A Monroe attorney says Fourth Judicial District Court officials are making his clients suffer for the ‘sins’ of representing two other clients who each pursued lawsuits against district court judges.
Sedric Banks, of Monroe, represented Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Sharon Marchman, who sued several district court judges, law clerk Allyson Campbell and attorneys, alleging a conspiracy to violate Marchman’s constitutional rights when she tried to uncover payroll fraud at the court as well as the destruction of court documents.
Banks has frequently claimed district court judges have exhibited bias and prejudice toward him and his clients because of his work representing Marchman in U.S. District Court and Monroe businessman Stanley Palowsky III, who also sued district court officials in a separate civil proceeding in state court.
Last week, Banks filed a motion to recuse Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Robert Johnson from Larry Culp v. George Walker, in which he represents Monroe developer Larry Culp.
Banks represents Culp in two other lawsuits as well: Ned White and Ashley White v. Larry Culp and Jax Development Inc. v. Ned White aka Harvey Edward White III and Whiteco Farm Company.
In Jax v. White, Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Wilson Rambo recused from the case, citing his role as a defendant in Marchman’s lawsuit in federal court. The case was then assigned to Johnson.
Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Alvin Sharp, who recused from one of Banks’ cases in Morehouse Parish, was randomly assigned to preside over the three Culp cases. Neither Johnson or Sharp were defendants in the Marchman or Palowsky lawsuits, though Sharp’s brother, Judge Carl Sharp, was a defendant.
Each of the three Culp cases were ultimately allotted to Johnson to consider the motions to recuse Sharp. Banks’ case in Morehouse Parish also went to Sharp and then Johnson under similar circumstances, though an ad hoc judge was later appointed by the state Supreme Court.
The recusal motions did not stop there. Banks submitted a motion to recuse Johnson from Culp v. Walker during a May 15 hearing at the Ouachita Parish Courthouse. Banks said Sharp and Johnson have caused “months of undue delay and unnecessary costs” for his client, Culp.
“In each of the three Culp cases, Alvin Sharp got each one,” said Banks, prior to the hearing, in conversation with Philip McQueen, Walker’s attorney. “And the judge to decide Sharp’s recusal in each case just happens to be Robert Johnson.”
Motion to recuse Johnson
Johnson, a judge, did not appear in court to preside over the Culp v. Walker hearing until nearly an hour after the hearing was scheduled to begin. Once Johnson arrived, Banks asked to file the recusal motion and said, “Judge, was there any relation between my case and the other Culp cases? I’m confused myself.”
“No,” said Johnson, in reply.
Part of Banks’ reasons for seeking Sharp and Johnson’s recusals from Culp v. Walker stemmed from a document Sharp filed into the record, though the document was filed under seal and has been kept from Banks’ inspection.
“Recusal proceedings involving plaintiff’s counsel were made more onerous and burdensome without cause or reason by both Judge Alvin Sharp and Judge Robert C. Johnson,” stated Banks’ May 15 motion to recuse Johnson from Culp v. Walker. “For example, during efforts to recuse Judge Alvin Sharp in suit no. 2016-0848, Mr. Culp, mover herein, was taxed with cost of Judge Alvin Sharp filing documents in secret under seal without cause, explanation or reason, let alone notice to either side. Today, Mr. Culp is not allowed to see the secret documents, even after paying court ordered costs, never mind the fact that Mr. Culp’s opponents in that case do not object to Mr. Culp being allowed to see the documents filed under seal by Judge Alvin Sharp.”
After Johnson was randomly assigned to Banks’ cases representing Culp, Johnson denied him an opportunity to inspect the filing under seal.
“Of course, in addition to the cost of filing the secret documents, Mr. Culp was taxed with costs of Judge Johnson denying him the right to view same,” stated Banks’ motion to recuse Johnson.
The subject surfaced during last week’s hearing when Johnson reminded Banks of his previous orders.
“I told you we weren’t going to let you view the documents,” Johnson said.
After the court’s ruling, Banks sent a letter to Sharp, asking again to view the document he sealed and included in the record.
