This much is clear: A loud, bitter confrontation broke out May 6 between prosecutors and St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta’s lawyer within earshot of the Baton Rouge grand jury that would go on to indict Peralta on charges that he abused campaign funds, and the dispute brought the proceeding to an early close, according to interviews and a court document that was unsealed Wednesday.
Of course, there are two sides to every story, and this one is no different.
The panel would later return a six-count indictment against Peralta, charging him with three counts of perjury and three counts of filing false public records. The allegations are tied to thousands of dollars he’s accused of withdrawing from his campaign donations to gamble at Gulf Coast casinos in recent years.
In a six-page motion filed May 8, two days after the indictment, Peralta’s lawyer, Martin Regan, said the charges should be thrown out because Peralta’s civil rights were violated by the Attorney General’s Office, which is prosecuting the case.
To back up his argument, Regan claims that Peralta was not allowed to finish his testimony; was denied access to pertinent documents during his testimony; and was twice threatened with removal and arrest “in front of the grand jury” if he “did not get down from the witness stand, did not stop testifying, and did not leave the grand jury room immediately.”
The latest allegations mark another odd twist in a two-year legal saga that has seen plenty of strange turns.
Regan’s request to drop the new indictment was unsealed Wednesday by Baton Rouge Judge Louis Daniel.
But Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell said Wednesday that it was Regan’s fault that Peralta’s testimony ground to a halt, calling Regan’s latest claims “a complete waste of time.”
Caldwell said Regan deliberately caused a scene outside the grand jury room, growing agitated and cursing loudly at him and Assistant Attorney General Molly Lancaster about the documents. Peralta contends the documents would explain discrepancies on his campaign spending reports, but they were seized — along with his computer — during a raid last summer by the Attorney General’s Office.
Regan “was threatening my female assistant, and then I came out to see what was going on, and he threatened me and he told me to step outside,” Caldwell said. “At that point, we have to shut it down. That was intentional on his part.”
Caldwell said Regan was “dropping F-bombs” on Lancaster, likely close enough to the grand jury that its members could hear him. Regan “just blew his top,” he said.
“He was pretty hot,” Caldwell added. “I’m bigger than him, and I’m younger than him, but he was hot, and if I had gotten close to him, he might’ve taken a swing at me.”
Regan recalls it differently. In an interview Wednesday, he called Caldwell a “liar.” Regan said he was stepping out of the grand jury room “when one of the assistant attorney generals comes out there” and “starts chirping away.”
Though he conceded being upset and calling Lancaster unprofessional, Regan maintained that didn’t lose his cool and certainly never swore at anybody. “I’m out there calling my office, trying to get the material faxed over to the DA’s Office,” he said.
Both Caldwell and Regan declined to discuss the specifics of Peralta’s testimony, which — so far — has been kept secret under state law. That’s likely to change, given Peralta’s perjury charges and the motion to dismiss the indictment.
Peralta has claimed he is being targeted for political reasons, a claim he repeated in a lawsuit filed last month against the Attorney General’s Office in federal court in New Orleans,
Besides the six counts handed up in Baton Rouge, he faces a stalking charge in St. Tammany Parish that’s set for trial next month. In April 2014, he was charged in St. Bernard Parish with sexual battery, a felony count that was dismissed at the state’s request days ahead of an April 20 trial date.
When the skirmish broke out in Baton Rouge, Peralta was in his second hour of testifying before the grand jury at 19th Judicial District Court.
An hour later, he was indicted for the third time in just over a year.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.