Below is a guest column by retired investigative reporter Ken Booth, formerly of Monroe and KNOE-TV but now living in sun-drenched retirement in Arizona.
A bit of explanation for this column is in order. For some time now, a feud has been brewing in 4th Judicial District Court which includes the parishes of Ouachita and Morehouse.
The dispute, which has been covered extensively by the Ouachita Citizen but largely ignored by other media in North Louisiana, is between Judge Sharon Ingram Marchman and four other judges of the 4th JDC and centers around a clerk for the 4th JDC, Allyson Campbell, whose attendance at her job has been brought into question by Judge Marchman.
Here is a copy of the MARCHMAN LAWSUIT filed in U.S Federal Court, Western District of Louisiana.
By Ken Booth
This is troubling stuff indeed. When the Ouachita Parish court system not only fails to make sure justice is served fairly but goes so far as to allegedly try to cover up destruction of public documents which might prove such failure…. Well, we have more than just irony. Much more.
In what is believed to be an unprecedented move, a sitting 4th Judicial District Court judge has sued four fellow judges and their law clerk in federal court for “cover-up” of law clerk Allyson Campbell’s “history of wrong doing” as well as attempts to expose it all.
Judge Sharon Marchman’s suit grows from a report from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor last year which found some employees of the Court may have been paid for work never performed with time sheets submitted indicating they were there working when in fact they were somewhere else. If that happened that’s payroll fraud, the kind that got former Monroe City Engineer Sinyale Morrison and one of her employees in deep legal trouble.
The relevant part of the audit is found on page 41:
Our audit procedures disclosed that some employees may have received compensation when they were not working. It appears that hours reported to payroll on time sheets might have been mis-classified as time worked instead of leave time used. This condition was detected by management and investigated internally before the audit. However, the control system did not detect the condition.
Various state statues including, but not limited to, La. R.S. 14:138, govern the payment of public employees.
Internal control procedures must be designed to reduce to an acceptable level the risk that employees could be compensated for time not actually worked.
Internal control procedures may have failed to detect inaccuracies on time sheets submitted by employees.
The condition has at least the following effects:
- State law may have been violated.
- The Court may have compensated some employees for time that they did not work.
- If the Court compensated an employee(s) for time that was not worked, that employee also accumulated leave time that was not earned.
Here is the full AUDIT report.
State police were reported last June to be investigating the 4th JDC, but no report has ever been issued by LSP on that investigation.
But it’s the subsequent attempt to squelch any attempt by the public to gain access to these and other related court records that is at the heart of Judge Marchman’s petition who asserts her efforts toward full disclosure have made her a “pariah” in the courthouse, hated and rejected by fellow judges and others.
But that audit and the Marchman suit are but parts of the court saga that seemingly continues to write itself while unfolding like a long-legged crane trying to land in deep soft mud.
If law clerk Allyson Campbell was ever disciplined for misfiling time sheets for leave time taken is not known. Those records have been blocked from release by judicial order of the 4th JDC citing “privacy concerns.” The Ouachita Citizen newspaper had sought these public records and once refused, filed a criminal complaint with the District Attorney.
The Court then sued the newspaper for seeking the release of records which under Louisiana law should be available for public copying or inspection.
A search has revealed nowhere else can be found a case in which a state District Court has sued the news media for seeking to publish public documents. That development, as stunning as it might have been, went completely unreported by other Ouachita Parish media, including two television stations and a daily newspaper owned by Gannett.
In the meantime, District Attorney Jerry Jones requested the Louisiana State Police look into the audit’s finding of possible payroll fraud. Their probe was joined by the state Inspector General. Their findings, turned over to Jones, were forwarded to the Louisiana Attorney General.
Highly partisan scuttlebutt among the higher-ups around the courthouse has it that no wrongdoing was uncovered by the joint investigation but no official report or statement verifying that has to this date been released by the Attorney General.
Whether Judge Wilson Rambo’s law clerk Allyson Campbell got paid for work not performed is but one issue.
