BASTROP — All 11 judges at Fourth Judicial District Court in Monroe are expected to recuse themselves from a product liability lawsuit in Morehouse Parish after Monroe attorney Sedric Banks was given the green light to question some of the judges under oath.
No judges have taken the witness stand in Jerry and Esther Vosburg v. Sears Roebuck Co., after the court’s attorney, Jon Guice of Monroe, wrote a Dec. 18 letter stating all judges at the district court would propose an en banc, or full court, recusal instead.
Banks, who represents plaintiffs Jerry and Esther Vosburg, was originally expected to question local attorneys and district court judges at a hearing in December about controversial allegations that law clerk Allyson Campbell — who works in the judges’ offices at the Ouachita Parish Courthouse — had committed public payroll fraud and destroyed court documents. Some district court judges also were accused of trying to conceal Campbell’s activities.
Two of Banks’ other clients, Monroe businessman Stanley Palowsky III and Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Sharon Marchman, have levied many of the controversial allegations against Campbell and the judges through lawsuits in state court and federal court, respectively.
Banks was expected to seek the recusal of district court judges from Vosburg v. Sears because of their alleged bias and prejudice against him because of his work in the Palowsky and Marchman lawsuits. To support his argument in favor of en banc recusal, Banks told retired Judge Frank Foil, of Baton Rouge, he needed to hold a contradictory hearing under Code of Evidence Articles 508 and 519. Foil, who was appointed as an ad hoc judge to consider recusal matters in the Vosburg litigation, approved Banks’ request and scheduled the contradictory hearing for Dec. 19.
“The purpose of seeking information is not to harass any person, nor for the mere purpose of seeking recusal, but to discover and place (on) record violation of constitutional rights of due process and exhaust state remedy,” stated a Nov. 30 motion for a contradictory hearing filed by Banks.
The contradictory hearing was needed to show the information sought from attorneys and judges was not “protected from disclosure by the judicial deliberative process privilege,” according to Banks’ memorandum.
Specifically, Banks planned to seek testimony from Monroe attorneys Cody Rials and Joey Grassi as well as from several judges at Fourth Judicial District Court, including Chief Judge Scott Leehy.
“Judge Leehy will also testify as to his personal knowledge regarding ‘...outstanding judges...(who are his) close social friends...’ sued in different lawsuits for improperly supervising, investigating (covering up) findings of payroll fraud by the state legislative auditor, misconduct, malfeasance and mishandling of court records involving said law clerk,” stated Banks’ memorandum. “Chief Judge Leehy will testify as to his personal knowledge of specific ‘...attacks on the judiciary...outrageous and harmful tactics...directed (allegedly by undersigned counsel) at the integrity of the judiciary and the judicial process...’ of which Judge Leehy has complained in writing.”
Attorneys for Sears Roebuck Co. argued in a Dec. 11 memorandum that seeking testimony from judges was not permitted by the articles cited by Banks.
“While Sears does not oppose Plaintiffs’ Motion to Recuse En Banc, it opposes Plaintiffs’ request under Article 519 to subpoena judges to provide testimony in support of Plaintiffs’ Motion to Recuse because Article 519 plainly prohibits the use of a subpoena to seek testimony from a judge regarding a recusal motion,” stated Sears’ memorandum. “Given Plaintiffs’ allegations of bias from the entire Fourth Judicial District Court, Sears argued that it would be inappropriate for any judge of this District to act on any issue, motion, exception, requested order, or judgment involving Mr. Banks as counsel while the En Banc Motion was being considered.”
The Sears memorandum was signed by Monroe attorneys Williams Sartor Jr., George Snellings IV, Allison Jarrell, with Nelson, Zentner, Sartor & Snellings as well as by Atlanta attorney Charles Reed.
Guice’s Dec. 18 letter sought to “alleviate the need for a (contradictory) hearing” through the proposal of the en banc recusal motion.
“I am writing on behalf of the Fourth District Court relative to an La. C.E. Article 519 hearing, which we are advised is scheduled for tomorrow,” stated Guice’s letter to Foil. “To our knowledge, none of the Judges were served with notice of the hearing. Nonetheless, an Order recusing the Court En Banc is being circulated and will be filed with the Clerk of Court this week. This motion should alleviate the need for a hearing, but should you have any questions or concerns regarding the motion, please do not hesitate to contact Judge Leehy at (318) 361-2285.”
The contradictory hearing was canceled. Another hearing to consider the en banc recusal was originally scheduled for later this month, though it is unknown whether the hearing will still be held.
Vosburg v. Sears was first filed in 2008 under a product liability claim under which the Vosburg couple argued a Sears Kenmore microwave oven self-started and caused a fire in their home while they were sleeping.