[Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include Mark Garber's official statement.]
With mere months to go before taking office, Lafayette Parish Sheriff-elect Mark Garber finds himself accused of an abuse of power by his wife in connection with the couple’s divorce proceedings.
Rachel Garber accused her husband of using his standing as incoming sheriff to obtain a search warrant for her email account and that of her divorce attorney, Richard Mere. Mere and Rachel Garber, as co-plaintiffs, filed several motions with state and federal courts last week to block a warrant secured by the Lafayette Police Department on Microsoft Corporation to search its files. Mere and Rachel Garber received notice of the impending search by Microsoft Corporation, which provides email service to both of them.
The 15th Judicial District Court granted a protective order to Mere and Rachel, blocking access to the emails sought by the LPD in connection with a criminal complaint the sheriff-elect filed against his wife, accusing her of stealing thousands of confidential records from his law practice.
The protective order, which also names the LPD and LPSO as defendants, quashes the warrant and prohibits the production of email records associated with Mere's and Rachel Garber's respective Gmail and Hotmail accounts.
The District Court ordered that the listed defendants show cause for the criminal investigation and email search at a hearing set May 23. The case was assigned to Judge Thomas Duplantier.
A motion to quash the search, filed in federal court, was denied by Magistrate Judge Patrick Hannah on jurisdictional grounds.
According to Mere, neither Microsoft nor the LPD would explain precisely what emails they were looking for or what those emails would contain, thereby breaching rights to privacy and attorney/client privilege protected by the U.S. Constitution. In essence, the plaintiffs claim that without a defined scope, the search warrant would give LPD — as an alleged investigative proxy for her husband — carte blanche to search their respective email accounts.
“Regardless of their claims or allegations of theft of business records, the state would not have the right to get email communications between myself and my client, short of an act of terrorism justifying the plunder of my email account,” Mere tells The Independent.
In a response to the motions filed, Sheriff-elect Garber claims his wife stole 32 emails containing 13,000 legal documents from his law office. Among those files are purported to be confidential medical records, attorney referrals and case files the sheriff-elect contends his wife intended to turn over to Mere for use in branching his practice to worker’s compensation law, Mark Garber’s specialization. Mark also claims that financial information retrieved from the allegedly stolen records would prove valuable to his wife in their ongoing divorce proceeding.
The various documents filed aired out plenty of dirty laundry and bad blood. Besides confirming that the Garbers were on the outs privately while publicly displaying a united family front, Rachel claims that her husband has taken to wearing a sidearm when out in public, is already carrying a sheriff’s badge and is driving an LPSO vehicle. He does not take office until this summer.
The sheriff-elect has responded to those allegations by stating that he is POST-certified to carry a firearm, is a part-time LPSO employee and that the vehicle Rachel alluded to is registered in his name.
In his response to Rachel's court motions, Mark Garber claims his wife attempted to coerce a paralegal employed by his firm to work for Mere, assisting Rachel and Mere in the aforementioned development of a worker’s comp arm to Mere’s law practice.
Mark and Rachel Garber had been separated since July 2015, both now confirm in court documents, but continued to appear together in many of candidate Garber’s campaign ads. Rachel officially filed for divorce on Nov. 30, 2015, just a week after the election. Despite the marital dispute, Rachel continued working at her husband's law office as a bookkeeper through December, according to factual claims filed into the record by the sheriff-elect.
It was during that time that Rachel allegedly emailed the sensitive documents to her personal account from her work computer. Mark Garber claims that, once he discovered the breach, he fired his wife from the firm and notified the LPD of the information theft. It was the LPD’s initiative, according to Mark, to seek a search warrant following the criminal complaint filed by the sheriff-elect.
According to Mere, Rachel neither admits nor denies sending the emails.
Below is Mark Garber's official statement regarding the court battle:
"Rachel Garber was an employee of my law firm, serving in the capacity as a bookkeeper. During the month of December 2015, it was brought to my attention she had made an unauthorized transfer of files from my law firm’s server to her personal email address, including client files, contracts, referral lists and financial files. In a 3 day period, over 13,000 pages of proprietary information was removed from the firm's servers.
Rachel was terminated from the firm, the case was reported to the Lafayette Police Department and they secured the warrant to search her computer. This morning, Federal Magistrate Hanna denied the motion filed by Rachel Garber and Richard Mere. This continues to be an investigation by the Lafayette Police Department and any further questions should be referred to them.”