Sam Hanna Jr.

If you thought LSU had the market cornered in covering up a scandal or two, allow me to introduce a host of judges in the Fourth Judicial District Court in Monroe and a special appointed judge from down on the bayou.

For almost six years now Monroe businessman Stanley Palowsky III has been engaged in civil litigation against a law clerk in the Fourth Judicial District and five judges — active and retired — over allegations that the law clerk destroyed or purposely misplaced documents Palowsky filed with the court in a separate lawsuit. Not only did Palowsky sue law clerk Allyson Campbell for allegedly fiddling with his lawsuit against a former business partner, he also sued the judges and accused them of conspiring to cover up the law clerk's alleged misdeeds. The five defendant judges are Fred Amman, Benjamin Jones, Wilson Rambo, Carl Sharp and Stephens Winters. Only Rambo and Winters are still serving on the bench. Amman, Jones and Sharp are retired. Jones has served as the district court's administrator since he retired from the bench in 2014.

In 2015 the Louisiana Supreme Court appointed retired Judge Jerome “Jerry” Barbera of Lafourche Parish to preside over Stanley R. Palowsky III and others v. Allyson Campbell and others.

This long-winding lawsuit has bounced from the Fourth Judicial District Court to the Second Circuit Court of Appeal in Shreveport and to the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge before landing at the state Supreme Court, which in 2019 ruled the five defendant judges were not immune from being sued by Palowsky and must defend the litigation. The First Circuit had previously ruled Palowsky had the green light to pursue his lawsuit against the law clerk.

Even the U.S. Supreme Court was dragged into this sordid affair, but in 2020 the nation's highest court refused to even grant the defendant judges a hearing on their contention that the Louisiana Supreme Court had erred in ruling in Palowsky's favor when it relied on federal case law in deciding a state matter. Not one justice on the U.S. Supreme Court went on record in favor of hearing the judges' appeal. Not one.

Much of 2020 was wasted in the Palowsky case because of COVID-19. The state Supreme Court put the brakes on jury trials in light of the pandemic, and that, of course, meant Palowsky v. Campbell was put on hold as well.

Earlier this year, however, Palowsky v. Campbell got rolling again. As Palowsky prepared to start subpoenaing witnesses to be deposed under oath, Barbera — out of left field — issued a protective order that required Palowsky to submit the questions he wished to ask the defendant judges to Barbera 10 days prior to a scheduled deposition. Why? Because Barbera declared he must review Palowsky's questions beforehand to determine whether the questions were proper and were within the scope of the allegations Palowsky had levied.

Barbera also ruled that all depositions in Palowsky v. Campbell be sealed. That meant the depositions of the law clerk, the defendant judges and anyone else deposed in the Palowsky case would not be available to the public including the press.

As you might have expected, Palowsky appealed Barbera's order, and it's now at the Second Circuit in Shreveport where Judge Milton Moore of Monroe, formerly of the Fourth Judicial District, now serves as chief judge. For what it's worth, the Second Circuit previously recused itself not once but twice from hearing appeals in Palowsky v. Campbell, but now the Second Circuit apparently believes it can entertain the Palowsky case in an unbiased fashion.

Based on what's been filed with the court, Palowsky has already taken a number of depositions including deposing Judge Sharon Marchman of the Fourth Judicial District and a former administrator at the district court, Laura Hartt. A snippet of Marchman's and Hartt's depositions can be found in a memorandum Palowsky filed with the court to exhibit how the restrictions Barbera placed on Palowsky were preventing Palowsky from litigating his case. Needless to say, Marchman's testimony — at least the portion that's on file at the court — painted Moore as a judge who for years has exhibited a deep-seated hatred for Palowsky's father, Stanley Palowsky Jr. Marchman's testimony also included fairly explicit details of how Moore actively worked to influence a judge to rule against Palowsky Jr. in prior litigation. Furthermore, Marchman testified a judge at the First Circuit, Michael McDonald, had told her Moore contacted him to protest his ruling denying Campbell's claim that she should be immune from being sued by Palowsky. The communication between McDonald and Moore apparently occurred while Campbell had a motion pending before the First Circuit for a rehearing in the Palowsky case.

If that's not judicial interference, then what is it?

Yet, Moore isn't the only judge involved in Palowsky v. Campbell who's got a conflict. Barbera, who the state Supreme Court appointed to preside over the Palowsky case, disclosed more than five years ago that his niece was at the center of a child custody case in the Fourth Judicial District. Who was the judge presiding over Barbera's niece's case? None other than Judge Carl Sharp, a defendant in Palowsky v. Campbell.

If that's not a conflict of interest, then what is it?

All along for nearly six years, the law clerk and judges have dismissed Palowsky's allegations as nonsense. They maintain they have done nothing wrong. That's fine and well, but the law clerk and judges certainly should recognize that all of their appeals and maneuvering to avoid answering Palowsky's questions under oath could lead even a casual observer of this mess to determine they — the law clerk and judges — have something to hide. If they didn't, why not set aside the objections to answering Palowsky's questions free of a protective order issued by a conflicted judge?

In this environment in which the public's faith in the judiciary in Louisiana isn't exactly on sound footing, it seems only reasonable for the state Supreme Court to reassert itself in Palowsky v. Campbell and put this case on a fast track so we all can find out once and for all whether a host of judges and a law clerk in Monroe are nothing more than a cadre of outlaws.

Sam Hanna Jr. can be reached by phone at 318-805-8158 or e-mail at samhannajr@samhannajr.com.

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