Disturbing 4th District Court legal battle between judges continues

By Andrew Burger | May 26, 2016

MONROE – A lengthening series of lawsuits that pits 4th Judicial District Court judges, attorneys and other legal professionals against one another raises serious questions regarding the credibility and legitimacy of the justice system in Ouachita and Morehouse Parish, as well as the ability of the court and legal community to fulfill its public obligations and responsibilities.

A new round of legal filings were submitted May 13 regarding a lawsuit brought in the U.S. District Court for Western Louisiana on April 19 by 4th District Court Judge Sharon Marchman against nine defendants. Legal counsel for four of the six judges named as defendants – 4th District Court judges Carl V. Sharp, Frederic C. Amman, J. Wilson Rambo and Benjamin Jones – filed requests for extension that would give them until June 20 to respond to allegations made in Marchman's lawsuit. In addition, attorney Jon Guice was granted an extension that his attorneys filed on May 12.

"These legal pleadings contain very disturbing allegations, which challenge the integrity of the judiciary,¨ Loyola University New Orleans Professor of Law William P. Quigley told the Louisiana Record. ¨Given the complexities, it is extremely difficult for the public to try to figure out who is right and who is in the wrong.¨

Also on May 13, attorneys representing Marchman filed a supplemental, amended and restated civil rights lawsuit that specifies she is seeking damages from six of the nine defendants in their individual, not professional, capacities as agents of the court or state. 

In her lawsuit, Marchman alleges the four judges and court legal clerk Allyson Campbell, along with former Louisiana Attorney General James D. "Buddy" Caldwell and attorneys Brian Crawford and Lawrence Pettiette Jr., engaged in a conspiracy to hide fraudulent payroll entries and court documents destroyed by Campbell, whom the judges supervised.

Marchman also alleges that in retaliation for trying to bring the wrongdoing to light the group engaged in a smear campaign that forced her to resign from her position as chairperson of the court's personnel committee, a position she had held since approximately 2005.

According to the lawsuit, the defendants also conspired ¨to conceal the fact that they have intentionally withheld information and production of documents from authorities and persons making public records requests." In addition, Marchman alleges the judges threatened, intimidated, coerced, ridiculed, taunted, harassed and alienated Marchman. They also falsely accused her of wrongdoing.

Marchman also alleges that Campbell retaliated by bringing a lawsuit in which Marchman is accused of improperly disclosing information about Campbell, conducting a ¨vendetta¨ against her and committing illegal acts related to legal pleadings in Palowsky v. Campbell, another lawsuit brought in the 4th District Court.

On May 5 U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph H. L. Perez-Montes granted separate requests for extension submitted by attorneys for Caldwell and Campbell. Perez-Montes gave them until June 10 to respond to Marchman's lawsuit.

A letter released the week of May 9 by Louisiana Inspector General Stephen B. Street Jr. states that an investigation by his office turned up insufficient evidence to warrant Campbell's arrest for any criminal offense.

In the supplemental, amended and restated complaint filed on Marchman's behalf last week, her attorneys argue that the judges, Pettierre and Caldwell are "all being sued for damages in their individual capacities for actions taken under color of state law."

Marchman is seeking damages "including, but not limited to, damages for the mental anguish and emotional distress caused by defendants’ violations of and conspiracy to violate her constitutionally protected rights to free speech and equal protection, damages for the injury to her reputation, statutory damages, general damages, attorney’s fees and other litigation costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988, and judicial interest from the date of demand." She requested a trial by jury.

"These are the types of allegations which the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana is likely examining,"  Quigley added. "But the Judiciary Commission proceedings are confidential, so the public will not know until they finish their investigations. In the meantime, the public is likely losing confidence in the entire system, which is a real tragedy."

Responding to a request for comment, Sedric L. Banks, one of Marchman's attorneys said: ¨Due to on-going litigation, plaintiffs' counsel feels compelled to refrain from commenting beyond the allegations contained in pleadings signed and filed in the record.¨

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