“Now we have another request by you to view the very same documents,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he denied the request because he was unsure which judge would ultimately be assigned the case. When Banks raised objections, Johnson said, “Mr. Banks, I’m talking.”
Banks tried to ask Johnson more questions but Johnson stopped him.
“Mr. Banks, I’m not answering any more questions,” Johnson said.
Motion to recuse Sharp
During an April 19 hearing in White v. Culp, Banks filed a motion to recuse Sharp from presiding over the White v. Culp case.
George Snellings IV, a Monroe attorney with Nelson, Zentner, Sartor & Snellings, objected to the recusal motion because it would halt the civil proceeding and forestall a restraining order he sought for his clients, Ned White and his wife, Ashley.
“We have to be very careful,” Sharp said. “The law says that with a motion to recuse the court has to do one of a limited number of things. The reality is that I can’t move forward.”
Sharp indicated another judge could decide on matters pending before the court, whether after a few hours or years. Sharp said he was aware of the “nuances of these types of motions.”
“I know how motions to recuse are supposed to operate,” Sharp said.
Banks’ motion to recuse Sharp from White v. Culp was allotted to Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Scott Leehy, who filed an order recusing himself on April 27.
Leehy provided written reasons for his recusal: “My wife is suffering from a serious and incurable illness and she was recently diagnosed with a progression of her illness that has caused her to suffer from severe headaches and nausea. Her condition is well (known) to friends and acquaintances from our community. I was contacted last week by a friend who relayed a request from a men’s bible study group to come to our house to pray for my wife. We accepted the request and the group came to our home Saturday, April 21, 2018. Among the group of about 10 people were George Snellings and Ashley and Ned White. The group spent the entire time speaking to my wife and me about her illness and praying for comfort and healing. There was no mention by any of the group about any case or controversy pending in our court, and I was, at that time, unaware of the pendency of the case entitled “Ned White and Ashley White vs. Larry Culp, 2018-0892, nor was I aware that George Snellings IV represented the Whites. However, given the allegations levied against other members of this court in other cases, I fully recognize that such a generous, unselfish, and innocent act could be viewed as suspicious and could be misconstrued as an act of impropriety, which it most certainly was not. Therefore, out of an abundance of caution, I must recuse.”
As with the other cases, White v. Culp was then assigned to Johnson.
Disputes between Culp, Whites
The White v. Culp and Jax v. White lawsuits each feature disputes between Culp and White.
In their March 12, 2018 petition, the Whites claimed Culp would not allow them to travel across an easement across his property, which they required to access their home. In March 2017, they claimed Culp locked a gate and prevented them from accessing their home.
“Because of Petitioners’ past dealing with Defendant, Mr. White took several witnesses with him in the hope of avoiding an unnecessary confrontation with Defendant, who was present at the gate,” stated the White’s petition. “During this meeting, Defendant came ‘nose to nose’ with Petitioner, Ned White, making physical contact, all the while speaking threats, yelling and cursing at him. Throughout the confrontation, Defendant continually attempted to provoke Mr. White into a physical altercation. At one point, Defendant was ‘shadow-boxing’ by throwing punches within inches of Mr. White’s face, all the while increasing his rhetoric, in volume, tone and through the use of vulgarities.”
White claimed Culp shoved him and told him he would “take him out.”
White also claimed Culp has made defamatory statements to other parties, claiming that the Whites are “white trash” and stealing money from the poor. Other allegations included Culp telling people that Ashley White’s religious activities were fraudulent.
Through his company, Jax Development, Culp sued White and his company, Whiteco Farm Company, partly because White would not confirm in writing whether Culp could derive water service from a water well on White’s property. The inability to obtain water from the well would prevent Culp from selling a home purportedly valued at more than $750,000, according to his May 9, 2017 petition.
In September 2017, White responded to Culp’s lawsuit through an exception, challenging Culp’s claims.
“Considering professional realtors conclude that plaintiff’s property nearly tripled in value, after Whiteco’s alleged intentionally harmful actions, it is illogical and impossible for plaintiff to prove damage, loss, and injury sustained at the hands of Whiteco,” stated White’s exception.