The proverbial “walk of shame” has featured more than a few stumbling legal detours for local lawyer and former radio host Jennifer Gaubert.
Her drunken sexual misadventure with a taxi driver in the front seat of his cab in Lakeview in 2012 led to a simple battery conviction for Gaubert last year in Municipal Court.
Then came the airing by The New Orleans Advocate and other websites of a racy cellphone video, shot by cabbie Hervey Farrell, that showed Gaubert slurring a plea for sex while exposing her genitals to him.
The drama over the same incident continued Friday, this time in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, where Gaubert, 34, was convicted of criminal mischief, a misdemeanor, after facing a felony charge of filing a phony police report.
Gaubert’s police report, accusing Farrell of extortion and video voyeurism, led to his arrest and a brief jail detention in 2013 that he described Friday as “hell.”
Judge Arthur Hunter refused to convict Gaubert on the felony count, announcing the misdemeanor conviction without comment.
In a case with more twists than a bag of pretzels, both Farrell and Gaubert took the witness stand, presenting starkly contrasting accounts of the April 6, 2012, cab ride to Lakeview from Galatoire’s restaurant on Bourbon Street, where Gaubert left soused after a three-hour lunch.
Farrell, 39, flatly denied trying to extort money from Gaubert under threat of releasing the video. That was the allegation that Gaubert originally brought to police in 2013, landing the cabbie in jail for nearly 30 hours before District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office found holes in her story.
Since his call to 911 shortly after the cab ride — saying “She whipped out my penis and was trying to give me oral sex and I said no” — Farrell has maintained he was a victim of Gaubert’s drunken aggression after she’d hopped into the front seat during the ride.
He quickly filed a civil claim against Gaubert, whose radio show on WGSO, “Law Out Loud,” ended right after the cab ride.
At issue in the criminal case was whether Gaubert lied when, a year later, she went to police to report that Farrell had demanded money while sending the video to Gaubert’s lawyer by email.
No email documenting the alleged extortion attempt has turned up. On the witness stand Friday, Gaubert said the email claim was a minor miscommunication with police. She insisted, however, that the video had been sent, one way or another, to her attorney and friend, Brigid Collins, and that the message was clear: Pay or else.
She also said the sexual encounter was completely consensual. She said she had asked Farrell, who was holding his phone, if he was videoing her and he denied it.
In tearful testimony, she said she went to police to ensure that the video would be confiscated.
“That’s all I wanted — that the tape can’t be distributed. It was the fear of it being released that had the original effect on me,” Gaubert testified. She said she moved to Thibodaux and gave up her law practice, petrified.
“The release of it has been the best thing that’s happened to me,” she added. “What feared me the most is out there, and whether people don’t want to like me, they can. What can they hold over my head now?”
Cannizzaro’s office refused the extortion and voyeurism counts against Farrell, instead charging Gaubert with making a false statement.
Collins testified Friday that she never received an explicit “pay or play” threat from Farrell or his lawyer, though she said she did receive the video and a money demand as part of Farrell’s bid to settle the civil suit. The first solicitation was for $60,000, Collins said. “No one ever said to me the charges would go away if she paid money,” Collins testified. “I don’t recall the order, but a money demand was made, and the video was provided.”
Gaubert told police the extortion demand was for $1,000, according to a report.
Hunter reviewed the video in silence during the daylong trial, in which Gaubert’s attorneys claimed Farrell was the liar. They accused the cabbie, then a Yellow Cab driver, of taping the end of an amorous session to cover his tracks after an off-duty Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputy came rapping on the window.
They pointed to various taxi regulations and criminal statutes that frown on cabbies having sex with fares, especially drunken ones.
“If you look at it as a whole, the wrong person is sitting at this table. It shouldn’t be Jennifer Gaubert; it should be him,” one of her attorneys, Cameron Mary, told the judge.
“It’s an outrageous (civil) demand to begin with — $60,000 to be kissed by an attractive woman. You couple that with an embarrassing video, you have exactly what’s been reported: an extortion,” Mary said.
Assistant District Attorneys Sarah Dawkins and Elizabeth Killian called those comments evidence that Gaubert hasn’t taken responsibility for her false report to police. Throughout the trial, they argued that details of the sexual encounter in the taxicab were irrelevant to the case.
Gaubert’s attorneys, meanwhile, called up Lt. Gasper Migliore Jr., a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office lieutenant who lives in the neighborhood and who testified that he walked into the alley on Vicksburg Street after seeing a Yellow Cab parked there.
“I observed a female in the driver’s seat on top of the driver, and in observing her actions, I could see she’s bucking her hips back and forth. Immediately I took my police ID out and said, ‘What the hell are you doing? This is a residential neighborhood,’ ” Migliore said.
“My view is that it was a consensual act between two consenting adults in public view. The driver didn’t even attempt to push her off. When I walked up, she got off on her own.”
Gaubert’s attorneys found Migliore only after she was convicted of simple battery last year in Municipal Court.
On the stand Friday, Farrell denied any recollection of seeing the off-duty deputy during the encounter.
Hunter allowed Gaubert to remain free on $25,000 bail while setting a Feb. 13 sentencing date. She faces up to six months in prison on the criminal mischief count.
Mary called it a disappointing “compromise verdict.” Whatever the extortion amount, or whether it came by email or “snail mail,” he argued, Farrell’s intent was clear.
Just how the two guilty verdicts against Gaubert might affect Farrell’s civil claims is uncertain. Blake Arcuri, a civil attorney for Farrell, said he was pleased with Hunter’s verdict.
Cannizzaro called the verdict “a good decision.”
“I think it supports what we have said the entire time: This woman did in fact go to the police station and make a false claim against someone. And as a result, this man was in fact arrested for a period of time and lost his job for a period of time,” Cannizzaro said. “We cannot encourage what Ms. Gaubert did.”
The DA acknowledged that police should have investigated Gaubert’s claims more thoroughly — demanding to see the purported email, for instance — before securing an arrest warrant for Farrell. “That would have saved a whole lot of inconvenience at the very least to the cab driver, and a whole lot of anguish and suffering,” Cannizzaro said.
Friday’s trial likely will not end the legal wrangling. Last year, Farrell filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, claiming he was the victim of false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and kidnapping. The lawsuit names Mayor Mitch Landrieu, former NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas and three police officers as defendants, along with Gaubert.