By Ken Booth and Zach Parker
More than 28 months ago, then-Deputy Administrator of Louisiana’s 4th Judicial District Court Julie Cunningham raised flags about senior law clerk Allyson Campbell’s sometimes prolonged absences from work while still being paid based upon time sheets proclaiming her presence.
Those time sheets were submitted to and approved variously by judges Wilson Rambo, Fred Amman, or Wendell Manning among others for whom she may have been clerking at the time.
But an inspection of Campbell’s time sheets and e-mails revealed that on seven different days Campbell was paid for hours not worked. On one of those days, she had sent an email from her I-Phone from New York where she reported having been “bumped to 9 AM Tuesday.”
The Ouachita Citizen reports video surveillance footage for that Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, shows Campbell was never at the courthouse. But the New York number was crossed out and the seven hours were carried from a row for “total hours worked” to a row for “annual leave used.” Judge Wendell Manning signed off on that time sheet as well as sheets on two other days when Campbell had reported working seven hours.
Cunningham’s report outlined at least 12 days in which there were questions about Campbell’s work attendance.
At the time, court officials researched the issue and determined it was “illegal for a public employee to be paid for time not worked,” according to Judge Sharon Marchman in a lawsuit later filed against her fellow judges in federal court.
But a week after the Cunningham report was discussed at “several meetings” Marchman said the court changed its work attendance policy requiring “all law clerks” to sign in and out each time they enter and leave the courthouse.
Judge Marchman’s federal suit contends, “notably, shortly after the new rule’s implementation, Campbell refused to comply and falsified her sign-in-sheet.”
A subsequent routine state audit issued early last year cited possible payroll fraud in the matter.
In the meantime, Campbell’s time card issues and alleged destroyed or hidden court pleadings in a civil action handled by the law clerk came to light in a civil lawsuit filed by an attorney who claimed her actions had thwarted efforts on behalf of his client. Specific records cited were later discovered being used as an end table and under a couch in Campbell’s office; others were believed shredded and carried to a dumpster located between the courthouse and its annex.
The Ouachita Citizen filed a public records request with the court seeking any and all documents purporting to show what if any disciplinary action may have been taken against Campbell in connection with these allegations. The court refused to turn over the documents claiming they were private, personal, and could cause among other things, “embarrassment” to the individual and/or “loss of friends.”
The Court refused to turn over any such documents claiming it would violate the privacy of Campbell. The newspaper responded with a criminal complaint to the District attorney claiming a violation of La. R.S. 44: 1-41, the Public Records Act.
The court refused to turn over the documents claiming they were private, personal, and could cause among other things, “embarrassment” to the individual and/or “loss of friends.” Then, perhaps hoping to put a lid on all this, the Court sued The Citizen, making it a costly proposition to continue its pursuit of the issue.
Let that sink in. The court filed suit against a newspaper for making a routine public records request.
If there were true justice in the 4th JDC, the suit would have been randomly assigned to Judge Marchman. But what do you think were the chances of that happening?
Citizen Publisher Sam Hanna, Jr., told LouisianaVoice that his publication had been assessed court costs in the lawsuit but he has no intention of paying them. “They can come arrest me if they want, but I’m not paying court costs on this matter,” he said.
Putting things in perspective, it’s more than a little ironic that judges who are charged with forcing other public agencies to comply with public records requests can exempt themselves from those very same laws, thereby setting a dangerous legal precedent that can only breed deep distrust of all public officials, particularly the judiciary itself.
And we haven’t even touched on the blatant message of arrogance and smugness such a lawsuit conveys.
The Citizen may never have received an answer but Marchman’s federal lawsuit against the judges last month may have provided it.
Her petition reads:
“On April 24,2014, the judges had a meeting and agreed en banc to remove Campbell from the position of ‘senior law clerk, to terminate her stipend, and to suspend her for one month without pay. Campbell was then given a warning and a reprimand regarding not only her attendance, but also her behavior during meetings with the human resources department.”
