The ex-wife of St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta made a tactical retreat in state court on Monday, asking a judge to dismiss a contempt motion she filed earlier alleging that Peralta had violated the terms of a restraining order.
Judge Michael Kirby, who is handling the case for the 34th Judicial District Court in Chalmette, agreed to dismiss the contempt motion without prejudice at the request of Sharon Schaefer’s attorney, Stephen Rue. That leaves open the possibility that the motion could be refiled later.
Schaefer did not attend Monday’s hearing. Rue explained the move by saying he only recently signed on as Schaefer’s lawyer and needed more time to review the case, saying it was “in the best interests of justice.”
David Peralta’s attorney, Adele Faust, disagreed, arguing unsuccessfully that the contempt motion should be dismissed with prejudice, meaning it could not be filed again later.
Peralta faced a fine of up to $1,000 or even six months in jail if he was found in contempt, though some legal observers doubted he would go to jail for any length of time in the flap.
Rue gave no timeline for potentially refiling the contempt motion, other than to say it was “based on other third-party entities that have an interest in these proceedings.”
That’s likely a reference to the related criminal case against the first-term parish leader stemming from an April grand jury indictment on a charge of sexual battery.
Separately on Monday, a state judge issued a temporary restraining order barring authorities from “viewing or further copying” material they seized recently from Peralta’s home and government offices.
Investigators with the state Attorney General’s Office took several computers, a cellphone and other materials from Peralta last month. A search warrant indicated they have evidence of alleged witness intimidation, obstruction of justice and malfeasance in office, though it provided no details.
The St. Bernard Parish government asked for the temporary restraining order on investigators because the computers could contain “sensitive and privileged” information protected as “attorney-client process.”
Judge Jacques Sanborn granted that request but said Monday that he is recusing himself from the case and expects the other four judges in the Chalmette courthouse to follow suit. That would leave the Louisiana Supreme Court to appoint an ad hoc judge to handle the matter.
Sanborn noted that the restraining order would remain in place until a way of extracting privileged information could be considered.
Schaefer has accused her ex-husband of handcuffing, beating and raping her in October in their Meraux home. Peralta maintains the couple engaged in “rough sex” at her request, but Schaefer has denied that assertion.
Peralta pleaded not guilty to the charge at an arraignment last month.
In court filings, Schaefer has accused Peralta of continuing to “harass and threaten” her in recent months in emails sent “from various addresses” and in online posts on the website nola.com.
The ex-couple’s attorneys reached an agreement earlier this year that stipulated that neither Peralta nor Schaefer would contact the other in person, by telephone or electronically, and that neither would threaten the other.
Kirby finalized a divorce between the two last month.
In the latest court filings, Schaefer alleged Peralta broke the no-contact agreement. She included 17 pages of emails in the court record and said the exchanges have caused her “significant distress, fear and anxiety.”
Peralta has declined comment on the matter, citing a gag order issued in the wake of his indictment.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.