St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta must refrain from having contact with a key witness in the state’s criminal case against him following an “uncomfortable situation” between the two last week, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Peralta has faced mounting legal issues since his ex-wife, Sharon Schaefer, accused him of handcuffing, beating and raping her in their Meraux home in October 2013. Peralta has insisted that the couple — still married at the time — occasionally engaged in “rough sex” and that he was fulfilling his wife’s “rape fantasy.” Schaefer has denied asking her husband to “rape” her as part of a sexual game.
Peralta was indicted by two grand juries last year, first in St. Bernard, where he faces one count of sexual battery, and then in St. Tammany Parish, where he’s charged with stalking Schaefer. He has pleaded not guilty to both charges.
During a hearing Wednesday at 22nd Judicial District Court in Covington, Assistant Attorney General David Weilbaecher Jr. discussed last week’s episode between Peralta and the unnamed state witness and asked Judge Scott Gardner to issue a stay-away order between the two.
That prompted Peralta’s attorney, Martin Regan, to request that the issue be discussed privately with the judge.
Without revealing the witness’ identity, Gardner ordered Peralta not to interact with the witness “outside of normal business conversations,” hinting at the possibility that the person works for the parish.
State prosecutors on Wednesday also submitted to the court a lengthy notice outlining evidence they believe shows additional misdeeds by Peralta — a move that’s needed for later introducing the evidence at trial. Regan requested that Gardner put the filing under seal.
Regan said he needed to ensure that Peralta receives a fair trial. He said he would file a memorandum by Friday arguing his case for keeping the document under wraps.
Weilbaecher argued against the move. “The public has a right to know what’s going on, especially when a public official is involved,” he said.
Gardner recalled his 25 years as a prosecutor and agreed to delay his decision. He acknowledged the potential challenge of seating an impartial jury in Covington, considering how much publicity the case has received.
Both sides declined comment on Wednesday’s proceeding, citing a gag order imposed in the case.
Much of the hearing was conducted in low voices at the judge’s bench while Peralta sat in the back of the courtroom, thumbing through a thick sheaf of papers.
He said nothing during the hearing but smiled and glad-handed a few people outside the courtroom.
Peralta’s trial, initially set for May, is now scheduled for June 22.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.