A state judge on Monday declined to unseal grand jury records that St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta says would prove his indictment last year on a charge of sexual battery was tainted by perjured testimony.
Peralta wants the records unsealed now that prosecutors have dropped the sexual battery charge after failing to convince ad hoc Judge Frank Foil to delay the trial.
But Foil rejected Peralta’s request during a brief hearing Monday at 34th Judicial District Court in Chalmette.
Peralta’s attorney, Martin Regan, alleges that the nearly two-year-old legal case against Peralta has been politically motivated.
The grand jury transcripts should be unsealed now that the indictment has been dismissed, Regan argues, because the records show “that the witnesses against Mr. Peralta lied under oath in order to secure the indictment.”
Regan has said he plans to file a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Attorney General’s Office this week. The proposed suit, a draft of which was filed in court last week, claims that Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office violated Peralta’s rights by indicting him based on the allegedly false testimony.
Regan says Caldwell and other top state prosecutors are working to indict Peralta to give an edge to Wayne Landry, a former St. Bernard Parish Council member who is expected to run against Peralta for the parish’s top job in the fall.
Even with the sexual battery indictment off the table for now, Peralta is slated to be tried on a stalking charge in St. Tammany Parish in June. He has pleaded not guilty.
Arguing Monday against unsealing the grand jury records, Assistant Attorney General David Weilbaecher Jr. denied that prosecutors were involved in any political scheme and noted that Caldwell’s office became involved in the case only after the St. Bernard District Attorney’s Office recused itself in late 2013.
Prosecutors acknowledge that Landry, the former head of St. Bernard Parish Hospital, is among those who are cooperating with the case against Peralta. He was interviewed by the Attorney General’s Office in connection with the stalking charge, Weilbaecher’s filing said.
But Weilbaecher insisted that prosecutors dropped the sexual battery case against Peralta only because the looming trial date would have interfered with a broader, ongoing investigation.
“The AG’s Office, for many months, in open court, repeatedly told the court that the state was pursing a multipronged, increasingly complicated criminal investigation of the defendant and other persons, as a result of activities and evidence flowing from the original sexual battery case,” Weilbaecher said.
He added that unsealing the grand jury records would have “a chilling effect on the cooperation of witnesses.”
In an interview, Regan said that, if anything, unsealing the records “will make people more likely to tell the truth.”
The draft of Peralta’s proposed federal lawsuit lists eight instances of allegedly false grand jury testimony, although it redacts the specifics of each one. Regan said at least some of the testimony in question deals with whether Peralta and his now ex-wife, Sharon Schaefer, had engaged in “rough sex” before an October 2013 incident that spawned the sexual battery charge. Peralta claims the couple were role-playing at her request; Schaefer claims he raped her.
In an email late Friday, Landry weighed in on Peralta’s allegations against the AG’s Office, calling them “lies.”
“While I am very disappointed to read such nonsense, I am not surprised,” he said. “This is just another item in a long list of deceit that the current leadership continues to perpetrate on the public.”
Regan said he will appeal Monday’s ruling to the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal.
“I really don’t understand what they’re so worried about. If there’s nothing to hide, why won’t they give us the testimony?” Peralta said after Monday’s hearing.
Regan on Monday also said again that Peralta is now the target of a new grand jury probe underway in East Baton Rouge Parish, though prosecutors have so far declined to confirm it. Regan first disclosed the new investigation during a court appearance last week. Prosecutors declined to address the issue during Monday’s hearing.
That grand jury would be at least the fourth one to investigate Peralta in the past year. Regan said he’s not sure what charges it may consider or why the proceeding is happening nearly 100 miles away.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.