Months after a U.S. appellate court upheld the dismissal of Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Sharon Marchman’s lawsuit against other district court officials, a federal judge has ruled that Marchman must pay the defendants’ court costs.
Marchman was ordered to pay court costs but not required to pay attorneys’ fees, U.S. District Court Judge Maurice Hicks ruled in a July 20 order.
That would be the case because the motion for sanctions filed by two of the defendants — Allyson Campbell, a law clerk at the district court, and her attorney, Brian Crawford, of Monroe — was granted in part but also denied in part.
Hicks granted sanctions in the form of court costs, because it was “frivolous” for Marchman to claim that either Campbell or Crawford had the ability to infringe Marchman’s First Amendment rights, in retaliation for shedding light on the court’s activities.
Hicks also admonished Marchman on that matter.
Meanwhile, Hicks partially denied the defendants’ request for sanctions, because Marchman’s lawsuit was not an attempt to harass as they alleged. The court also determined that Marchman’s allegations either had or would have had the support of evidence, if allowed to proceed.
“In the present action, Marchman’s factual allegations in her petition are so detailed that the Court concludes there would have been evidentiary support offered later in the litigation,” Hicks’ ruling stated. “Although the factual allegations do not bring Marchman’s claims within the ambit of a First Amendment retaliation claim, the Court is not persuaded that Marchman’s factual allegations lacked evidentiary support.”
In early 2016, Marchman sued other district court officials, including Campbell and Crawford, for supposedly retaliating against Marchman and violating her constitutional rights when she tried to uncover Campbell’s alleged payroll fraud and destruction of documents at the court.
Hicks dismissed Marchman’s lawsuit in February 2017, ruling that Marchman’s constitutional rights were not endangered by the allegations Marchman raised in her petition.
A three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled in March that some of Marchman’s allegations may have risen to the level of being state law violations but did not constitute violations of her constitutional rights, such as her First Amendment rights to free speech.
“Speaking out against perceived injustices at the risk of damaging working relationships no doubt requires substantial courage, but not every consequence suffered in connection with speech amounts to a constitutional violation,” stated the 5th Circuit’s ruling.
Though Marchman sued nine people, only two asked for sanctions against Marchman and her attorneys.
In response to the sanctions requests made by Crawford and Campbell in June, Hicks ruled that neither Marchman nor her attorneys made any allegations or offered any evidence that indicated the two defendants had violated Marchman’s First Amendment rights to free speech.
Because Marchman should have been familiar with constitutional law as an elected member of the Louisiana judiciary, she was admonished by the court.
“However, the Court can and does admonish Marchman for her role in the litigation,” Hicks’ ruling stated. “As an attorney and member of this State’s judiciary, Marchman should at least be minimally competent in this area of the law.”
Marchman said she was surprised by Hicks’ ruling.
“It was really surprising in light of the Fifth Circuit’s ruling in the case,” Marchman said. “The 5th Circuit commended me for having the courage to stand up. They referred to the law clerk as a rogue law clerk and highly corrupt.”
“It’s hard to reconcile Judge Hicks’ ruling in light of all that,” Marchman added.
Marchman was referring to remarks made by 5th Circuit Judge Stephen Higginson during oral arguments in January.
When defendants’ counsel suggested that Marchman’s allegations were of no concern to the public, Higginson offered several pointed remarks.
“So she’s (Campbell) not licensed,” Higginson said. “She agrees she falsified that sign-in statement, or that’s the allegation that she falsified (it). She destroyed documents. She pays $200 to the woman who finds all the habeas filings. I mean, it would seem to me, coupled with the absenteeism, you have an issue of public concern. You had a rogue law clerk, who is highly corrupt and destroying documents. Well, how could you possibly say that isn’t something of public concern to expose?”
In his written reasons for denying sanctions sought by Campbell and Crawford, Hicks said that the two defendants’ motions did not contain “clear and convincing evidence that would persuade the Court that every facet of the litigation was patently meritless and evidence of bad faith, improper motive, or reckless disregard of the duty owed to the court.”