An ongoing investigation of Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Sharon Marchman for unethical conduct stems from her 2016 lawsuit against law clerk Allyson Campbell and several local judges, a Monroe attorney says.
Marchman’s lawsuit also upset a group of people in North Monroe and inspired them to recruit now-Second Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Jimbo Stephens, of Baskin, to run against her in the 2017 appeal court race, according to Devin Jones, a bankruptcy attorney in Monroe.
“That’s how Jimbo became a candidate,” said Jones in a Dec. 15, 2020 deposition. “The people—Christian Creed and others began looking for somebody to run against Sharon to keep her out of the Court of Appeals.”
Christian Creed, a Monroe attorney with Creed & Creed, is Campbell’s brother-in-law.
In her 2016 lawsuit against Campbell and several district court judges, Marchman claimed they conspired to conceal Campbell’s alleged payroll fraud and destruction of court documents. She also accused Campbell and the judges of retaliating against her when she tried to hold Campbell accountable. A federal judge later dismissed Marchman’s lawsuit, ruling she had no legal grounds to claim an abridgment of First Amendment rights.
In two different elections in 2017 and 2018, Marchman was a candidate for the Second Circuit but lost each time to Stephens, who now serves at the appeal court. Marchman recently filed a motion with the Judiciary Commission, arguing she has the right to question 12 witnesses to defend herself in light of misconduct complaints she says Stephens filed against her.
The Judiciary Commission is a judicial oversight branch of the state Supreme Court that has the authority to investigate judges’ misconduct.
The Judiciary Commission charged Marchman, of Monroe, of violating the state Supreme Court’s ethics code for judges by endorsing then-President Donald Trump and by suggesting Stephens had ties to democratic socialist U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders among other charges.
Under the Supreme Court’s Code of Judicial Conduct, a judicial candidate shall not publicly endorse or publicly oppose another candidate for public office or make speeches on behalf of a political organization.
In her Oct. 1 combined memorandum in opposition to motions to quash subpoenas ad testificandum, Marchman indicated she had issued subpoenas to 12 people as witnesses in her case. Jones’ deposition from December 2020 was attached to Marchman’s filing as an exhibit.
Based on a review of Marchman’s memorandum, the 12 people issued subpoenas included Creed and Stephens as well as six of the people she previously sued in 2016: Monroe attorney Brian Crawford, who represents Campbell; Monroe attorney Jon Guice, legal counsel for the judges at the district court; retired Judge Ben Jones, who also serves as the district court administrator; Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Wilson Rambo, as well as retired Judges Fred Amman and Carl Sharp.
Other potential witnesses mentioned in Marchman’s filing included Eric Mahaffey, who served as Stephens’ political consultant; The (Monroe) News-Star reporter Bonnie Bolden; and Monroe bond attorney Bill Boles Jr., who is Campbell’s uncle.
Marchman also apparently issued subpoenas to Fourth Judicial District Court judges Stephens Winters and Scott Leehy.
In her memorandum, Marchman objected to the OSC’s argument that she issued the subpoenas “as part of a ‘vendetta’ arising from a dispute among the judges at the Fourth JDC over non-attorney law clerk Allyson Campbell.”
Marchman has close ties to Monroe businessman Stanley Palowsky III, whose ongoing lawsuit against Campbell and several district court judges overlapped with the legal claims in Marchman’s 2016 lawsuit.
“All this being said, if Judge Marchman truly had a vendetta against Judge Stephens, she would have made judicial complaints against him as well,” stated Marchman’s memorandum.
Marchman noted that she declared herself to be a “Trump Republican” in response to Stephens’ claims he was a “Trump Independent,” implying that Stephens—like her—had endorsed a political candidate.
“OSC also learned from Mr. [Jones’] statement that Attorney Creed ‘flipped every one of his billboards’ and ‘all of his TV advertisement to Jimbo’ without proper accounting for campaign donations,” stated Marchman’s memorandum. “It is presumed that OSC forwarded that information to the proper federal and state authorities for further investigation. But the information is also relevant to the issues presented here as it goes directly to the credibility of Judge Stephens.”
Concerning Stephens’ advertising, Jones said in his December 2020 deposition, “Christian [Creed] had flipped every one of his billboards to Jimbo. It’s not registered anywhere.
“There’s no donation thing for that, but all of his billboards got flipped to him. Our advertising people are are the same people. We share advertiser agents. Our advertising agent told me that Christian Creed had given up all of [his] TV advertisement to Jimbo. That’s the kind of furor they had in 2018. They were desperate. They thought Sharon was going to come back and get those 500 votes. The turnout was going to be higher—it was mid-term elections, ad they were acting with furor.”
The OSC’s claim that Marchman’s subpoenas formed part of an ongoing vendetta incorrectly characterized her lawsuit against Campbell and others, Marchman argued.
