Some Fourth Judicial District Court judges are trying to escape liability in a federal lawsuit against them by relying on arguments at odds with the defense they have struck in previous litigation.

That was the gist of a July 6 pleading filed by Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Sharon Marchman, who is suing judges Fred Amman, Wilson Rambo, Carl Sharp and retired Judge Ben Jones, who is now the court administrator. Marchman is suing the judges as well as law clerk Allyson Campbell, and their attorneys, claiming the group conspired to cover for Campbell, who is accused of committing payroll fraud and document destruction at the district court. The defendants are liable for retaliating against Marchman when she tried to expose Campbell’s activities and the ensuing conspiracy to conceal them, Marchman claims.

In a recent motion to dismiss Marchman’s lawsuit, the defendant judges argued they are immune, or protected from, any liability because, if true, their concealment of Campbell’s activities was taken in a judicial capacity, not an administrative one. Judicial immunity is a legal principle that’s been in effect since the 1970s to deter lawsuits against judges for any act, whether benign or malicious, performed within the course of their duties. Judicial immunity does not apply when judges act outside of their jurisdiction.

In her opposition to the judges’ dismissal motion, Marchman argued the judges acted in an administrative role when they failed to discipline Campbell and conspired to conceal the law clerk’s activities.

Retaliation, also, is not a judicial action, according to Marchman.

Marchman pointed out that Campbell, the law clerk’s attorney, Brian Crawford of Monroe, and the judges’ attorney, Jon Guice of Monroe, have described Marchman’s lawsuit as litigation stemming from an “intra-office dispute” (Campbell) and an “internal state-court personnel matter” (Guice). That description would place the conflict within an administrative jurisdiction, which undermines the defendant judges’ defense, Marchman argued.

“Of course Defendant Judges take a contrary view of the nature of Judge Marchman’s claims because they only enjoy immunity from liability for judicial acts, not administrative ones,” Marchman’s memorandum stated.

Marchman also noted the disparity between the judges’ defense in her case (e.g. acting judicially, not administratively) and the defendants’ position in Fourth Judicial District Court’s 2015 lawsuit against The Ouachita Citizen (e.g. Campbell’s actions form part of a “personnel matter,” which judges have handled administratively). The court sued The Ouachita Citizen after the newspaper filed a criminal complaint against the court for refusing to produce public records from Campbell’s personnel file, which could have shed light on whether she committed payroll fraud or concealed and destroyed public records.

“...The entire argument of Defendant Judges and Defendant Campbell was that the records The Ouachita Citizen sought were related to personnel issues, or ‘management of an employee,’” Marchman’s memorandum stated. “...Defendant Judges previously characterized their handling of Defendant Campbell as a personnel matter to avoid producing documents from her personnel file, and now Defendant Judges characterize their handling of Campbell as a judicial function.”

An ad hoc judge ruled against The Ouachita Citizen in that lawsuit and upheld the court’s defense.

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