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Marchman v. Crawford

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division

February 17, 2017

JUDGE SHARON INGRAM MARCHMAN
v.
BRIAN E. CRAWFORD, ET AL.

          PEREZ-MONTES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          S. MAURICE HICKS, JR-UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court are Rule 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) Motions to Dismiss by Defendants James D. “Buddy” Caldwell, Allyson Campbell, Jon K. Guice, Brian E. Crawford, Lawrence W. Pettiette, Jr., and Judges Frederic C. Amman, Benjamin Jones, J. Wilson Rambo, and Carl V. Sharp. See Record Documents 26, 35, 37, 40, 47, and 90. Defendants seek dismissal of Plaintiff Judge Sharon Ingram Marchman's federal civil rights lawsuit. For the reasons which follow, Defendants' 12(b)(6) Motions to Dismiss[1] are GRANTED. Defendants' Rule 12(b)(1) Motions are DENIED for the reasons contained in the Court's ruling on Pettiette's Rule 12(b)(1) Motion (Record Document 86), holding that the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over Marchman's official capacity claims.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND[2]

         This litigation, as well as several other related cases, involves allegations by Judge Sharon Ingram Marchman and others that Allyson Campbell engaged in a number of unethical and/or illegal activities during Campbell's tenure as a law clerk for the Fourth JDC. See id. at ¶¶ 7-18. The parties to the instant action are as follows:

         1) Plaintiff, Judge Sharon Ingram Marchman (“Marchman”), an elected Louisiana district judge of the Fourth Judicial District Court (“Fourth JDC”). See Record Document 22 at ¶¶ 5 A, 19.

         2) Defendant Judge Frederic C. Amman (“Amman”), an elected Louisiana district judge of the Fourth JDC. See id. at ¶ 5 G.

         3) Defendant Judge J. Wilson Rambo (“Rambo”), an elected Louisiana district judge of the Fourth JDC. See id. at ¶ 5 H.

         4) Defendant Judge Carl V. Sharp (“Sharp”), an elected Louisiana district judge of the Fourth JDC. See id. at ¶¶ 5 F.

         5) Defendant Judge Benjamin Jones (“Jones”), a former elected Louisiana district judge of the Fourth JDC and the current Court Administrator of the Fourth JDC. See id. at ¶ 5 I.

         6) Defendant Allyson Campbell (“Campbell”), a non-attorney law clerk for the Fourth JDC. See id. at ¶ 5 J.

         7) Defendant James D. “Buddy” Caldwell (“Caldwell”), the former Attorney General of the State of Louisiana. See id. at ¶ 5 D.

         8) Defendant Lawrence W. Pettiette, Jr. (“Pettiette”), a Shreveport attorney who acted as a Special Assistant Attorney General when Caldwell appointed Pettiette to defend Campbell in the related lawsuit Palowsky v. Campbell, Docket No. 15-2179, Fourth JDC, Parish of Ouachita, Louisiana. See id. at ¶ 5 C.

         9) Defendant Brian E. Crawford (“Crawford”), a Monroe attorney who served as co-counsel with Pettiette in defending Campbell in Palowsky v. Campbell. See id. at ¶ 5 B.

         10) Defendant Jon K. Guice (“Guice”), a Monroe attorney who served as the attorney for Amman, Rambo, Sharp, Jones, and Chief Judge Stephens Winters in Winters v. Hanna Media, Docket No. 15-0770, Fourth JDC, Parish of Ouachita, Louisiana, and as the attorney for Sharp, Jones, and Winters in opposing subpoenas duces tecum issued to them in the Palowsky v. Cork matter, Docket No. 13-2059, Fourth JDC, Parish of Ouachita, Louisiana. See id. at ¶ 5 E.

