The state Attorney General’s Office can continue to prosecute St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta on the 22 charges he faces in his home parish, a judge ruled Monday.
Peralta and his attorney, Martin Regan, tried to force the attorney general’s removal from the case, arguing the office is waging a politically motivated attack against Peralta and that prosecutors knowingly using perjured testimony to persuade a grand jury to indict Peralta last year on a now-dismissed charge that he committed sexual battery on his now ex-wife, Sharon Schaefer.
Last month, a St. Tammany Parish judge denied an identical request to remove the Attorney General’s Office from a separate case there. In that case, a St. Tammany grand jury indicted Peralta on a felony stalking charge, in part accusing him of sending threatening email messages to Schaefer when she was living in Slidell.
In the St. Tammany recusal hearing, the judge allowed Regan to call witnesses, but on Monday, retired Lafourche Parish Judge Jerome J. Barbera III — who has been assigned the St. Bernard case — did not allow such testimony.
Barbera, who was appointed after all five St. Bernard district judges recused themselves, said there isn’t a clear procedure for recusing the Attorney General’s Office from a case. But under the standard for removing a district attorney’s office, he said, Regan failed to show that the state’s prosecutors have a strong enough personal interest in the case to require their removal.
Regan has claimed that Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell and his father, Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, are “close social and political friends” of Wayne Landry, who is running against Peralta for parish president in Saturday’s election. Landry, who is a state witness in the St. Tammany stalking case against Peralta, has said he has never had any discussions with Caldwell’s office other than those regarding that stalking case.
Barbera said finding that Caldwell was a social and political friend of a political rival of the accused wasn’t enough to remove the state prosecutors.
If the Attorney General’s Office were removed, Barbera said, “the case then stands in vacuum,” without an elected official who would be mandated to prosecute it.
Regan said that in her 2014 grand jury testimony, Schaefer perjured herself and prosecutors knew it, which “shows bad faith and ethics violations.”
But on Sept. 25, the state Supreme Court denied Regan’s request to make that grand jury testimony public. On Tuesday, Regan tried arguing that Barbera should look privately at the testimony so Regan could argue his case, but the judge refused, saying grand jury proceedings’ secrecy and independence are paramount.
Barbera said Peralta will “be afforded all the benefits of due process” as the case against him moves forward.
“It’s a sad commentary on the judicial system when you have evidence of perjury and you are not allowed to use it,” Peralta said after the hearing.
Schaefer has said she did not perjure herself and that Peralta raped her while they were still married but estranged. Peralta has said the sex was consensual.
Despite his setback in the courtroom Monday, Peralta was upbeat, saying his re-election campaign “is going good.” He faces six challengers in Saturday’s primary.
“I’m sure I’ll make the runoff,” he said. He praised his opponents for running “positive campaigns” and “maintaining political decorum.”
In August, a St. Bernard grand jury indicted Peralta on 11 counts of malfeasance in office, six counts of abuse of power, three counts of obstruction of justice, one extortion count and one stalking count.
That same grand jury continues to meet to examine possible additional charges against Peralta.
That grand jury in part is re-examining the sexual battery charge against him as well as possible charges against others, such as Richie Perniciaro, owner of the company ParaTech, which has overseen the parish’s computer servers, prosecutors have indicated.
Prosecutors dropped the initial sexual battery charge earlier this year.
In addition to the St. Tammany and St. Bernard charges, an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury in May indicted Peralta on three counts of filing false reports and three counts of perjury. In that case, he’s accused of illegally using his political campaign money to gamble at New Orleans and Mississippi Gulf Coast casinos and of lying to the Baton Rouge grand jury about it.
Peralta also has called those charges a politically motivated attack, and he and Regan have a hearing, set for December, on recusing the Attorney General’s Office from that case.