“For example, the OSC states that Judge Marchman’s counsel were sanctioned for filing frivolous claims,” stated the memorandum. “Furthermore, while the district court found that Judge Marchman had failed to state a claim for relief, the court also found that her lawsuit had not been filed for any improper purpose, and it denied the defendants’ request to issue sanctions under Rule 11(b)(1).”
In his ruling to dismiss Marchman’s 2016 lawsuit, U.S. District Court Judge Maurice Hicks wrote, “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. 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.”
Marchman also argued the discovery and admissibility of evidence in a Judiciary Commission proceeding was broader than a civil proceeding, like a lawsuit. That meant a judge could be subpoenaed to testify about the circumstances of a complaint or about a judge’s conduct, Marchman argued.
According to Marchman, the Judiciary Commission’s Office of Special Counsel (OSC) did not appear to object to the subpoenas she issued to Stephens and Mahaffey.
Marchman also claimed there would be no conflict with attorney client privilege or with the judicial deliberative process in depositions involving attorneys or judges, respectively. No attorneys would be asked to reveal privileged information about a current or former client, she said.
“The testimony which she plans to elicit has nothing to do with any judicial actions or the judicial deliberative process,” stated Marchman’s memorandum. “Finally, on a practical note, Judge Marchman has been given 90 days to conduct all discovery after the OSC has spent three years investigating and taking statements. In its investigation, OSC issued subpoenas and took statements from attorneys and judges without following any of the requirements of articles 508 or 519.”
‘BLIP ON THE RADAR’
In her filing, Marchman disputed the Judiciary Commission’s objection to taking depositions of the 12 people in spite of the commission’s Assistant Special Counsel Michael Bewers acknowledging the “law clerk controversy” as part of the background to the Marchman-Stephens appeal court race.
In his deposition, Jones claimed Stephens—then a judge at the Fifth Judicial District Court—was not “even a blip on the radar” when Marchman first expressed an interest in becoming a candidate for the Second Circuit.
“[Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Danny] Ellender was going to run,” Jones said. “Upon inquiring with him, he quickly stepped out. There was—at that point, Sharon had pissed off enough people that they were trying to find anybody to run against her. They tried to get Judge Ellender to run against her. He’s a good guy. He’s a great judge, and he has six kids. He’s just a great guy and he didn’t want to get involved in that. At that point, I think that’s when they found Jimbo in the [Fifth Judicial District] who said he’d run.”
Bewers told Jones he did not “want to go too far back into the history” other than to confirm that Jones believed Marchman had angered “so many people.”
“The complaint at issue was made by Judge Stephens regarding statements made by Judge Marchman during their 2018 race for a seat on the Second Circuit Court of Appeal, and there has already been sworn testimony that Judge Stephens would not have run for that seat if not for the dispute over Allyson Campbell,” stated Marchman’s memorandum.
A portion from the dialogue between Bewers and Jones, from the December 2020 deposition, is reprinted below.
“All right,” Bewers said. “Like I said, I don’t want to get into all of that controversy that went on for a number of years involving—you’re referring to the law clerk Allyson Campbell?”
“Well, that’s the genesis of how you got Jimbo Stephens as a candidate,” Jones said.
“Pardon?” Bewers said.
“That’s the genesis of how you got Jimbo Stephens as a candidate,” Jones said.
Later, Jones testified, “Now, there was a faction within the Republican Women (Ouachita Parish Women’s Republican Club) that were—were going for Jimbo because of the—that goes back to the North Monroe law clerk stuff.”
“Goes back to the law clerk issue?” Bewers said.
“Yes. You’ve got to understand, that law clerk’s connected to one of the most powerful families in town and a lot of judges were going to get hit on that. I mean, if you want to go into detail, I sat in a DA’s car when I heard what happened and it ain’t in those pleadings,” Jones said.
“Yeah, I really don’t want to go in all that history because it just kind of bogs this case down I understand that, you know, it’s a backstory, I guess, that lead[s] up to this and could affect how people vote,” Bewers said. “Let’s talk about—“
“This race doesn’t exist without that story. Me and you aren’t talking unless that story exists,” Jones said.
“Why? Because Jimbo Stephens never would have run?” Bewers said.
“He never would have run,” Jones said.
Jones claimed The (Monroe) News-Star “for the first time ever” declined to publish “an election report notifying people that it was election day.” That was part of the reason for low turnout during the 2017 election, Jones said.
Jones pointed out that Campbell, the law clerk at the center of the court controversy, previously wrote a social news column for The News-Star.
“As to witness Bonnie [Bolden], OSC apparently intends to place her news articles into evidence but objects to her providing a deposition,” stated Marchman’s memorandum. “Clearly, Judge Marchman is entitled to question Ms. [Bolden] regarding her published articles.”
Bewers later asked Jones whether Marchman’s campaign believed they “had to play hardball if you wanted to win” in the second appeal court race in 2018.
“Is that a fair question?” Bewers said.