State authorities refused to disclose how much money taxpayers have paid to defend a law clerk at Fourth Judicial District Court in a civil lawsuit brought by a Monroe businessman.
The Ouachita Citizen submitted a public records request to state Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office, asking for the hours, rate, dates of service and money spent on legal services provided by the state for law clerk Allyson Campbell. She currently is represented by a special assistant attorney general in a lawsuit Stanley Palowsky III filed against her and five district court judges in 2015. In his lawsuit, Palowsky accused Campbell of concealing or destroying court documents he filed in a separate lawsuit. Palowsky accused the judges of conspiring to conceal the law clerk’s activities.
In June, the state Supreme Court cleared Palowsky to pursue his lawsuit against Campbell and the judges — nearly four years after an ad hoc judge protected Campbell and the judges by dismissing the action. The Supreme Court reversed the ruling by ad hoc judge, retired Judge Jerome “Jerry” Barbera, of Thibodeaux.
The Attorney General’s office ignored The Ouachita Citizen’s public records request for two weeks. Later, the Attorney General’s office only disclosed the name of the assistant attorney general — Lawrence “Larry” Pettiette, of Shreveport —but declined to provide any other information.
The Attorney General’s office claimed any other information regarding the money spent defending Campbell would have to be obtained from the state Office of Risk Management, which is under the jurisdiction of the Division of Administration.
The Division of Administration also refused to disclose the information sought by the newspaper. According to the Division of Administration, the attorney’s bills for legal services were exempt from production under an exception pertaining to pending claims at certain state departments.
The Ouachita Citizen challenged the Division of Administration’s position through the newspaper’s attorney, Scott Sternberg, with the Sternberg, Naccari & White law firm in New Orleans. Besides The Ouachita Citizen, Sternberg, Naccari & White also represents the Louisiana Press Association (LPA) on public records matters. The Ouachita Citizen and its sister newspapers, The Franklin Sun and the Concordia Sentinel, are members of the LPA.
“The attorney’s file may be protected, but the expenditure of public funds isn’t privileged and shouldn’t be protected: it’s the literal reason we have a public records law,” Sternberg said.
In his Aug. 27 letter to the Division of Administration challenging its refusal to comply with The Ouachita Citizen’s public records request, Sternberg gave the state until Aug. 30 to comply.
The Ouachita Citizen’s review of state campaign finance records revealed a substantial contribution from Campbell’s brother-in-law to Landry’s campaign for attorney general in late 2015.
Landry defeated Buddy Caldwell, who was the incumbent, in a November 2015 run-off.
Christian Creed, a Monroe attorney, is Campbell’s brother-in-law; his wife, Catherine, also an attorney, is Campbell’s sister. Campaign finance records revealed Christian Creed made a campaign contribution of $5,000 to Landry on Nov. 12, 2015, prior to the run-off election, though he also had made a total of $1,500 in campaign contributions to Caldwell on and before Nov. 9, 2015.