St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta on Tuesday made good on his threat to file suit against the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, alleging that prosecutors knowingly relied on false testimony to indict him last year in an attempt to help a potential rival in this year’s parish elections.
Peralta’s lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court in New Orleans, claims that Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office violated his civil rights by allowing perjured testimony to be presented to a grand jury that ultimately brought a charge of sexual battery against Peralta in April 2014.
The substance of that allegedly false testimony is unclear.
Peralta’s lawyer, Martin Regan, asked a judge last week to unseal the grand jury transcripts, saying they would prove the charges against Peralta are politically motivated and that “witnesses against Mr. Peralta lied under oath in order to secure the indictment.” But a state judge presiding over the case rejected his request.
A draft of the lawsuit was filed this month in 34th Judicial District Court in Chalmette as Regan tried unsuccessfully to convince ad hoc Judge Frank Foil to unseal the grand jury testimony.
The lawsuit alleges that Caldwell and his top aides are working to indict Peralta to give a political edge to Wayne Landry, a former St. Bernard Parish Council member who may challenge Peralta in this fall’s election.
Landry has dismissed Peralta’s allegations as “lies.”
Earlier this month, state prosecutors dropped the sexual battery charge against Peralta, saying a looming trial date would have interfered with a broader, ongoing investigation involving a different grand jury that already has met in St. Bernard several times over the past few months.
Peralta, meanwhile, is scheduled to be tried in June on a stalking charge in St. Tammany Parish. He has pleaded not guilty to that charge.
During a court hearing this month, Assistant Attorney General David Weilbaecher Jr. rejected Peralta’s allegations.
Prosecutors have acknowledged that Landry, the former head of St. Bernard Parish Hospital, is cooperating with the state’s case against Peralta. Landry was interviewed by the Attorney General’s Office in connection with the stalking charge, Weilbaecher said in a court filing this month.
Tuesday’s lawsuit highlights eight instances of allegedly false grand jury testimony, although it redacts the particulars of each one. Regan has said at least some of the testimony that’s referenced deals with whether Peralta and his now ex-wife, Sharon Schaefer, had previously engaged in “rough sex” before an October 2013 incident that led to the since-dismissed sexual battery charge.
In that incident, Peralta contends that the couple were role-playing at her request; Schaefer alleges that her now ex-husband raped her.
Peralta’s lawsuit requests a jury trial.
A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office did not immediately respond for comment Tuesday, though prosecutors have previously declined to comment on pending litigation.
Regan said this month that Peralta is now being investigated by a new grand jury in East Baton Rouge Parish, though prosecutors have declined to confirm it. That panel would mark at least the fourth grand jury to probe Peralta in the past year.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.