State District Judge Scott Gardner rejected a motion Wednesday to recuse the state Attorney General’s Office from prosecuting St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta on a charge of stalking his ex-wife in St. Tammany Parish.
Gardner’s decision came after nearly four hours of testimony and arguments between Peralta’s attorney, Martin Regan, and Assistant Attorney Generals David Weilbaecher and Matthew Derbes.
Peralta, who is accused of stalking Sharon Schaefer following their rancorous split, was seen but not heard during the proceedings in 22nd Judicial District Court. No mention was made of the criminal case against him, prompting Weilbaecher to call the proceedings the “Martin Regan show’’ in closing arguments.
Testimony revolved around Regan’s claims that the AG’s Office should be dismissed as prosecutor because of two ongoing lawsuits — both filed by Regan — and a newspaper account of a confrontation between Regan and Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell.
Caldwell accused Regan of cursing at Assistant Attorney General Molly Lancaster outside the grand jury room in 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge on May 6. Caldwell said Regan deliberately caused a disruption to the grand jury’s proceedings.
The encounter was the subject of a New Orleans Advocate article that Regan introduced into evidence, pointing out that it had circulated in multiple parishes where he practices law.
Regan denied Caldwell’s accusations, which he said hurt his reputation as a lawyer and adversely affected his ability to represent his client.
He called two polygraph experts to testify about tests they had given him. The examiners each said they had asked Regan questions about whether he used profane language or made threats on the occasion in question. His denials did not show evidence of deception, they said; in fact, they said, he scored as well as possible on the lie detector tests.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Derbes questioned examiner Samuel Neil Rucker extensively about the test he gave to Regan, asking whether it is normal to tell a test subject in advance what the questions are going to be. Rucker said he’s required by law to do so, noting that surprise at a question can register as deception.
Derbes also asked if anti-anxiety drugs can affect the outcome of polygraph tests. Rucker said he had never noticed that such drugs have any effect.
The hearing had some bizarre moments, such as when Wayne Landry, one of six challengers to Peralta’s bid for re-election this fall, was called to the stand to answer questions about whether he is friendly with Caldwell — an apparent attempt to paint the prosecution of Peralta as politically motivated.
In his effort to build a case against the AG’s Office, Regan called another expert witness, Loyola University law professor Dane Ciolino, to testify about professional conduct laws. At one point, Ciolino said the law doesn’t allow defense lawyers to use frivolous lawsuits to boot prosecutors from cases. He refused to draw a conclusion about the merits of Regan’s suits.
But Weilbaecher hammered on Ciolino’s testimony in his closing arguments, suggesting that Regan’s lawsuits were just that: frivolous attempts to force the AG’s Office off the case.
In the end, Gardner denied Regan’s motion without comment and then suggested both sides work together to find a trial date as soon as possible. He said he will hear further motions in the case Dec. 1.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.