On Jan. 7, 2018, we published an editorial urging Louisiana judges not to drag their feet in a court case involving the possible destruction of key records in a legal proceeding.
Now another year has passed, and a lawsuit that began in 2015, dealing with a matter that challenges the integrity of the judicial system itself, has only recently made it to the Louisiana Supreme Court. Little wonder that public cynicism about important government institutions runs so deep these days.
The litigation began in 2015 after Monroe businessman Stanley Palowsky III, in a separate proceeding, sued former business partner Brandon Cork. 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.
As we mentioned last year, 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 slow-walking the case, which doesn’t suggest that the judges involved are taking the matter very seriously. The case languished for about a year at the First Circuit Court of Appeal.
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.
Last year, the First Circuit ruled that Palowsky could sue Campbell but not the five defendant judges: Stephens Winters, Carl Sharp, Wilson Rambo, Fred Amman and Ben Jones. Sharp retired from the district court bench last year. Jones retired in 2014. In 2015, he returned to the district court to serve as its administrator.
Now, presumably, the state Supreme Court will have its say.
We return to the concern we raised a year ago: 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.
Of course, it’s too late for timeliness now. Regardless of what the Louisiana Supreme Court decides in this case, the long, strange journey of this litigation could very well discourage other citizens from seeking justice in the future.