         Other people who are involved in the case but are not parties are as follows:

1) Cody Rials (“Rials”), a Monroe attorney who complained to Sharp and others at the Fourth JDC that Campbell had shredded a proposed judgment Rials had submitted in a case before Sharp. See id. at ¶ 20.
2) Stanley R. Palowsky, III, (“Palowsky”), a businessman and the son of one of Marchman's former clients who filed two suits related to the instant action, Palowsky v. Cork and Palowsky v. Campbell. See id. at ¶ 24 and 40; see Record Document 40-10.
3) W. Brandon Cork (“Cork”), Palowsky's former business partner who Palowsky sued in Palowsky v. Cork. See Record Document 22 at ¶ 24.
4) Joseph R. Ward, Jr. (“Ward”), one of Marchman's attorneys in the instant action and one of Palowsky's attorneys in both Palowsky v. Cork and Palowsky v. Campbell. See Record Documents 40-3 at 8 and 40-9 at 25-26.
5) Sedric Earl Banks (“Banks”), one of Marchman's attorneys in the instant action and one of Palowsky's attorneys in both Palowsky v. Cork and Palowsky v. Campbell. See id.
6) Laura Hartt (“Hartt”), the former Court Administrator of the Fourth JDC. See Record Document 22 at ¶ 25.
7) Judge Waddell Manning (“Manning”), a former elected Louisiana district judge and Chief Judge of the Fourth JDC. See id. at ¶¶ 25-26.
8) Johnny Gunter (“Gunter”), a reporter with The Ouachita Citizen who sent a series of public records requests to the Fourth JDC requesting certain records related to Campbell, including personnel records and timesheets, on behalf of the newspaper. See id. at ¶ 49.
9) Judge Stephens Winters (“Winters”), an elected Louisiana district judge and current Chief Judge of the Fourth JDC See id. at ¶ 82.

         According to Marchman, Campbell's misdeeds began as early as 2010, when Campbell began missing work. See id. at ¶ 19. When another law clerk reported Campbell's absences to Marchman, who was the chair of the personnel committee for the Fourth JDC, she discussed the matter with the judges for whom Campbell worked at the time, Rambo and Amman. See id. Rambo and Amman responded that they had no complaints with Campbell's work. See id. According to Marchman, she reminded Rambo and Amman that Court policy required employees to work at the courthouse and not from home. See id.

         In 2012, Monroe attorney Rials allegedly complained to Sharp (for whom Campbell was now working) that Campbell had shredded a proposed judgment Rials had submitted in a case before Sharp. See id. at ¶ 20. Evidently, Sharp investigated the complaint and determined that Campbell had bragged to a witness about destroying the document. See id. at ¶ 21. Despite this discovery, Sharp allegedly did nothing other than remove Campbell from any matters in which Rials was involved and inform Rials by letter that his complaints were reasonable. See id. at ¶ 22. Sharp did not make Marchman aware of this situation at the time despite her position as the head of the personnel committee. See Id. at ¶ 23.

         On July 3, 2013, Palowsky and his corporation Alternative Environmental Solutions, Inc. (“AESI”) filed suit in the Fourth JDC against Palowsky's former business partner, Cork. See id. at ¶ 24. This lawsuit was assigned to Rambo. See id. According to Defendants, prior to becoming a judge, Marchman served as an attorney for Palowsky's father. See Record Document 40-1 at 2; see also In re Curry, 16 So.3d 1139 (La. 07/01/09).[3] Marchman's attorneys in the instant action, Ward and Banks, also represented Palowsky and AESI in Palowsky v. Cork. See Record Document 22 at ¶ 40.

         On April 1, 2014, Hartt, then the Court Administrator of the Fourth JDC, became aware that it was possible to run “key fob” reports on the electronic keys that Fourth JDC employees use to enter the courthouse. See id. at ¶ 25. Hartt reported this fact to Marchman, who sought authorization from the chief judge of the Fourth JDC, then Manning, to investigate the key fob reports and corroborating video footage for Campbell for the first quarter of 2014. See id. at ¶¶ 25-26. Once Manning granted this authorization, a deputy judicial administrator undertook this investigation and found some discrepancies between the key fob and video evidence and the timesheets reporting Campbell's work hours on seven work days during the first quarter of 2014. See id. at ¶ 26; see Record Document 22-1. Allegedly, both Rambo and Amman had been approving Campbell's false timesheets during this time. See Record Document 22 at ¶ 27. Hartt also researched the crime of payroll fraud and concluded that it was a crime for a public employee to be paid for time that she did not actually work. See id. at ¶ 28.

