Gavel

A Fourth Judicial District Court judge placed a hold on a Monroe businessman’s lawsuit against a former business partner, a case that also involves allegations of criminal conduct by a law clerk employed by the court.

Judge Carl Sharp ordered a stay on the proceedings, Stanley R. Palowsky III vs. W. Brandon Cork and others, in district court last week. According to Sharp’s ruling, the stay would not be lifted until another lawsuit brought by Palowsky against law clerk Allyson Campbell and others was resolved. That second lawsuit, Stanley R. Palowsky III vs. Allyson Campbell and others, concerns allegations of criminal conduct that plaintiff’s attorney Joe Ward of Covington said occurred prior to and during the trying of Palowsky’s lawsuit against his business partner, Brandon Cork, and others.

According to Ward’s petition, Campbell destroyed or concealed court documents filed in Stanley R. Palowsky III vs. W. Brandon Cork and others. In that case, Palowsky sought millions of dollars for damages that he claims were incurred because of actions taken by Cork and others. Also according to Ward’s petition in Stanley R. Palowsky III vs. Allyson Campbell and others, Campbell conspired with Sharp and three other district court judges as well as with a former judge to cover up the alleged obstruction of proceedings and the alleged destruction of filings with the court. Sharp and three other judges as well as former Judge Ben Jones were named as defendants in Stanley R. Palowsky III v. Allyson Campbell and others. The three other judges include Judge Wilson Rambo, Judge Fred Amman and Chief Judge Stephens Winters. Jones currently works as the court’s administrator. He retired from the bench at the end of December.

Sharp said his stay of proceedings in Stanley R. Palowsky III v. W. Brandon Cork and others may be lifted if plaintiffs show the postponement was unreasonable. Ward said Sharp’s ruling would be appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeal in Shreveport.

“We strenuously oppose the court taking such action,” Ward said.

According to Ward, Stanley R. Palowsky III v. W. Brandon Cork and others had already been delayed too many times. Cork’s defense attorney, Tom Hayes of Monroe, said Ward’s complaints that the case had “dragged on for a year” were hollow since it was Ward and plaintiff attorney Sedric Banks of Monroe who sidetracked the proceedings by filing a motion to recuse Rambo from presiding over the case in late 2014. It was in Ward’s and Banks’ motion to recuse Rambo that the accusations against Campbell surfaced.

Earlier this month, Sharp became the last of the 11 district court judges to recuse himself from presiding over Stanley R. Palowsky III vs. Allyson Campbell and others. Hayes said Palowsky’s lawsuit against Campbell and the judges was a “ruse to get this court out of the way.”

“That argument does have resonance with me,” Sharp said.

Though every judge at Fourth Judicial District Court has recused themselves from the lawsuit against Campbell and the five jurists, only Rambo and Judge Wendell Manning have thus far recused themselves from presiding over Palowsky’s lawsuit against his former business partner, Cork, and others.

Whether Sharp or other district court judges should recuse themselves from also hearing Palowsky’s case against Cork was the focus of last week’s hearing. The hearing ultimately concluded with Sharp placing a stay on the proceeding.

The hearing began after Sharp moved, he said, “expeditiously,” through the court’s docket to make sitting room in a crowded courtroom. It commenced with Sharp — as he is known to do — standing instead of sitting while he discusses the details of casework and debates case law with counsel.

“I don’t think any judge in this court can hear this case,” Ward said.

Sharp said he “missed” the motion to recuse him specifically, and launched a discussion about Ward issuing subpoenas to six individuals including Sharp and four other judges, including Jones, the former judge who’s now the court administrator.

“I want to talk about these subpoenas first,” Sharp said. “You issued a subpoena to me?”

Those receiving subpoenas from Ward to testify at last week’s hearing were Sharp, Jones, Winters, Judge Sharon Marchman and Monroe attorneys Cody Rials and Joey Grassi. Of those issued subpoenas, only Marchman and Grassi appeared in court. Marchman said she was willing to testify if called to the stand.

In a filing in Stanley R. Palowsky vs. Allyson Campbell and others, Ward wrote that Sharp “has informed all counsel in writing that he is not going to allow any testimony to be submitted during that (last week’s) hearing. Such refusal to hear evidentiary testimony is a clear violation of Palowsky’s rights of due process and meaningful access to courts and is being done for the sole purpose of continuing the cover up.”

That, Ward explained, was the basis for issuing subpoenas, even to the judges.

“In my 38 years of practicing law, I’ve never issued subpoenas to the court,” Ward said. “I’m sitting out here with my pants down because Judge Sharp said he doesn’t anticipate taking testimony.”

“What does that even mean?” added Ward, pacing behind the plaintiff’s table with one arm outstretched. “What would happen if we went to Second Circuit — I know we’re going there — and they say, ‘Ward, you didn’t try to call any witnesses?’”

When Ward pointed out Sharp’s comment about “not anticipating taking any testimony,” Sharp said, “Actually I didn’t say that but I said something very much like it.”

Sharp said his comment was made in light of an effort to “drive” the case “carefully in light of allegations.”

“This is not the way you do it,” Sharp continued. “I thought I was being courteous by telling you I didn’t anticipate taking testimony...Look, this is what happened. A deputy served me with a subpoena. He started going around the office serving them. A judge asked me whether he should get cover up in Morehouse so he could appear in court.”

“If I was a thin-skinned individual, which I’m not,” began Sharp, clearing his throat and pausing. “I would take this as a sign of disrespect.”

Sharp said he “refused to believe” Ward was unaware of laws governing subpoenas issued to judges. Ward said he was familiar with the law, which allows for a contradictory hearing to determine whether the judge should testify or not.

“I need to have a 519 hearing with you, which is why you need to be recused,” Ward said.

Sharp told Ward he perceived Ward’s subpoenas as a scheme made “in zeal” to get his client “some justice” and a violation of the law.

“If you think I’m in direct contempt, you can send me to jail for seven days,” Ward said. “You’re a witness who could show that you and other judges can’t sit on this case.”

“You’ve overstepped, and I think I need to do something about it,” Sharp replied.

At that time, Banks said he would enroll as counsel for Palowsky, insisting that Ward shouldn’t bear the court’s “wrath” alone. Hayes objected to Banks re-enrolling as counsel since Banks had already recused himself from the proceeding because he had served as legal counsel for Alternative Environmental Solutions Inc. (AESI), the company at the heart of the dispute between Palowsky and Cork, in which they were partners.

“He cannot come in on one horse and try to ride a different horse,” Hayes said.

Sharp denied Banks’ request to enroll as counsel.

“I don’t think I should act on the contempt until other motions are resolved,” Sharp said. “I think you punched too hard.”

Ward said Sharp should recuse himself because he and other judges are “interested in the outcome” and “aided and abetted her (Campbell) by covering it up.”

“If correct, some bad business,” Sharp said.

“Not only that, but you conducted an investigation of these same allegations,” noted Ward, referring to Sharp’s and Jones’ investigation of Campbell’s involvement in the possible destruction of court documents in a separate case as unveiled in a written complaint filed against her by Monroe attorney Cody Rials.

“It’s the appearance,” Ward said. “She’s (Campbell) involved in this case. That’s how we got off the rails in the first place. The court knew about this since 2012.”

Ward said he did not believe Sharp was biased but simply “interested in the outcome.”

“Hell, you’re not biased,” Ward said. “You’ve ruled in my favor a number of times. But you’re interested in the cause and you’ve got to punt it to an ad hoc.”

Sharp said Ward had not given a “satisfactory” explanation for issuing subpoenas to the judges or for establishing grounds for his recusal.

“It looks like you were bolstering your motion to recuse with subpoenas,” said Sharp, before adding that Ward was “ginning up, G-I-N-N-I-N-G up issues for court reporter.”

Ward said twice that he had a number of documents he had not entered into the record.

“I didn’t put half of what I could’ve put in my filings,” Ward said.

Sharp, who had asked that Campbell remain unnamed in the proceeding, said none of Ward’s points had “anything to do with the merits of the case.” Sharp said he would not deny Ward’s motion.

“You manufactured grounds for recusation,” Sharp said. “I may very well deny the motion but not today.”

Before Sharp issued his ruling to stay Palowsky’s lawsuit against his former business partner, Marchman asked that letters showing her requests to the Fourth Judicial District Court’s human resources director Julie Cunningham be entered into the case record. Marchman said that Winters and others “told her not to produce those documents,” but she wanted her request to be entered into the record as proof of her cooperation.

Sharp said his signing of defendants’ motion to quash subpoenas excluded Marchman from testifying and that he also was considering blocking her from entering documents into the court record.

“I’m not sure I’m going to allow you to file anything into the record,” Sharp said.

Marchman said that Sharp had told her his order need not apply to her if she had no objection.

“You misstate or I misspoke,” Sharp said.

Sharp’s order states, “To avoid any disruption to normal court business, any such person who fairly falls within the description of ‘judicial officer’ or ‘court employee’ may proceed with his or her normal activities on the date of subpoena return...”

Marchman elaborated on her prior discussion with Sharp regarding the subpoenas, saying, “As you recall, in the kitchen you advised me you signed the motion to quash at Ben Jones’ request so Julie wouldn’t have to produce.”

Sharp eventually said he would allow Marchman’s documents to be entered into the court record if litigants approved it.

The case for Stanley R. Palowsky III vs. W. Brandon Cork and others was still in the judges’ office and had not been returned to the Clerk of Court’s office for public viewing as of Tuesday morning.

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