According to Marchman’s suit, it was during Campbell’s suspension in May of 2014 that 52 files which required Campbell’s attention were found underneath a couch in her office. At issue were Post Conviction Relief applications given to Campbell to address by Judge Carl Sharp. The oldest of these discovered documents was dated November 2, 2011, three years before.
Louisiana’s Inspector General Stephen 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 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 a fifth District Judge, Sharon 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 state Inspector General Stephen 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 letter to Ouachita-Morehouse Parish District Attorney Jerry Jones on April 15th, 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. Campbell, he wrote, had denied destroying or hiding or destroying any court records or pleadings.”
Street mentioned only that interviews had been conducted with the principals to the complaint and all had assured that nothing improper had taken place with respect to Campbell’s being paid based upon the time cards that tended to contradict that.
It is not clear from Street’s letter whether his investigator ever saw any documentary evidence supporting the original allegation of payroll fraud.
District Attorney Jones at the outset referred the allegations of wrong-doing to the state police who wound up working in concert with the OIG’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, a 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 9th: “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.” In other words, ‘we’ll get back to you.’
Interesting indeed, since Joseph Lotwick, the General Counsel for the Attorney General’s office had answered a similar records request on May 10—one day later—from LouisianaVoice with “I have enclosed a copy of the Inspector General’s April 15, 2016 letter to District Attorney Jerry Jones as it is a public record.”
“I trust that this response is sufficient.”
When a copy of an attorney’s lawsuit against Campbell was requested, it was learned it had been sealed.
In response to our own public records request the court administrator Judge Ben Jones, himself one of the defendants named by Marchman’s suit, produced a document showing Campbell has been awarded steady pay increases in spite of questions regarding her actions.
In the Ouachita court case there is documentation which appears to demonstrate false claims of work not performed, the hiding of at least 52 post-conviction release pleadings, and/or official court documents allegedly shredded or otherwise destroyed.
District Attorney Jones said he may have the official findings of the Louisiana State Police investigation this week.
That could prove embarrassing for either virtually the entire bench of judges at the 4th JDC should detectives actually detect payroll fraud has been committed—or for the LSP itself should that report find no wrongdoing took place.
That’s because it would fly directly in the face of LSP’s own actions taken against Lt. Paul Brady of Troop D in Beauregard Parish who his own agency determined had “padded time sheets” submitted by troopers under his supervision.
He was officially suspended for violation of the code of conduct and ethics, albeit only a near-meaningless 24-hour suspension. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/05/10/rank-and-file-lsp-display-more-integrity-than-supervisors-how-long-will-gov-edwards-tolerate-edmonson-liability/
LouisianaVoice cited at least five state troopers on May 10th who said Brady instructed them to pad their time sheets to reflect 12 hours even though they worked shorter shifts or were not even on duty.
One trooper told Internal Affairs that Brady tried coaching him on what to say if someone asked about the time. The Trooper reportedly informed Brady that he was not going to lie.”
The Brady suspension letter stated, “You signed the … timesheets knowing that they had worked less hours. You signed the … described biweekly timesheets knowing that the hours related to firearms transition were not accurate.”
Moreover, Chris Guillory, the Commander at Troop D who was Brady’s supervisor and who was transferred out of Troop D is said to have been aware of Brady’s padding of time sheets but took no action.
One would hope those 4th District Court Judges who approved their law clerk’s time sheets for work on days on which she was not present are paying attention. The events at Troop D amounted payroll fraud which in other (apparently selective) cases have resulted in criminal charges.
But Campbell has friends, or rather, relatives in high places which most likely makes the judges hesitant to come down on her. A sister is a prominent personal injury attorney in Monroe and their father is a powerful banker who is married to the daughter of politically active attorney Billy Boles.
So why else would we imply that criminal charges for payroll fraud are selective? Simply this:
As they used to say in those “This-is-your-brain; This-is-your-brain-on-drugs” TV ads: