Monroe attorney Sedric Banks is seeking the recusal of another area judge in spite of criticism he has drawn from judges in two judicial districts who have described the attorney's recusal strategy as subversive and “almost genius.”
Banks is now seeking the recusal of Fifth Judicial District Court Judge Terry Doughty from KT Farms and others v. Citizens Progressive Bank and others through a Feb. 27 motion. The October 2014 lawsuit is seeking damages against Citizens Progressive Bank for allegedly breaching a crop loan agreement with plaintiffs who owned farming operations in Franklin and Tensas parishes.
Though Banks is treading familiar territory, it is not clear whether his effort to recuse Doughty is also intended to accomplish another long-sought purpose: to take sworn testimony from Delhi tax preparer David Stephens. Stephens is a defendant in another case pursued by Banks in Doughty's courtroom: David Dewayne Stowe Sr. and others v. Donald Slade Jordan and others.
The argument for recusing Doughty from the KT Farms lawsuit stemmed from arguments leading to Doughty's recusal in Stowe v. Jordan. In that case, Doughty first tried to evade recusal, objecting to Banks' arguments, but Doughty ultimately recused, disclosing his business relationship with Stephens, as well as his personal relationship with Stephens' wife, Michelle.
In Stowe v. Jordan, Doughty neglected to inform counsel of his relationship with David and Michelle Stephens until more than a year after the lawsuit was first assigned to his court at the Richland Parish Courthouse in Rayville. Banks interpreted Doughty's oversight personally.
“The only motive which explains Judge Doughty’s knowing breach of duty is actual bias and prejudice toward plaintiffs’ counsel,” Banks wrote in a March 1 memorandum supporting a motion to recuse Doughty from the KT Farms lawsuit. “It is fair to say the same bias and prejudice subject of the instant motion (in the KT Farms lawsuit) to recuse Hon. Judge Terry A. Doughty is the same bias and prejudice subject of the motion to recuse Hon. Judge Terry A. Doughty (from Stowe v. Jordan)...”
Banks' claim that a judge was biased against him is not new: he has made the same claim about Fourth Judicial District Court judges presiding over his cases in Ouachita and Morehouse parishes. Judges have challenged Banks' tactics in open court.
In an Aug. 25, 2016 hearing in Stowe v. Jordan, Doughty expressed confusion about Banks' recusal strategy.
“...everything is not a — the world's not against you and everybody's not trying to — get you all the time, it's always complicated, every case you have is always complicated, attorneys are doing things to undermine you, all these things and I don't understand why everybody's picking on you instead of anybody else, but it happens in every case you have...” said Doughty, according to a hearing transcript.
Banks took umbrage at the remarks Doughty offered during the Aug. 25, 2016 hearing. In the Feb. 27 motion to recuse Doughty from the KT Farms lawsuit, Banks characterized Doughty's comments as a “diatribe personally attacking plaintiffs' counsel's credibility and integrity in open court,” as “disparaging remarks,” and as an “unwarranted pejorative attack” revealing “actual bias and prejudice.”
Banks most recently earned publicity as counsel for Monroe businessman Stanley Palowsky III in a lawsuit alleging payroll fraud and destruction of court documents at Fourth Judicial District Court in Monroe. Those allegations spawned another lawsuit — in federal court — in which Banks served as counsel for Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Sharon Marchman. Palowsky and Marchman's separate lawsuits share common allegations: Allyson Campbell, a law clerk at the Ouachita Parish Courthouse in Monroe, committed payroll fraud and concealed or destroyed court documents while some Fourth Judicial District Court judges and attorneys covered up her wrongdoing.
The controversy surrounding Fourth Judicial District Court surfaced during Banks' efforts to recuse Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Carl Sharp from Robert A. Lee and Sedric E. Banks v. Kailash Dhaliwal, Ph.D., Karl Dhaliwal and Sookham Dhaliwal. In a Nov. 2, 2015 hearing in that case, Banks argued Sharp — who was among the judges at the center of Palowsky and Marchman's allegations — must recuse any time Banks represented clients in Sharp's courtroom. Sharp said Banks' strategy was “almost genius,” an effort to “scorch the earth.”
“I’ve never seen it before,” Sharp said during the Nov. 2, 2015 hearing. “This is amazing ... I’m indicting myself. I’m not intimidated, but I think there’s no effective way of countering what you’ve alleged. The system kind of breaks apart here.”
Later in the hearing, Sharp said, “You don’t like the way a case is going, you don’t like the tenor of it. You file a motion to recuse. Then, we have to stop it and move to something else. And the difficult part about it, the more scurrilous the allegations, the more incentive is for the judge to...defend himself, thereby turning himself into an adversary of you and your client. It’s almost genius. Did you plan it this way?”
Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Alvin Sharp — who is Carl Sharp's brother — defended Carl Sharp against Banks' accusations in the Banks v. Dhaliwal case, branding Banks' recusal tactics as “weaponry” used to “wound” court officials.
In light of Alvin Sharp's involvement in the Banks v. Dhaliwal case, Banks later sought Alvin Sharp's recusal in a case at the Morehouse Parish Courthouse in Bastrop: Jerry and Esther Vosburg v. Eddie Lampert and others.
