Ouachita Parish Clerk of Court Dana Benson restored the public's access to a Monroe businessman's lawsuit alleging wrongdoing at Fourth Judicial District Court last week after The Ouachita Citizen questioned why her office sealed the record from view for more than three weeks.
Stanley Palowsky III is sued law clerk Allyson Campbell and accused her of concealing or destroying court documents he filed with the Clerk of Court's office in a separate racketeering lawsuit against a former business partner. Palowsky also sued five Fourth Judicial District Court judges, claiming the five elected officials conspired to protect Campbell and cover up her alleged shenanigans.
The five judges include Fred Amman, Ben Jones, Wilson Rambo, Carl Sharp and Stephens Winters. Amman, Jones and Sharp have since retired from the bench, though Jones is now the court administrator.
The lawsuit has been ongoing since 2015.
Benson claimed one of her employees mistakenly sealed the record in Stanley R. Palowsky III and others v. Allyson Campbell and others.
“Someone was trying to seal some specific things,” Benson said. “They went about it the wrong way. It's been unsealed now.”
According to Benson, the deputy clerk who inadvertently sealed the Campbell lawsuit was Janae Madison. Madison's mother-in-law, Marie Madison, previously served as the judicial assistant to Sharp, one of the five defendant judges in the Campbell lawsuit.
The sealing of Palowsky's case was unusual since Benson's staff could not produce any court orders ordering the record to be closed to the public. At the time, Benson told The Ouachita Citizen the record was sealed under an order by retired Judge Jerome “Jerry” Barbera, of Thibodaux. Barbera has presided over the Campbell lawsuit as an ad hoc, or special appointed, judge since 2015.
On June 1, Benson specifically told the newspaper an order to seal the case was filed and Barbera signed it.
“When I talked to you yesterday, I don't know why I thought it was sealed,” Benson told The Ouachita Citizen the next day.
When asked who ordered the record to be sealed, Benson said, “I thought he had,” referring to a previous order issued by Barbera to seal certain parts of the Campbell lawsuit.
In September 2020, Barbera issued a protective order that made any evidence produced during the (evidence) discovery process confidential unless all parties—including Campbell and the judges—agreed to make it available to the public.
Under Barbera's order, evidence that would automatically be made confidential included discovery items like internal court documents or transcripts of witnesses giving testimony during depositions.
The defendants have already objected that Palowsky violated Barbera's protective order when the businessman quoted excerpts from depositions of witnesses who testified that Monroe attorney Jon Guice was aware of Campbell's activities and believed there were grounds to terminate her or that Second Circuit Court of Appeal Chief Judge Milton Moore had a bias against Palowsky's father, Stanley Palowsky Jr.
Palowsky is currently challenging the legality of Barbera's protective order in an appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal in Gretna.
The Ouachita Citizen spent several hours at the Clerk of Court's office on June 2 as Benson reviewed the Campbell lawsuit records, conferred with deputy clerks and her office's software company to determine how the record was sealed.
Benson reviewed the record of certain filings in the Campbell lawsuit that were made on April 16 but were not available for public viewing.
“Something's not right,” Benson said. “Parts are here, and parts of it are not.”
Benson ultimately determined some records were not available digitally because Barbera had not yet signed them while other exhibits filed on April 16 were supposed to remain confidential, or sealed, under Barbera's protective order.
Initially, Benson said she did not know who had sealed the record. The Ouachita Citizen inquired whether her office's software company kept an electronic record of who accessed digital records, such as those in the Campbell lawsuit.
“The electronic system shows us the sealing of it, but not who sealed it,” Benson told the newspaper. “It's not something I can just see.”
The Ouachita Citizen referred Benson to her previous comments about her office's new e-filing system and how it kept extensive records of who accessed any file in the record. Benson explained she could not personally access details such as who accessed a record or made changes to it without reaching out to the e-filing system's software company.
Later, she returned with a report from I3 Software and Services, the software company supporting her office's e-filing system, that showed the Campbell lawsuit was sealed on May 11 at 9:29 a.m. by Janae Madison.
According to Benson, there were two options in the e-filing system to seal the entire record or to seal an individual filing or exhibit. Madison must have clicked the menu option to seal the entire record instead of clicking the button to seal an individual exhibit filed on April 16, as required under Barbera's protective order, according to Benson.
“She just went about it the wrong way, and when she gets back, I will talk to her about it,” Benson said.