A lawsuit by a Monroe businessman alleging that a court employee hid or destroyed official documents hasn’t gotten much attention beyond north Louisiana, but it should. What’s needed even more is a prompt resolution of a case that could impact how judges throughout Louisiana conduct public business.
The lawsuit originated in 2015 after Monroe businessman Stanley Palowsky III, in a separate proceeding, sued former business partner Brandon Cook. Palowsky then accused Fourth Judicial District Court law clerk Allyson Campbell of concealing or destroying legal records from his suit against Cook, and he sued Campbell and several judges for damages. His suit alleged that the judges had acted to conceal Campbell’s activities.
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The suit raised a question not only about the guilt or innocence of the parties involved, but whether judges and court officials could be sued for how they conduct judicial business. It’s an important issue that warrants clarification, but the state’s judicial system has been dragging its feet, which doesn’t suggest that the judges involved are taking the matter very seriously.
In November 2015, retired judge Jerry Barbera of Thibodaux, acting as an ad hoc judge on the case, ruled that the judges and Campbell couldn’t be sued.
Last February, the case ended up before the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge, where Chief Judge Vanessa Whipple, as well as judges Page McClendon and John Michael Guidry, discussed whether destroying court documents could be considered a judicial function, which would provide court officials with immunity from such lawsuits. Although a decision on the matter was expected within two months, the case has languished for nearly a year, with another hearing scheduled in Baton Rouge for Jan. 17.
Palowsky’s accusations prompted a criminal investigation of Campbell by the Louisiana State Police and the state Office of Inspector General. State officials concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to secure a “lasting conviction” of Campbell.
The suggestion that a court official destroyed a public record, then had help in concealing her misdeed from members of the bench, underscores the need for a timely and transparent response that promotes public confidence in the legal system.
The sluggish pace of the proceedings so far doesn’t suggest that judges are taking their obligations seriously. They need to.