Rather, the preponderance of allegations appearing in lawsuits stemming from this mess is that the law clerk involved is demonstrated to have been beyond supervision “let alone discipline, and furthermore defendant Judges were covering up her actions.”
A litigant in matters already before the court, Stanley R. Palowsky, III sued her individually along with five 4th District Court Judges last July accusing Campbell of hiding or shredding filings in his case(s) before Judge Rambo.
Palowsky’s suit alleged the Clerk of Court could not locate as many as 52 different writ applications which had been “missing” for over a year and that Campbell “who was clerking for Defendant Sharp at the time, had used the applications as an end table in her office.”
After the missing 52 writ applications were discovered in Campbell’s office she was reassigned to law clerk duties for Judge Fred Amman who – the Palowsky suit charges—“is her close friend and personal confidant” and Rambo, who was at the time presiding over a Palowsky civil suit before the court, a case in which the missing documents had figured.
Curiously, when your correspondent sought an extra copy of this suit quoted here from the Clerk of Court’s office, the suit had been ‘sealed’ and removed from public view. Fortunately, for the public’s interest, that horse was already out of the barn, so as to speak.
The Palowsky lawsuit asserted that Campbell was apparently the only subject of the Auditor’s report on suspected payroll fraud and that “her office reportedly went vacant for days, if not weeks, at a time.”
The petition went on to allege that Campbell had posted several photos on her Facebook page which “indicated that she…did her job in restaurants and/or bars” while drinking.
Palowsky accused her of identifying her food and drink as having been consumed “at the office.”
The ‘sealed’ petition alleged that Campbell “…has a history of destroying and /or concealing court documents and Defendant Judges have covered this up” to protect her.
In one case cited as far back as 2012, Monroe Attorney Cody Rials was said to have complained to Judge Carl Sharp that he had “observed Campbell bragging in a local bar that she had destroyed Rials’ court document” in a case he had pending before Judge Sharp. Although Sharp was said to have found Rials’ story credible, the matter went no further according to the petition.
Campbell, at the time a society columnist for the daily newspaper, wrote a 2014 column called “A modern guide to handle your scandal,” according to the Palowski pleadings.
The court document quoted the Campbell column as having declared that “half the fun is getting there and the other half is in the fix.”
When Rials put his complaint about records destruction in writing, Judges Jones and Sharp interviewed an “unbiased disinterested witness who personally saw and heard Campbell sitting in a bar boasting about shredding Rials’ document so that Sharp would not review it.”
The witness told Sharp and Jones that Campbell told him directly that she had “taken great pleasure in shredding Rials’ judgement” and that she had given Rials a “legal _ _ _ _ ing.”
Courthouse workers have confided that during this approximate time frame they once hauled three roller cans filled with bagged shredded papers to the dumpster located between the courthouse and its annex. There is no way, of course, to know exactly what may have been in those bags which had been retrieved from the basement of the courthouse. However, when the shredding claims surfaced last Summer, the workers discussed whether some or all of it had been what they had disposed of.
That eyewitness to the alleged barroom bragging has been identified to your correspondent as Monroe attorney Joey Grassi, who was deemed by Jones and Sharp, according to the Palowsky suit, to be “credible.“ However, that investigation also was shut off.
Key fob and in-house videos have reportedly showed that Campbell had not entered the courthouse on any of seven different days in the first part of 2014 even though her time sheets indicated she was there working. Those apparent false time sheets had been approved by Judges Rambo and Amman, which at most private businesses would be considered a firing offense.
THE MARCHMAN LAWSUIT
Judge Sharon Marchman has exposed what she says is a continued cover-up of law clerk Campbell’s actions. To that end she has filed a 33-page federal court civil lawsuit against Campbell, Campbell’s attorney, four fellow jurists and their attorney, and the former Louisiana Attorney-General Buddy Caldwell and his attorney.
In it she claims the named Judges of the 4th District Court, acting under color of law, have retaliated against her because she has opposed their plan to continue their “long-time protection of defendant Campbell,” who has been at the pertinent times mentioned supervised by Judges Rambo, Sharp and Amman.
