Judge rules Monday that emails should be available for Lafayette detectives to review _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Lafayette Parish sheriff-elect Mark Garber

A judge Monday removed the legal barrier that had kept criminal investigators from looking at emails belonging to attorney Richard Mere and Rachel Garber in her divorce from Lafayette Parish Sheriff-elect Mark Garber.

Judge Thomas Duplantier dismissed a lawsuit filed by Mere and Rachel Garber, who were alerted in April by Microsoft that detectives had a warrant to look at the emails. On April 28, after hearing from Microsoft, the pair filed the suit to block access to their electronic mail. That same day a judge signed the order to block access.

On Monday, Duplantier threw out the order, then directed some anger toward Microsoft, which provides email service for Mere and Garber.

“Microsoft ought to be in contempt in my court,” Duplantier said. “If everybody could stem a subpoena in midstream, we would have no criminal justice system.”

Jeffery Speer, an attorney representing Mere and Rachel Garber, said late Monday afternoon that Mere likely will direct him to have the state 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal review Duplantier’s ruling. Speer said Louisiana’s rules of professional conduct governing attorneys have strict guidelines about keeping secret attorney-client communications, including emails.

“The implications of Mr. Mere’s email account are so large that there’s just not a safe way to (address the issue) except to appeal it,” Speer said.

Mark Garber, who becomes sheriff on July 1, is an attorney with a worker’s compensation practice and an office that used to employ his wife. He fired his wife in December after she filed for divorce.

Mark Garber instigated a criminal investigation of Rachel Garber and Mere by filing charges accusing the pair of stealing 13,000 pages of worker’s compensation files from his firm’s computer system.

According to a federal lawsuit filed in the matter, Mark Garber alleged that his wife covertly downloaded the files and emailed them to Mere, who by late December already had been retained as Rachel Garber’s divorce attorney. Mark Garber alleged that his wife was helping Mere start a worker’s compensation practice and that the stolen material contained “proprietary information.”

Mere has denied he stole files, and he denied being interested in practicing worker’s compensation law.

Lafayette detectives issued a warrant to Microsoft for access to the emails. The lawsuit was filed in April to stop the turnover. Their suit claimed that allowing someone to look at the emails would violate the protections given to attorney-client communications. The pair said allowing access to detectives would violate those protections both between Mere and Rachel Garber, and between Mere and many of his other clients.

Retired Judge Ronald Cox, who was filling in at the Lafayette Parish Courthouse as the day judge, signed the order that blocked the access.

Duplantier decided against taking that route on Monday.

“It’s not my place to decide what is and is not discoverable in a criminal case,” Duplantier said.

Mark Garber’s spokeswoman, Amy Jones, said Monday he would decline comment about Duplantier’s decision.

Mark and Rachel Garber have filed for divorce a few times. Married since 2003, each of them filed lawsuits in 2013 to dissolve the marriage but reconciled and kept it going. Rachel Garber, however, claimed in federal court documents that the reconciliation was theater: Her husband had decided to run for sheriff of Lafayette Parish and wanted to give voters the impression that the candidate was a family man with a solid marriage.

On Nov. 30, nine days after Mark Garber soundly defeated his opponent, Rachel Garber filed for divorce.