A lawyer at the center of efforts to draft stricter noise regulations for the French Quarter faces a misdemeanor charge after allegedly sending a threatening text message to the owner of a Bourbon Street strip club at the height of the battle over sound levels in the Quarter.
The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office filed one count of cyberstalking against Stuart Smith this week following allegations that he had threatened Rick’s Cabaret owner Robert Watters in an attempt to force him to resign a leadership role with the French Quarter Management District.
Smith has been one of the most vocal and least compromising supporters of strict noise regulations in the French Quarter, while Watters has argued for more relaxed regulations.
That dispute spilled over into the politics of the French Quarter Management District, a state-created entity that Watters chairs, in February, shortly after the City Council shelved its first effort at drafting a revised noise ordinance. Two groups often aligned with Smith, the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates and the French Quarter Citizens, announced they were pulling out of the management district due to differences with its leadership.
Around the same time, Watters said, Smith sent him a text message demanding he leave his post.
The text message warned that Watters had 24 hours to resign as chairman of the district or his “troubled past” would be revealed, Watters said. While he said he did not think he had anything to hide, Watters said he reported the text to several agencies because he was concerned that Smith had tried to intimidate him.
“I’ve always thought my past was open,” Watters said. “I have no idea what he thought he had.”
Cyberstalking covers a range of activities where electronic communications are used to issue threats. It can be punished with a fine of up to $2,000, a year in prison or both.
Its not clear whether Smith was specifically upset about the proposed noise ordinance or whether other issues sparked the threat, Watters said.
The council was never able to resolve the issues over the sound ordinance, with the most recent version of the changes failing to get the support of a majority of council members earlier this year.
Smith has previously attacked others involved in “improving the French Quarter,” Watters said. “He’s engaged in these bullying tactics with a lot of people over a long period,” he said.
Smith could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Watters said he also filed a complaint regarding Smith’s text with the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board.
Smith is an environmental lawyer who has spent years battling oil and other companies in court. He became the namesake of a law clinic at Loyola University’s College of Law after donating $1.25 million to the school in 2008.
In 1997 and 1998, Smith reported that his French Quarter home and his car had been the targets of firebombs that he blamed on the owners of a nearby restaurant he was fighting in court over the volume of its music. He said the firebombings were a response to his campaign for stronger enforcement of city noise regulations.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.