A state appeal court recently shot down part of Monroe businessman Stanley Palowsky III’s appeal in an ongoing lawsuit against Fourth Judicial District Court officials accused of conspiring to conceal illegal activity at the court.
In an Aug. 26 ruling, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal in Gretna ruled Palowsky failed to convincingly argue why the appeal court should overturn a protective order that shields local court officials from having to answer questions about alleged payroll fraud and other matters.
Palowsky is expected to appeal the Fifth Circuit’s ruling to the state Supreme Court.
In 2015, Palowsky sued Allyson Campbell, a law clerk at the district court, for concealing or destroying documents he filed in a separate lawsuit against his former business partner, Brandon Cork. Palowsky also sued Fourth Judicial District Court judges Fred Amman, Ben Jones, Wilson Rambo, Carl Sharp and Stephens Winters. According to Palowsky, the five defendant judges conspired to cover up Campbell’s activities.
Amman, Jones and Sharp have since retired from the bench, though Jones now serves as the court’s administrator.
Palowsky’s appeal at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal zeroed in on rulings by retired Judge Jerry Barbera, of Thibodaux, who has presided over Stanley R. Palowsky III and others v. Allyson Campbell and others since late 2015.
In his original ruling, Barbera said the state code of evidence required Palowsky to give a written notice of a deposition to each defendant judge at least 10 days before a deposition. The written notice should outline all areas of inquiry, too, Barbera ruled.
“While relator argues that these protections hamper his ability to prosecute his case, his arguments in this regard fall woefully short,” stated the Fifth Circuit’s ruling.
Fifth Circuit Judge Jude Gravois penned the court opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel also including Fifth Circuit judges Fredericka Wicker and Stephen Windhorst.
The Fifth Circuit’s ruling concerned only one aspect of Palowsky’s litigation, which is complicated.
The Campbell lawsuit has bounced around state court since 2015. It is unknown when the case will advance to trial.
In its ruling denying Palowsky’s write, the Fifth Circuit was unable to find any jurisprudence, or other court rulings, interpreting Article 519 of the Louisiana Code of Evidence. The article in question delineates expectations for a judge in any court proceeding where they are not the presiding judge.
In his appeal to the Fifth Circuit, Palowsky argued that Barbera’s ruling gave a “back door” for the defendant judges to enjoy the shield of judicial immunity. Judicial immunity refers to the legal concept that judges cannot be sued for damages when they act officially as a judicial officer. That would be the case, according to Palowsky, because defendants in lawsuits normally do not get to see questions ahead of a deposition.
The Fifth Circuit panel said it would only overturn a ruling over discovery—the process of gathering evidence, including testimony in depositions—if the original court’s ruling led to absurd results.
“The trial court’s interpretation of Article 519 does not lead to absurd results,” the Fifth Circuit ruling stated. “The Article’s clear language places no limits or qualifications on its terms, such as exempting a judge who is a party to the suit, from the provisions of the Article, as relator (Palowsky) argues the Article should be interpreted. The legislature could have excluded judges who are parties to suits from the effects of the Article, but instead chose not do so.”
In his original ruling in the Campbell lawsuit, Barbera also granted a protective order that forbade Palowsky’s attorneys from asking questions about any matters that were previously stricken from the lawsuit, such as the allegation that Campbell had committed public payroll fraud.
Previously, Palowsky quoted from a deposition of Laura Hartt, a former court administrator at the district court. In some instances during her deposition, Hartt declined to answer questions about Campbell because her testimony about Campbell pertained to the off-limits area of public payroll fraud.
When asked whether she or any judge discussed Campbell’s employment, Hartt said, “It was. And I’m—I’m referring back to the, back to the documents because I’m trying to remember. I think the—the chronology of that discussion was in conjunction with the payroll issues that we’re not discussing today.”
“So it’s hard to answer that fully, but yes,” she added.
Hartt was asked whether she could speak about why Campbell continued to work at the court without delving into the payroll fraud allegations. Hart responded by saying, “No, I can’t.”