Louisiana Attorney General James D. “Buddy” Caldwell is using an oft-cited elected
official immunity defense to dismiss a lawsuit that accuses him and others of
retaliating against a Fourth Judicial Court judge.
announced the defense in a motion he filed May 24 to dismiss the suit.
suit, filed by Judge Sharon Marchman against Caldwell and other Fourth District
judges, says the judges conspired to take away committee chair duties and made
her feel unwelcome in the courthouse following her investigation of suspicious
activities in the district that included alleged payroll fraud and document
is claiming her protections under the First and 14th Amendments were violated
and that the actions eventually led to her resigning from the job she had held
attorneys are arguing that he is protected from Marchman’s claims under the 11th
Amendment, which provides immunity for public officials acting in their
official capacities. That protection is valid even when damages can be proven,
which Caldwell’s attorneys also say Marchman’s counsel has not done.
Marchman reportedly is also accusing Caldwell and two
attorneys of conspiring with a law clerk to submit pleadings on her behalf in a
suit accusing Marchman of committing illegal acts that include improperly
disclosing information about the clerk.
attorneys have argued there was no conspiracy and that Marchman doesn’t have a
14th Amendment claim either, because, outside of the elected
official immunity defense, she would still have to be defined as part of a
protected class to be eligible.
Ciolino, a legal ethics expert at Loyola University New Orleans Law School, told the Louisiana Record that Caldwell’s defense is not that unusual in the world of elected officials.
such protections, whether it be absolute or qualified immunity, have been put
into law to allow government officials to discharge the responsibilities of
their positions without the fear of being sued personally.
laws still allow action against the state for wrongdoing or to collect damages,
but protects the government agent from individual civil action.
government actors to do their jobs and have to think about their own interest
when they are representing the state,” he said. “It limits undue timidity and
recognizes that (officials) aren’t working for their own benefit and do make
said that doesn’t mean that officials can just do what they want, regardless of
the law and who gets hurt.
with immunity, officials can’t commit crimes or be responsible for gross
violations of citizens’ rights, especially when it pertains to individual constitutional protections.
has a purpose, but it’s certainly not a free pass for all liability,” Ciolino said.