The clerk of court and a state judge in St. Charles Parish are blaming each other for releasing a document identifying the high school student at the center of sex allegations against two teachers.
District Attorney Joel Chaisson II said Tuesday that he was “extremely disappointed” that the name, address and phone number of the alleged victim were disclosed in a court filing last week by 29th Judicial District Court Judge Michele Morel, who recused herself from the case in a motion filed Oct. 7.
Morel included an arrest warrant with her filing and ordered that the Clerk’s Office include it in the court record, according to Chaisson’s office. The warrant revealed the student’s identity.
The court records are in the case of former Destrehan High School teacher Shelley Dufresne, 32, who faces criminal proceedings in both St. Charles and Jefferson parishes. She is the daughter of 29th Judicial District Judge Emile St. Pierre, who also stepped aside from the case, as did Judge Lauren Lemmon.
After Chaisson’s remarks on Tuesday, Morel issued a statement saying, “While I accept responsibility for any oversight, we have trusted the clerk of court in the past to place under seal any and all sensitive information involving juveniles, and I expected this case to be handled the same as all others have been handled.”
Hours later, Court Clerk Lance Marino provided his own account of the incident. “Judge Morel correctly pointed out that papers filed by her office into the public record included the identity of the juvenile victim in a criminal case involving adult teachers,” he said in a statement. “This error on her part was promptly identified by me and my experienced staff as we processed the record.”
Shortly after Morel’s recusal motion was filed, Julie Cullen, an assistant district attorney in Chaisson’s office, filed a motion requesting that the student’s information be removed from the arrest warrant that Morel had filed. “This had the unfortunate effect of having the victim’s name and address and telephone number made part of the public record in this matter,” Cullen wrote.
Retired Judge Anne Lennan Simon, the ad hoc judge handling the case against Dufresne, signed the order requested by Cullen the same day.
In his statement, Marino said clerks in Louisiana have “no obligation or authority to review or correct attorneys’ or judges’ errors” in court filings, but he said his office notified Chaisson of the disclosure and “acted quickly to protect the privacy of the juvenile.”
“I would like to extend my appreciation to my extremely competent staff, District Attorney Chaisson and Judge Anne Simon for working closely with me to protect the young person involved in this unfortunate situation,” Marino said.
Chaisson, for his part, seemed to absolve the clerk of blame in his initial remarks Tuesday, saying he was “very appreciative of the fact that this was promptly brought to our attention by the Clerk’s Office.”
Dufresne was arrested Sept. 30 by the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office and booked on one count of carnal knowledge of a juvenile stemming from an alleged sexual encounter at a home in Montz with the teenager, who was 16 at the time.
A day later, Dufresne was arrested again, along with her former colleague at Destrehan High, 24-year-old Rachel Respess, for allegedly having a three-way sexual encounter with the student in Respess’ Kenner apartment after a football game last month.
The New Orleans Advocate does not name alleged victims of sexual abuse without their consent.
Dufresne is due to appear Oct. 23 in 29th Judicial District Court in Hahnville. Both she and Respess are due in 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna for a status conference Nov. 17.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.