         On April 15, 2014, Defendant Guice[4] allegedly asked Hartt whether the court was an “auditee” for the purposes of La. R.S. 24:523, which requires the agency head of an organization that is an “auditee” to immediately notify the legislative auditor and the district attorney once he or she becomes aware of any misappropriation of public funds. See Id. at ¶ 30. According to Marchman, no such notification was ever made despite the findings of the investigation into Campbell's timesheets. See id. at ¶ 30.

         After this investigation, the Fourth JDC judges held several meetings in which this matter was discussed, and they implemented new measures to prevent payroll fraud. See id. at ¶¶ 29, 31. Beginning on April 22, 2014, all law clerks were required to sign in and out each time they entered or left the building. See id. at ¶ 32. Campbell allegedly refused to comply with this requirement and falsified her sign-in sheet. See id. On April 24, 2014, at another judges' meeting, the judges agreed to remove Campbell from the position of “senior law clerk, ” terminate her stipend, suspend her for one month without pay, and reprimand her for her attendance issues and her behavior towards the staff of the human resources department. See id. at ¶ 33.

         While Campbell was serving her suspension in May 2014, 52 pending post-conviction relief applications were found underneath a couch in Campbell's office. See Id. at ¶ 34. The oldest of these applications was dated November 2, 2011, and it was Campbell's job to address these petitions. See id. Campbell allegedly had no explanation for why these applications were under a couch, and she allegedly gave a $200 gift card to the employee who found the applications. See id. On June 17, 2014, Marchman recused herself from investigating these issues because she heard that Campbell was actively seeking someone to oppose her in her upcoming election, leaving Jones to investigate them. See id. at ¶ 35. On July 8, 2014, Jones discussed these issues at a personnel committee meeting, but no remedial action was taken against Campbell. See id. at ¶ 36.

         On August 10, 2014, Campbell (who also serves as a part-time society columnist) published a column that allegedly caused Rials to again raise his complaint that Campbell had shredded a proposed judgment in one of his cases. See id. at ¶ 37. According to Marchman, Campbell's column contained several statements that, though they did not directly address Rials, were aimed at goading Rials by flaunting the fact that Campbell had gotten away with shredding his document without any consequences. See id. at ¶ 37. Rials emailed his complaint to a court employee, and the email eventually found its way to Marchman. See id. at ¶ 38. According to Marchman, this second attempt by Rials to raise the issue of the allegedly shredded judgment was the first time Marchman gained any knowledge of the incident. See id. Marchman then turned the matter over to the chief judge, who ordered Rials to put his complaint in writing and officially submit it to the court. See id. Despite another investigation into the matter, allegedly including confirmation to Sharp and Jones by the same witness that Campbell had bragged about destroying the proposed judgment, the investigation was closed without any action being taken against Campbell. See id. at ¶ 39.

         On August 13, 2014, Banks met with Hartt about several complaints in the Palowsky v. Cork litigation. See id. at ¶ 40. He complained that multiple pleadings that had been filed were missing and that information was being withheld from Rambo in the matter. See id. Banks also questioned Hartt about Rials' complaints about Campbell. See id. Rambo later discussed Banks' complaint about Campbell in a personnel committee meeting, but stated that no documents were missing from the record. See id. at ¶ 41. Marchman, however, alleges that documents were missing from the record and that Banks' investigation had proven that such documents were missing. See id. After this personnel committee meeting, Hartt wrote to Banks in a September 11, 2014, letter that the reason that some pleadings did not make it to Rambo was a recent conversion to a new filing system. See id. at ¶ 42.

         On September 12, 2014, the Fourth JDC judges held an en banc meeting. See Id. at ¶ 43. Though Marchman did not attend, she later listened to an audio recording of the meeting. See id. At this meeting, Jones discussed potentially putting a reprimand letter in Campbell's file about the 52 missing post-conviction relief applications that had been found in her office, and the judges also discussed complaints by “two local attorneys” regarding Campbell's actions in their cases. Id.

         On September 22, 2014, Banks wrote to Hartt asking why the investigation into his complaints had merely consisted of asking Rambo what had happened in the case. See id. at ¶ 44. Additionally, Banks asked about “sealed evidence of criminal activity” that Banks had provided to Rambo weeks earlier but which allegedly still had not been seen by Rambo. Id. It is not clear from the Amended Complaint what response, if any, Rambo made. However, on October 23, 2014, Palowsky filed a motion to recuse Rambo from presiding over Palowsky v. Cork, and Rambo granted the motion. See id. at ¶ 45.

