isBy Tom Aswell and Ken Booth
If there was ever any question that there is a deliberate ongoing effort by the Louisiana State Police (LSP) to deny access to public records, those doubts were laid to rest by a pair of responses to LouisianaVoice—one from LSP and the other from the Office of Inspector General.
It all began innocently enough with a routine request made for files into the turmoil and legal battle among judges of the 4th Judicial District Court which includes the parishes of Ouachita and Morehouse.
Judge Sharon Marchman filed suit against four of her colleagues on the 4th JDC bench over her claims that they were covering for a legal clerk who Marchman suspected was not at work during times she was being paid. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/05/05/disorder-in-the-court-guest-columnist-ken-booth-reveals-disturbing-events-that-taint-several-judges-of-4th-jdc/
Oddly enough, the clerk is the highest-paid law clerk in the 4th JDC—despite the fact that she is not even an attorney, normally the number one criteria for a law clerk.
The clerk, Allyson Campbell, is the sister of prominent Monroe trial lawyer Catherine Creed, the daughter of George Campbell, regional president of Regions Bank who in turn is married to the daughter of another prominent attorney, Billy Boles who was instrumental in the growth of Century Telephone and who is a major contributor to various political campaigns.
State Police were reported last June to be conducting a joint investigation, along with the OIG, but no report on that investigation has ever been issued by either agency.
So naturally, in keeping with our uncompromising belief in the public’s right to know, we asked.
Here is the identical request made by LouisianaVoice to both agencies on May 5:
Pursuant to the Public Records Act of Louisiana (R.S. 44:1 et seq.), I respectfully request the following information:
Please allow me to review the file on the Fourth Judicial District 2015 investigation.
Here is the response received on Wednesday, May 11, from LSP:
Mr. Aswell, I have been advised that the district attorney for the 4th JDC considers this an open matter as he is awaiting additional information. Therefore, any responsive records maintained by LSP are not subject to release at this time as they are exempt from disclosure pursuant to R.S. 44:3(A)(1). With kindest professional regards, I am,
Michele M. Giroir
But wait. A full day before receiving the LSP denial (on Tuesday, May 10) we received quite a different response from the OIG. OIG 4TH JDC REPORT
On the first page, OIG General Counsel Joseph Lotwick explained that “records prepared or obtained by the Inspector General in connection with investigations conducted by the Inspector General shall be deemed confidential and protected from disclosure.”
But Lotwick, in that same letter, also said he was attaching a copy of an April 15 letter from Inspector General Stephen Street to 4th JDC District Attorney Jerry Jones “as it is a public record.” The five-paragraph letter of nearly a month ago noted that the 4th JDC management controls “did not make possible a determination of the hours Ms. Campbell worked on any given workday. Investigators confirmed that alleged violations of policy applicable to Ms. Campbell were investigaged (sic) and addressed by 4th JDC authorities.
“Because the available facts do not provide sufficient cause for the arrest of Ms. Campbell for any criminal offense, we are closing our file and taking no further action in this matter.”
So, despite claims by LSP that the investigation remains open, Louisiana’s Inspector General Stephen Street says an investigation by his department along with detectives from the state police found nothing wrong with the work hours of a law clerk for the 4th Judicial District Court.
A state audit had pointed to possible payroll fraud when an inspection of time sheets revealed the chief law clerk had turned in time sheets for work on days she was not even at the courthouse. Those time sheets were approved by her supervising judges.
The 41-year-old law clerk, Allyson Campbell was also a society columnist for the News-Star, the Monroe daily newspaper at the time.
According to lawsuits filed against her by an attorney alleging she destroyed or concealed files in his cases before the court, Campbell, who indicated she might be doing her job at a Monroe restaurant/bar frequented by lawyers, business people and Judges.
Documents show one picture obviously taken in a restaurant was captioned “Seafood nachos at the office.”
In 2014 Campbell published a column entitled A modern guide to handle your scandal, declaring “half the fun is getting there and the other half is in the fix.”
“Send it out,” she wrote. “Lies, half-truths, gorilla dust, whatever you’ve got. You’re no one until someone is out to get you.” She continued, “That special somebody cared enough to try and blacken your reputation and went and turned you into a household name? Bravo. You’re doing something right.”
The allegedly falsified Campbell time sheets, said to have been borne out by courthouse security camera video showing she was a no-show there on the questioned “work days,” and a subsequent allegation of cover-up by four Ouachita Parish District Court Judges, prompted Judge Marchman, to file a federal court lawsuit against all of them for retaliating against her for “trying to expose Campbell’s history of payroll fraud and document destruction” while acting under color of law.
Whether Marchman was aware is not known, but Street had by then already decided interviews his office had conducted at the courthouse led him to conclude “the available facts do not provide sufficient cause for the arrest of Ms. Campbell for any criminal office, [and] we are closing our file and taking no further action in this matter.
In his April 15 letter to Jones, Street outlined how “several 4th Judicial District Judges, as well as other local attorneys, “the current and former court administrator, employees of the Clerk of Court, (Louise Bond),” and other court employees and assistants, as well as Campbell herself, were interviewed. Campbell, he wrote, had denied destroying or hiding or destroying any court records or pleadings.”
District Attorney Jones at the outset referred the allegations of wrongdoing to the State Police who wound up working in concert with the IG’s north Louisiana investigator, Heath Humble.
Since then, the DA has consistently referred all questions regarding the status of the case to the office of the Louisiana Attorney General, Jeff Landry.
Accordingly, my public records request for documentation or any statement regarding the status of the investigation long since closed by the local and state investigators was answered by Shannon Dirmann, an Assistant Attorney General who wrote on May 9: “Our office is in the process of determining what, if any, records are subject to this request, and, if so, whether any privileges or exemptions apply. This may take some time. You will be notified whether records have been located and are responsive.” (Emphasis added) In other words, “we’ll get back to you.”
Interesting indeed, since Lotwick responded to a similar records request one day later (on May 10) from LouisianaVoice with a copy of Street’s letter to Jones—“as it is a public record.”
“I trust that this response is sufficient,” he wrote in his letter to LouisianaVoice.
Well, certainly more sufficient—and much more informative than anything provided by LSP.