When Alvin Sharp set a hearing requiring Banks to provide an argument for his recusal motion, Banks responded by filing a motion to recuse all judges of Fourth Judicial District Court on March 15. In the recusal motion, Banks referred to his involvement as counsel for Marchman in her lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Fourth Judicial District Court officials.
“When judges of the Fourth District are engaged in pending litigation with undersigned counsel, it would simply be improper, and certainly 'unfaithful to the Code of Judicial Conduct,' for the judges of that court to preside over other litigation prosecuted by the attorney prosecuting the suit against the Judges,” Banks wrote in the March 15 motion to recuse en banc. “For example, when undersigned counsel attempted to meet with Chief Judge Scott Leehy in February 2017 to inquire as to policies, rules and procedures of the court, the Chief Judge simply refused to meet with counsel.”
Many judges, including Doughty and Carl Sharp and others, still dodged Banks' cases, either by recusing or asking for case reassignment, in spite of their objections portraying Banks as taking advantage of the legal system.
Meanwhile, in Banks' attempt to recuse Doughty from the KT Farms lawsuit, he appears to have established a way to take testimony from Stephens, the tax preparer with connections to Doughty.
Stephens has avoided giving deposition in Stowe v. Jordan, the lawsuit from which Doughty recused because of his relationship with the Stephens couple.
Doughty did not disclose his business relationship with Stephens until Feb. 2, which was the same day Stephens filed a court document opposing Banks' motion to depose him.
On March 20, Doughty set a hearing in the KT Farms lawsuit so Banks' recusal motion could be heard Tuesday at the Franklin Parish Courthouse in Winnsboro, where the KT Farms lawsuit was originally filed.
The court's plan for the recusal hearing changed once Banks issued subpoenas on March 30, calling for certain individuals to take the stand: David Stephens, Michelle Stephens, Doughty and Marchman.
After Banks issued the subpoenas which would require Stephens and others to offer sworn testimony, Fifth Judicial District Court Judge James “Jimbo” Stephens signed an order postponing the recusal hearing. Jimbo Stephens' order stated the court had engaged in a telephone conference with all counsel.
According to Jimbo Stephens' order, another hearing needed to be held to determine whether plaintiffs have conducted a 519 hearing, or a hearing to determine whether a judge should testify. It was not clear whether Jimbo Stephens' order calling for a 519 hearing applied to Doughty or Marchman, or both.
The 519 hearing was scheduled to begin Tuesday afternoon, after The Citizen went to press.
In Stowe v. Jordan, the plaintiffs accused the defendants of conspiring to intentionally harm them by not properly training them on how to remediate highly hazardous wastes sites owned by Anadarko. They contend proper training is required by law and that Anadarko and other defendants, including JWS Restoration Services and Stephens, did not inform them of the risks involved in handling the waste.
“To date, David Stephens refuses to be deposed in the instant case,” stated Banks' Feb. 21 memorandum opposing Stephens' peremptory exceptions in Stowe v. Jordan. “When deposed, Mr. Stephens' role, as (JWS Restoration Services') tax preparer-partner-accountant-co-conspirator will become quite evident....Here, David Stephens has unfairly refused plaintiffs' deposition requests so as to deny plaintiffs evidence prior to arguing his instant evidentiary exception.”
Adam Cossey, an attorney with the Monroe law firm of Hudson, Potts & Bernstein, represents Stephens.
Cossey argued his client had “absolutely nothing” to do with the environmental remediation job at issue in the lawsuit. A plaintiff reportedly confirmed Stephens' lack of involvement in open court, Cossey argued in a Jan. 13 memorandum.
Cossey also filed a motion to seal certain pleadings filed by Banks which detailed Stephens' 2003 arrest and guilty plea to one count of theft in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, though Stephens' criminal record was later expunged. Also filed by Cossey was a motion for sanctions against Banks for making allegedly “untrue” accusations.
“This argument is a red herring, as Mr. Stephens' testimony is immaterial to the issues currently before the court,” stated Stephens' Jan. 13 peremptory exceptions of no cause of action and no right of action in Stowe v. Jordan.
In Stephens' Feb. 2 opposition to Banks' motion to depose him, Stephens claimed Banks was trying to harass him as part of another legal tactic.
“The present motion is nothing more than a continued effort to harass, annoy, and financially burden David Stephens in an attempt to leverage him into assisting plaintiffs' counsel with an unrelated lawsuit in Ouachita Parish,” stated Stephens' Feb. 2 opposition, a reference to the lawsuit Stanley R. Palowsky III v. W. Brandon Cork and others at Fourth Judicial District Court in Monroe.
In a prior pleading, Banks claimed to have discovered Stephens was a tax preparer for Brandon Cork, who was the former business partner of Banks' other client, Palowsky. According to Banks, Cork supposedly identified kickbacks in invoices approved by Ross Haeberle of Texas, an Anadarko Petroleum Corp. project manager. Haeberle also is a defendant in Stowe v. Jordan, and Anadarko previously was a defendant in that case, too.