Appellate Circuit

Meanwhile in Louisiana: Former Judge Carl Sharp and Court Administrator Ben Jones Engaged in Case Fixing

The case fixing allegations against Jones and Sharp came to light in late 2020 after The Ouachita Citizen obtained damning court documents.

Judges ask Fifth Circuit to protect Jones

MAR 2, 2022 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: MAR 4, 2022

A panel of judges for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal in Gretna considered oral arguments last month in Monroe businessman Stanley Palowsky III’s ongoing lawsuit against Fourth Judicial District Court officials.

The matter at dispute before the Fifth Circuit was whether Palowsky could expand his lawsuit against law clerk Allyson Campbell and five judges to include the claims that now-retired Judge Carl Sharp and court administrator Ben Jones engaged in case fixing by corresponding before issuing a ruling in one of the businessman’s lawsuits.

Palowsky first sued Campbell in 2015 for concealing or destroying documents he filed with the court in a separate lawsuit against a former business partner.

Palowsky also sued Jones and Sharp as well as now-retired Judge Fred Amman as well as Judges Wilson Rambo and Stephens Winters.

According to Palowsky, the five defendant judges conspired to conceal Campbell’s activities.

The case fixing allegations against Jones and Sharp came to light in late 2020 after The Ouachita Citizen obtained hundreds of internal court documents, including a draft judgment by Sharp with a handwritten note and edits in the margins from Jones.

Palowsky claimed Jones and Sharp engaged in ex parte communications in an effort to change a ruling in a separate case involving Palowsky’s business, Alternative Environmental Solutions Inc. (AESI).

The allegations against Campbell arose in a separate legal proceeding involving AESI — Stanley R. Palowsky III and others v. W. Brandon Cork and others.

Palowsky’s Cork case is a racketeering lawsuit in which Palowsky claimed his company, AESI, was blackballed for shedding light on an over-billing scheme involving environmental remediation projects.

Jones was not serving as a judge in the Cork case, though he and Sharp were each defendants in the Campbell lawsuit at the time.

Palowsky has argued Jones and Sharp’s communications constituted illegal case fixing because Jones was trying to influence the outcome of a civil proceeding that could affect the lawsuit against himself, Campbell and the other judges.

“Judge Jones then edited the ruling and sent it back to Judge Sharp with a signed handwritten letter advising Judge Sharp that he had made some corrective edits to the ruling and further suggesting that Judge Sharp reconsider his ruling and deny the motion,”

stated Palowsky’s Aug. 4, 2021 brief to the Fifth Circuit.

“This recommendation was based on Judge Jones’ belief that the allegations made against Defendant Judges might influence the judge who would decide the motion to recuse.”

Palowsky alleged that Sharp abandoned his draft ruling in the Cork case and issued a judgment in keeping with Jones’ advice on Aug. 25, 2015.

“Nothing about a judge who is interested in the outcome of a case re-writing a decision by the presiding judge over can be considered a ‘function normally performed by a judge,’”

stated Palowsky’s Aug. 4, 2021 brief to the Fifth Circuit.

Retired Judge Jerry Barbera, of Thibodaux, is presiding over Stanley R. Palowsky III and others v. Allyson Campbell and others at the district court.

Last summer, Barbera denied Palowsky’s request to expand his claims against Jones and Sharp to include case fixing.

In a Feb. 26, 2021 judgment, Barbera wrote,

“[Jones’] consideration of a motion of this type is certainly a judicial function within the jurisdiction of both judges.”

The Fifth Circuit is considering Palowsky’s appeal of Barbera’s ruling.

Oral arguments were held before the Fifth Circuit on Feb. 16, according to the appeal court’s docket.

Palowsky is seeking to include claims against Jones alone, noting that Sharp enjoys judicial immunity because he was the judge assigned to the Cork case at the time.

The five defendant judges have argued that Jones also was protected by judicial immunity because he corresponded with Sharp and discussed the ruling with him within his capacity as a “supernumerary judge pro tempore” at the district court.