She calls it a concerted action and conspiracy to hide Campbell “has committed payroll fraud and has destroyed or concealed court documents.” Her suit alleges the defendants have “intentionally withheld information and production of documents from authorities and persons making public records requests.”
Since they were all acting in an administrative capacity, none of them are entitled judicial immunity, she said.
Marchman outlined a pattern of retaliation she says has been carried out against her including “threatening, intimidating, coercing, ridiculing, taunting, harassing, alienating and making false accusations of wrongdoing” against her.
On one occasion last September, according to the Marchman lawsuit, Judge Rambo intentionally walked into her as he as getting off the elevator. The exact words in the petition: “The physical contact was done intentionally.”
By the end of last year after some favorable articles about Judge Marchman appeared, the Judges meeting as a group or en banc ruled the chief judge had to approve all videos and photographs taken in the courthouse. Marchman maintains that was part of a vendetta against her to deny to her any positive press attention, all of this growing out of the alleged unlawful actions of Campbell regarding payroll and documents and its subsequent cover-up.
Shreveport Federal Judge S. Maurice Hicks has been assigned to preside over Marchman’s lawsuit. Whether it will be heard at the federal courthouse in Monroe or Shreveport is not known at this time.
Ironically, Judge Hicks previously presided over a case called “Broken Gavel” in which two Caddo Parish judges were convicted of taking bribes for judicial favors. He sentenced one of them to ten years in the pen and the other five years.
All of this stew of controversies has prompted more than one lawsuit alleging repeated attempts to impede the administration of justice at the Ouachita Parish Louisiana Courthouse. With the exception of the Ouachita Citizen -which until recently was alone in reporting any of it- it all appears to have been too intellectually challenging for other local media.
These developments, however, have attracted newspaper and other coverage outside Ouachita Parish and in some national legal blogs such as ABOVE THE LAW, an American blog that gives news and commentary about the U.S. legal industry, which observed on September 3, 2015:
“Drinking on the job -especially while employed by the taxpayers- is not something you do just because you can. It’s something you do to numb soul-crushing ennui, something that Campbell seems to lack based on excerpts from her famed society column cited in the (Palowsky) complaint.”
Lack of local attention given highly questionable behavior by elected officials is bad enough but when it draws statewide as well as national eyebrows that can trigger potential economic fallout from lack of new investment.
Another 4th District Court Judge in Ouachita, Larry Jefferson, ruled a robbery-kidnap-carjack suspect ‘not guilty’ after a bench trial the other day in spite of DNA evidence which conclusively tied him to his crime against a 71-year-old female victim.
The 24-year-old perp, already a career criminal with an arm-long rap sheet of violent crime had held a pistol to the head of this live-alone grandmother and tried to cash her account out at an ATM where the blood from his cut hand was left and matched a mouth swab taken later, was free again—courtesy of Judge Jefferson—to share the community with his victim.
Certainly, it was not Ouachita Judiciary’s finest hour. Nor was it Jefferson’s first time in an unflattering spotlight. In 1999, the Louisiana Judiciary Commission concluded, “His actions cannot be said to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary” and in fact his actions had eroded both. After Jefferson unilaterally dismissed more than 40 cases before his then-City Court bench, the state Supreme Court suspended him from office for two years.
His ruling in the case of the robbery of the elderly grandmother came within a few days of handing a dirty state police trooper one year and some community service after the man was convicted of stealing drugs from an evidence room and selling about $1-million worth of the dope on the street. The ex-cop could have drawn a maximum sentence of 92 years in prison and fines totaling $76,000.
That non-jewel of judicial behavior reaped headlines across the nation. Veteran Capitol newspaperman Tom Aswell wrote: “If there’s anything dirtier than a rogue cop, it would have to be a rogue Judge.”
“Put the two together,” he wrote, “and an epic miscarriage of justice is bound to occur.”
These glaring cases serve readily to underline the need for public accountability and transparency to which the 4th Judicial District Court should rededicate itself. It’s a standard which sadly these cases suggest strongly has been ignored lately.