Court filings over the past five days reveal the latest eyebrow-raiser from last year’s bitter Lafayette Parish sheriff’s election.
Sheriff-elect Mark Garber, an attorney who at one time specialized in worker’s compensation cases, has accused his estranged wife, Rachel, of stealing 13,000 pages of material from his law practice before he fired her from the firm in December.
Garber filed a complaint with the Lafayette Police Department, which opened an investigation into whether Rachel Garber stole the files by emailing them from her husband’s law firm to her personal account so her divorce attorney, Richard Mere, could start a worker’s compensation practice, according to court documents.
In an interview Tuesday, Mere denied that he and Rachel Garber conspired to steal Mark Garber’s work files and said he had no plans to start a worker’s compensation practice. Mere also said he learned police wanted copies of his work emails only recently, when service provider Microsoft notified him they had received a search warrant from the Lafayette Police Department to retrieve emails.
Mark Garber said in a statement that his wife was a bookkeeper at his law firm when he learned in December that she made an “unauthorized transfer” of files from the firm to her personal account. Mark Garber said the transfer included “client files, contracts, referral lists and financial files.” He said that over three days in December, his soon-to-be ex-wife removed 13,000 pages of “proprietary information” before he fired her and reported her to police.
Mark Garber’s complaint led to a warrant to search the email accounts of Mere and Rachel Garber, who fought in both state and federal court to stop the email release.
On Monday, ad hoc 15th District Judge Ronald Cox put a temporary stop to Microsoft and other Internet companies giving police those emails. Cox apparently found enough in Mere’s and Rachel Garber’s argument — that wholesale retrieval of the work emails could violate the attorney-client privilege that exists between Mere and Rachel Garber and between Mere and other clients — to stop it for now. Cox set a May 23 hearing for arguments over whether investigators should be permanently barred from retrieving the emails.
Mark Garber’s pursuit of criminal charges against his wife is the latest fallout following a bitter, hard-fought campaign for sheriff last year, which he won against three opponents.
One of the opponents, Scott Police Chief Chad Leger, has been linked to a smear stunt that unfolded at a news conference held by Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope, who was politically allied with Leger. The news conference, held at the Lafayette City Marshal’s Office, accused Mark Garber of trying to encourage immigrants entering the country illegally to settle in Louisiana.
The stunt backfired, however: Leger badly lost the November runoff to Mark Garber, and Leger’s campaign manager, Joe Castille, was found to have penned the words that were mouthed by Pope at the news conference.
Pope was sentenced to house arrest, ordered to pay fines and penalties of about $100,000 and ordered to complete 175 hours of public service after being found in contempt of court by Lafayette Judge Jules Edwards, who ruled Pope did not properly turn over emails sought by Lafayette news outlet The Independent. Pope is appealing the sentence.
Mark Garber too employed subterfuge in last year’s campaign, according to federal documents filed this week in the email flap.
The Garbers were married in 2003 and have two children. Then “Mark Garber became disenchanted with his marriage to Rachel Garber and the couple agreed to remain married for the perception of the voters and/or only until Mark Garber’s candidacy for sheriff of Lafayette Parish was completed,” according to documents filed Friday.
According to state court records, Rachel Garber filed for divorce Nov. 30, just days after her husband won the runoff election. If the Garbers do not reconcile, the divorce will be final in December.
Editor’s note: This article was changed on Wednesday, April 20, to note that Lafayette Parish Sheriff-elect Mark Garber has accused his estranged wife of stealing 13,000 pages of material from his law practice before he fired her in December.