“The communications made the subject of Mr. Palowsky’s supplemental claims were judicial actions by Judge Benjamin Jones, falling under his jurisdiction as an active Supernumerary Judge pro tempore for the Fourth Judicial District Court,” stated the defendant judges’ Sept. 3 memorandum to the Fifth Circuit.

According to the defendant judges, a supernumerary judge pro tempore is “generally empowered to discuss legal issues pending before the Court and to assist in the case-deciding process, as complained of in Mr. Palowsky’s Second Supplemental Petition.”

“Any potential discussions took place between judges as part of the case-deciding process, and there was nothing ethically or legally improper about the judges’ communications,”

stated the judges’ Sept. 3, 2021 memorandum.

“Mr. Palowsky’s allegations that Judge Jones engaged in communications with a fellow judge with malice, an intent to defraud or as part of a conspiracy have no effect on Judge Jones’ immunity protections.”

The defendant judges’ ongoing claims that Jones was allowed to correspond with Sharp as a “supernumerary judge pro tempore” at the district court contradict Jones’ statements to The Ouachita Citizen in October 2020 when interviewed about the documents.

As reported in The Ouachita Citizen’s Oct. 15, 2020 news report, Jones told this newspaper he believed he was authorized to offer comments to his colleague about the proposed judgment in the Cork case as part of his administrative role.

“Why not? Let me just say this. I’m the court administrator,”

Jones said at the time.

“As court administrator, my duties are to handle the business of the court.”

At no point during the lengthy interview did Jones tell The Ouachita Citizen he was acting as a “supernumerary judge pro tempore” for the Fourth Judicial District Court. Jones previously served as a judge at the district court until he retired from the bench and took a job as the district court’s administrator in 2015.

When asked at the time about why Jones did not share his handwritten notes and correspondence with all parties in the Cork case, beyond Sharp, Jones said,

“As a judge, in that capacity, I think that I would be bound to comply with what you’re talking about. But as a court administrator, I did not feel that applies to me.”

The note obtained by The Ouachita Citizen was written by Jones in blue ink on a memo page bearing his letterhead as “Judge Benjamin Jones, Court Administrator.”

In his note, Jones suggested that allowing Palowsky’s motion to stand—as indicated in Sharp’s draft judgment—could pose a problem for the court by making the allegations part of the court record.

“Carl, I made some comments that respect your decision to allow the en banc motion to recuse to stand,”

Jones’ note began.

“However, I think it is a mistake to allow that motion to stand and treat it as a motion to recuse you individually. Why? Because all the awful allegations contained in that motion will be on record.

“The effect may be that a judge hearing the motion would see all the allegations that do not have anything to do with you and be influenced. Frankly, I think that unauthorized motion should be dismissed. If they think they have grounds to recuse you, they should file a more narrow motion.”

Palowsky v. Campbell, No. 21-C-279 (La. Ct. App. Aug. 26, 2021)

When interviewed at the time, Jones initially denied knowledge about the note. Later, once The Ouachita Citizen described the note and his edits with specificity, Jones told the newspaper, “I don’t know how you could have what you say you have.”

Later during that interview, he confirmed the note matched his legal view and appeared to have been written by him. He said, “I don’t deny if you have something in my handwriting, in my letterhead, and my name on it.”

In that interview, Jones continued to defend his legal view about the situation. The question at issue in the Cork case in 2015 concerned a request for an en banc recusal—a recusal of all judges at the court.

“It was my view, what I would’ve done, that is what I would have done,” Jones said at the time. “But I will tell you it was and is my legal view that there is no en banc recusal, and procedurally, each judge should be recused personally or individually.”

The Ouachita Citizen’s review of “en banc recusal orders” in the Cork case and the Campbell lawsuit in 2015 show that “all judges” were recused. Jones’ signature was not among them.

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Meanwhile in Louisiana: Former Judge Carl Sharp and Court Administrator Ben Jones Engaged in Case Fixing
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