A grand jury met Thursday in St. Bernard Parish to consider multiple criminal charges against Parish President David Peralta, but jurors were sent home for the day without handing up a decision on whether to indict the first-term parish leader.
Prosecutors from the state Attorney General’s Office were expected to present evidence to support their claims that Peralta committed crimes including conspiracy, witness intimidation, obstruction of justice and malfeasance in office.
Before lunchtime, two familiar faces were seen entering or leaving the grand jury room at 34th Judicial District Court in Chalmette: David Gorbaty, a former state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal judge who volunteers as Peralta’s chief adviser, and his brother, Michael Gorbaty, who was hired late last year as St. Bernard’s chief administrative officer.
Mike Valencia, a partner at ParaTech LLC, a local technology firm that handles parish work, also was seen outside the courtroom, waiting his turn to go in.
Earlier this year, the parish hired two consultants to audit the job performance of Jeffrey Brannon, St. Bernard’s technology director. Brannon is widely expected to testify against Peralta at a criminal trial.
ParaTech was one of the two consultants hired for the job. The firm offered a scathing review of Brannon’s work and alleged that he copied Peralta’s emails, presumably for state investigators. Many parish observers viewed their work as an attempt by Peralta to raise questions about Brannon’s credibility.
The grand jury initially convened in January and met again last month. Its deliberations are secret under state law.
One potential roadblock to the group’s reaching a decision on whether to indict Peralta is that all five of the court’s judges have recused themselves from the case. Valerie Willard, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Supreme Court, said an ad hoc judge would be appointed to handle the matter, but that had not been done when the jury met Thursday.
Assistant Attorney General David Weilbaecher Jr., who was at the courthouse Thursday, recently said there is a “99.5 percent” chance Peralta would face additional charges in a new indictment.
Peralta has faced mounting legal issues stemming from an October 2013 incident during which his then-wife, Sharon Schaefer, accused him of handcuffing, beating and raping her in their Meraux home. Peralta maintains that the couple engaged in “rough sex” that day at her request; Schaefer has denied that claim. They have since divorced.
Peralta is already facing one charge of sexual battery in St. Bernard and a separate stalking charge in St. Tammany Parish, both involving allegations by his ex-wife. A new indictment would halt the case playing out in St. Bernard and delay a trial now scheduled for April.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.