         On November 3, 2014, Campbell emailed Sharp seeking to have Sharp contradict Rials' allegations against her. See id. at ¶ 46. Sharp responded that he had found that no misconduct had been “indicated, ” a response that is allegedly inconsistent with his 2012 letter to Rials stating that Rials' concerns were reasonable. Id. Sharp later supplemented this email at Campbell's request with another email stating that Campbell had never shredded anything. See id.

         At some point in November or December 2014, the legislative auditor found that some employees had been paid for time that had not actually been worked. See id. at ¶ 47. On December 30, 2014, the judges held a specially-called meeting to discuss this issue. See id. The substance of the discussion at this meeting is not clear from the Amended Complaint. See id. Eventually, local newspaper The News-Star ran a story about the legislative auditor's report. See id. at ¶ 50.

         On December 31, 2014, Jones retired from the bench. See id. at ¶ 48. He eventually replaced Hartt as Court Administrator on March 2, 2015, after Hartt resigned from this position. See id.

         From February 11 to March 10, 2015, Gunter, a reporter with The Ouachita Citizen, sent a series of public records requests to the Fourth JDC requesting certain records related to Campbell, including personnel records and timesheets, on behalf of the newspaper. See id. at ¶ 49. The Defendant judges and now-Chief Judge Winters hired Guice to advise them on how to respond to the requests. See Record Document 37-1 at 3. Guice advised the judges to comply with some of the requests and file a declaratory judgment action seeking a ruling that some of the other requests sought personnel files that were confidential and could not be disclosed to the public. See id.; see Record Document 40-5 (Winters v. Hanna Media, No. 15-0770, Fourth JDC, Parish of Ouachita, Louisiana).

         On March 13, 2015, the judges of the Fourth JDC held another meeting. See Record Document 22 at ¶ 51. At this meeting, Marchman moved to terminate Campbell's employment due to the significant amount of resources being devoted to handling public records requests related to Campbell. See id. The motion was unsuccessful, as no one seconded the motion. See id. Amman allegedly screamed at Marchman that Marchman only wanted to fire Campbell because of what was being written about Campbell in the newspapers. See id. at ¶ 51.

         In this same meeting, the judges discussed the response to Gunter's public records requests. See id. at ¶ 52. Jones informed the judges that just prior to the meeting, Campbell had given him a folder with three documents, all of which “contained outright accusations and thinly-veiled threats against Judge Marchman.” Id. These documents also contained a statement that Campbell had never worked on the Palowsky v. Cork case and that Rambo had informed the attorneys in that case of that fact. See Id. Marchman had never seen these documents before this meeting. See id.

         On March 20, 2015, Gunter filed a criminal complaint against the Fourth JDC for its refusal to fully comply with the public records requests he had made on behalf of The Ouachita Citizen. See id. at ¶ 53. The judges of the Fourth JDC called an emergency meeting. See id. Marchman did not attend this meeting, but later reviewed an audio recording of the meeting. See id. According to her, at this meeting the judges decided to take Guice's advice and file a petition for declaratory judgment against The Ouachita Citizen “to avoid any adverse investigation by the district attorney and to appear to the public as if the court were taking ‘the high road, '” with Chief Judge Winters later filing Winters v. Hanna Media, No. 15-0770, Fourth JDC, Parish of Ouachita, Louisiana. See id. at ¶ 53; see Record Document 40-5.

         On April 14, 2015, the judges held another meeting in which they discussed what documents should be produced to the ad hoc judge presiding over Winters v. Hanna Media. See id. at ¶ 54. Allegedly, Winters and Jones argued for turning over only the Rials letter and an outside consultant's report, but Marchman argued for turning over all documents regarding Campbell to the ad hoc judge. See id. Jones allegedly stated that there will be no testimony at the upcoming May 19, 2015, hearing because “testimony will not be good for us.” See id. On April 30, 2015, Marchman wrote to Winters repeating her arguments ...


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