An ad hoc judge ruled last week to stay discovery, or forbid the taking of depositions and answering of interrogatories, in a Monroe businessman’s lawsuit against Fourth Judicial District Court officials.
The stay of discovery in Stanley Palowsky’s lawsuit against law clerk Allyson Campbell and other court officials would remain in effect until all other pending motions before the court in Stanley R. Palowsky III vs. Allyson Campbell and others are resolved. The other defendants in Palowsky’s lawsuit include Chief Judge Stephens Winters, judges Wilson Rambo, Carl Sharp, Fred Amman and former judge Ben Jones, who now serves as court administrator. Jones retired from the bench last December.
Palowsky’s lawsuit concerns allegations that Campbell destroyed or intentionally concealed court documents during a separate civil proceeding involving Palowsky and his former business partner, Brandon Cork. That lawsuit is Stanley R. Palowsky III vs. W. Brandon Cork and others. The lawsuit against Campbell was filed and amended in late July, accusing Campbell of criminal activity and claiming the five defendant judges were involved in “aiding and abetting Campbell by concealing her wrongdoings.”
When last week’s hearing at the Ouachita Parish Courthouse began, ad hoc Judge Jerry Barbera narrowed the hearing’s focus to the defendants’ motions to stay discovery. Barbera is a retired district court judge from Lafourche Parish. The Louisiana Supreme Court appointed him as an ad hoc judge in Stanley R. Palowsky III vs. Allyson Campbell and others. According to Barbera, the issue at hand at Friday’s hearing was deciding whether the plaintiff needed discovery to answer the pending motions or whether the defendants’ motion to stay discovery should be granted so other pending motions could be resolved instead.
Barbera acknowledged there was little jurisprudence, or legal theory, on staying discovery since jurists must have discretion in certain matters. This matter concerned “very serious allegations of misconduct,” Barbera said.
“Discovery, when I first started practicing law, was kind of an unusual thing, especially in rural areas,” Barbera said. “Discovery has now risen to be a huge part of litigation, and often the most expensive part of litigation.”
Barbera cited cases such as Feldman v. Flood in Florida where a preliminary peek was recommended to determine whether discovery would be a costly or time-consuming burden when the case might ultimately be dismissed.
“A judge should kind of peek ahead and see if you think they (other motions) have merit, and if you think it could be dismissed, you stay discovery,” Barbera said. “I don’t think that’s the right approach.”
“I don’t think I’m stripping the plaintiff’s ability to defend by staying discovery,” he added.
There are some 10 motions and exceptions in Stanley R. Palowsky III vs. Allyson Campbell and others including a motion to strike, motion for contempt, request for sanctions, exception of no cause of action, exception of no right of action, exception of prescription and exception of lack of subject matter jurisdiction. These motions and exceptions among other related documents can be viewed at www.ouachitacitizen.com.
A trial on these motions and exceptions has been scheduled for Nov. 5 and Nov. 6 at the Ouachita Parish Courthouse.
Brian Crawford, a Monroe attorney representing Campbell, asked the court to administer “governance of highly unprecedented proceedings.” According to Crawford, the plaintiff’s petitions contained “immaterial, irrelevant matters” spread in a “virtual wild west approach or frontier approach where you shoot first with a very broad shotgun shell.”
“I submit this has gotten very bad,” said Crawford, before pausing. “Very bad.”
Crawford asked the court to strike 52 of 88 articles in the amended petition penned by Palowsky’s attorneys Joe Ward of Covington and Sedric Banks of Monroe. Some of the 88 articles in Stanley R. Palowsky III vs. Allyson Campbell and others include accusations that Campbell shredded or hid court documents “with malice... to obtain unjust advantages for his (Palowsky’s) opponents and their counsel.” Another article in the plaintiff’s petition claims Campbell was involved in possible payroll fraud at the district court while another article states an eyewitness claimed Campbell “boasted in a local bar” of withholding court documents in a separate civil proceeding involving Monroe attorney Cody Rials.
These other accusations were immaterial to Stanley R. Palowsky III vs. Allyson Campbell and others, Crawford said. According to Crawford, the only substantial allegation worth exploring in Palowsky’s lawsuit was that “a judicial law clerk secreted documents.”
“Will a narrowing of the issues and reduction of paragraphs produce a more orderly process?” Crawford said. “Payroll issues are totally immaterial. An isolated incident (with Rials) in her 14-year career has nothing to do with the case. Her work habits, education background, professional background, lifestyle and philosophies are totally immaterial.”
Monroe attorney Jon Guice, who represents the five defendant judges, also asked the court to stay discovery.
“If lawyers are left to our unfettered discretions, all hell will break loose,” Guice said.
Guice claimed that retired Judge Anne Simon had been “pulled into this proceeding” without reason except to “champion the rights of the newspaper and to get another bite.” Simon served as ad hoc judge when the district court sued The Ouachita Citizen for declaratory judgment, and ultimately ruled the newspaper’s public records requests to view Campbell’s personnel file would unreasonably violate her right to privacy. According to Guice, the newspaper didn’t appeal Simon’s ruling and therefore recognized Simon’s ruling was reasonable.
Before Ward spoke to the court, Barbera told Ward to stay “focused on the issue.” Barbera’s directive followed lengthy opening remarks by Crawford and Guice. Ward began by responding to Guice’s claim that he and Banks had “impugned” Simon, but Barbera interrupted him and asked him again to stay focused on the issue. After Ward’s second attempt to address Guice’s claims, Barbera silenced him.
“I don’t want to hear anything about that,” Barbera said.
Ward said all 88 articles in his amended petition were relevant to the proceeding.
“I could have put a lot of stuff in there that I didn’t,” Ward said. “It’s all relevant. No one’s suggesting you (Barbera) don’t have discretion. What they’re (Crawford and Guice) suggesting is that we come in here without talking about anything and let you decide everything in a vacuum.”
Ward said he could not fully address factual claims by the defendants, including Crawford’s submission of an affidavit of fact from Campbell, if he and Banks were not allowed to take depositions through discovery.
“Your honor, how can I oppose these factual claims when I’m not allowed to take depositions,” Ward said. “I’m telling the court we cannot respond to the allegations in these motions without discovery.”
Crawford described the plaintiff’s motion for discovery as a “fishing expedition.” According to Crawford, the civil proceeding had deteriorated into a “circus” and “civil witch hunt proceeding” of “absolute, uncontrolled chaos, harassment and oppression.” Also, Crawford said Palowsky’s lawsuit had resulted in “embarrassment to our legal community” and submitted Campbell to “months of public embarrassment,” too. The plaintiff’s actions have resembled a “scattershot flurry of shoot first, ask questions later proceedings,” Crawford said.
“Every Wednesday her (Campbell’s) name is splattered over the front page of a local newspaper,” said Crawford, referring to The Ouachita Citizen.
Barbera said a stay of discovery would not prohibit the introduction of evidence on other motions or exceptions.
“The issue is not whether plaintiff or defendants can present evidence on exceptions, but that’s not what we’re here for today,” Barbera said. “If they want to subpoena witnesses, they can. Discovery is not the issue.”
“We may be headed to a presentation of testimony,” Barbera added.
According to Crawford, Campbell did not intend to invoke her Fifth Amendment privilege to decline to answer questions that might incriminate her. However, Crawford asked the court to decide “what is sufficiently or insufficiently plead or material to the case...before she testifies.”
Barbera said Ward’s amended petition of 19 pages with 88 articles reciting “numerous allegations, some with particularity” indicated the plaintiff “has done a lot of footwork.”
“From a fairness standpoint, I can’t see that there’s any loss to the plaintiff if there’s any loss of discovery,” Barbera said.
During last week’s hearing, Guice noted that only judges Jones, Winters and Amman were present. Defendants Rambo and Sharp were holding court.
“The fact that they’re not here underlies...the effect on the court and the legal community,” Guice said.
Unlike Campbell, the judges enjoyed absolute immunity, according to Guice.
“You should’ve decided immunity first,” Guice said.
Later, Ward said his amended petition carefully identified the defendant judges’ actions in the alleged cover-up as “administrative, not judicial.” That meant the judges had no immunity.
“We specifically identify these acts as ‘administrative, not judicial,’” Ward said. “A judge cannot put on his robe when he’s doing administrative things. There is no immunity.”
Following the hearing, Barbera asked for a status conference so he could “be informed of peripheral matters,” including the related lawsuit, Stanley R. Palowsky III vs. W. Brandon Cork and others.
The matters at the heart of Palowsky’s lawsuit against Campbell and the judges first surfaced in a motion to recuse Rambo from presiding over Stanley R. Palowsky III vs. W. Brandon Cork and others. In Ward’s and Banks’ motion to recuse Rambo, Campbell, serving as Rambo’s law clerk, was accused of destroying or intentionally withholding court documents. Rambo recused himself from presiding over the case but denied exhibiting any bias against Palowsky or his attorneys.
The motion to recuse Rambo sparked The Ouachita Citizen’s investigation into the case and led to the newspaper submitting numerous public records requests for documents from Fourth Judicial District Court. Some documents were produced by the district court while others were withheld. The newspaper eventually filed a criminal complaint with Fourth Judicial District Attorney Jerry Jones’ office, asking for an investigation into the failure of the court to release requested documents and also to investigate possible payroll discrepancies first revealed in an audit of the court’s finances.
Later, the District Attorney’s office as well as the state’s Office of Inspector General and Louisiana State Police initiated an investigation into the district court. The investigation is ongoing.