and retired Judge Ben Jones, who now serves as the court’s administrator. Palowsky claimed the five judges conspired to conceal Campbell’s activities.
In an April 11 opinion, the First Circuit overturned ad hoc Judge Jerome “Jerry” Barbera’s November 2015 decision to extend the shield of judicial immunity to Campbell. Campbell clerks for district court judges but is not a licensed attorney.
Judicial immunity protects judges from civil claims based on any actions they undertook in a judicial capacity. The First Circuit’s ruling pointed out that a law clerk was tasked with assisting a judge to “carry out judicial functions.” Any action taken to assist the judicial function would be protected by judicial immunity, stated the First Circuit’s opinion, written by Judge Page McClendon.
“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.”
No matter how wrong or injurious a judge’s activities were, the judges could not be deprived of judicial immunity, the First Circuit ruled, echoing Barbera’s November 2015 order.
Instead of assessing all costs of the appeal to Palowsky or the defendants, the First Circuit said one-half of the appeal costs would be shared by Palowsky and the other half by Campbell and the judges.
Three First Circuit judges wrote separate dissenting opinions, each arguing that the majority’s opinion inconsistently applied the protections of judicial immunity to Campbell and the judges.
Chief Judge Vanessa Whipple said Campbell should have been granted judicial immunity along with the defendant judges while Judge Will Crain said the defendant judges should never have been granted judicial immunity.
“In my view, the handling of evidence is incidental to the discharging of a judge’ s duties,” Whipple wrote. “Moreover, as the jurisprudence demonstrates, even if such handling (or mishandling) was performed with malice or, wrongful intent resulting in the destruction of evidence, a law clerk is entitled to the same absolute immunity for civil liability afforded judges.”
Whipple’s dissenting opinion reflected the arguments made by Campbell’s attorney, Brian Crawford of Monroe, and the defendant judges’ attorney, Jon Guice of Monroe, during a hearing earlier this year before the First Circuit in Baton Rouge.
Crain, on the other hand, said the judges should not be “immunized” for aiding or concealing Campbell’s activities, if those activities were in fact non-judicial, as the majority opinion ruled. Crain’s dissenting opinion echoed arguments made by Palowsky’s attorneys, Joe Ward of Covington and Sedric Banks of Monroe, that the failure to supervise a law clerk was an administrative act, not a judicial act.
“The doctrine of judicial immunity does not shield judicial actors from civil liability for criminal acts,” Crain said. “Extending the doctrine of judicial immunity to include civil liability for alleged criminal conduct, as in this case, risks undermining the public’ s trust in the judiciary, which I cannot countenance.”
In his dissenting opinion, First Circuit Judge Guy Holdridge said it was “without question” that judges and law clerks enjoyed absolute judicial immunity but noted he would have allowed Palowsky an opportunity to amend his petition to include more specific allegations “whereby the plaintiffs were damaged by any action of Ms. Campbell that were not related to judicial proceedings.”
Paragraphs struck from petition
Some of the allegations in Palowsky’s lawsuit pertained to other activities by Campbell and the judges beyond the accusations that court documents were concealed or destroyed.
In his November 2015 ruling, Barbera struck numerous paragraphs from Palowsky’s lawsuit, or petition, including allegations that Campbell had committed payroll fraud. Louisiana State Police and the state Inspector General’s office investigated Campbell for payroll fraud and for the concealment or destruction of court documents in 2016. Inspector General Stephen Street and state Attorney General Jeff Landry each said the investigation did not turn up enough evidence to secure a lasting conviction of Campbell.
The First Circuit upheld Barbera’s ruling to strike paragraphs about the payroll irregularities and investigations, but reversed Barbera’s decision to strike details about the alleged concealment or destruction of documents.
“While many of the stricken allegations in Mr. Palowsky’s amended petition have nothing to do with his present lawsuit, some of the stricken paragraphs arguably show a prior history of concealment or destruction of court documents by Ms. Campbell,” stated the First Circuit’s opinion.
“Campbell boasted in a local bar that she had shredded or withheld a court document in another case and that she had a weekly society column entitled, ‘A modern guide to handle your scandal,’ in which she made comments, such as, ‘I represent to you all the sins you have never had the courage to commit,’ and, ‘It’s not cheating if it’s in your favor.’”
In addition to its ruling, the First Circuit also attached Palowsky’s petition, including the stricken paragraphs.
The ruling, petition and dissenting opinions can be viewed online at www.ouachitacitizen.com.