Hours after St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta was booked on a charge of sexual battery and posted $20,000 bail, three Parish Council members called Thursday for him to resign in the face of his mounting legal problems.
The councilmen said that while Peralta’s legal issues are personal, they “have and continue to have a negative effect and reflection on the citizens of St. Bernard Parish.”
A grand jury indicted Peralta on Wednesday.
Despite allegations that he brutally raped his now-estranged wife six months ago at their Meraux home, Peralta has remained outwardly unfazed as his divorce proceedings played out in the media.
While he now faces a felony charge, Peralta, elected in 2011, has no plans to leave office because the matter is personal in nature, his attorney said.
“This has nothing to do with his position as parish president,” attorney Stephen London said. “He hasn’t been accused of anything like taking a bribe or malfeasance in office.”
According to the parish charter, the president must relinquish his or her position for only a few reasons, among them conviction of a state or federal felony.
But in a joint statement released Thursday evening, At-Large Councilman Guy McInnis, District A Councilman Ray Lauga Jr. and District D Councilman Casey Hunnicutt asked for Peralta’s voluntary resignation, saying the ongoing legal issues he faces have affected his ability to lead the parish.
“(T)he executive branch of St. Bernard Parish requires unencumbered leadership and focus, as well as public trust,” the councilmen wrote. “In our opinion, your recent personal and legal issues have overtaxed your capacity to maintain the public trust and provide fruitful and productive leadership.”
As a result, they said, “we believe that it is in the best interest of St. Bernard Parish and its governance to respectfully request your voluntary resignation of the parish president’s office in order to deliver the most beneficial government that the citizens of St. Bernard Parish deserve.”
While describing the indictment as “embarrassing” for the parish, District C Councilman Richard Lewis said he would not join the call for Peralta’s resignation.
“There’s nothing that this council can do. We can’t force David Peralta to resign. On top of that, it’s a personal matter,” Lewis said. “It was with his wife. We just leave it at that. As long as parish government stays on track, I’d prefer to let David handle his problems.”
“Innocent until proven guilty: That’s what our country is built on,” Lewis added.
At-Large Councilman George Cavignac said, “It’s going to be extremely beneficial to get information to the public.”
“A lot of them are confused,” he said, noting that many people do not know that a resignation is required only upon conviction.
But, Cavignac, added, if Peralta’s legal troubles affect his work or become “too much of a distraction … the answer would be obvious at that point.”
District B Councilman Nathan Gorbaty and District E Councilman Manuel “Monty” Montelongo did not return messages seeking comment.
In addition to saying he will not resign as president, Peralta has also said he plans to seek re-election in March.
While Sharon Peralta contends her husband handcuffed and violently raped her at their home on her birthday in October, David Peralta maintains that the sex was consensual and involved “rape fantasies” she had requested. She has denied that.
Under state law, sexual battery is described, in part, as “the intentional touching of the anus or genitals of the victim by the offender using any instrumentality or any part of the body of the offender.” It is a less serious crime than rape, but it is a felony and carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
London, Peralta’s attorney, said the case will be “vigorously defended.”
“The allegation, as far as I’m concerned, is baseless,” he said.
Sharon Peralta’s attorney disagreed.“The evidence that the attorney general’s prosecutor presented was not baseless,” Vernon Thomas said in a prepared statement. “The evidence and testimonies rendered an indictment by the grand jury.”
The state Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the case after parish prosecutors recused themselves.
In her own statement, Sharon Peralta said she will request that all of the judges of the 34th Judicial District Court recuse themselves from the case because of personal connections.
That had not happened as of Thursday afternoon, according to Valerie Willard, deputy judicial administrator for the state Supreme Court, which would appoint an outside judge if all the parish judges bow out.
District Judge Jacques Sanborn heard the matter Thursday, setting the bail and issuing a stay-away order that prohibits David Peralta from speaking to or coming in contact with Sharon Peralta.
Peralta is scheduled to be arraigned at 9 a.m. July 23.