St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta tossed the proverbial kitchen sink at the Parish Council on Tuesday, having seen his veto power rendered useless last week in an escalating dispute over a contract.
Peralta filed suit against all but one of the council’s seven members, hoping that a judge will side with him over who has the final say on a parish contract with the local technology company ParaTech LLC.
It was only the latest maneuver in a legal drama that seems to grow more convoluted by the day.
Peralta has been indicted three times on criminal charges, and he has responded with three separate lawsuits, the latest of which was filed Tuesday in 34th Judicial District Court in Chalmette.
The new lawsuit has to do with the council’s decision last week to override the vetoes that Peralta had issued on a pair of ordinances aimed at forcing him to end the parish contract with ParaTech.
ParaTech’s owner, Richard Perniciaro, has received a target letter from the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office indicating that state prosecutors believe they have evidence against him of wrongdoing and are presenting it to a grand jury.
Peralta said he is paying for the new lawsuit out of his own pocket. He called a special meeting of the council last Friday where he had planned on asking for the money to sue, but he could not muster a quorum.
The 14-page lawsuit names as defendants the six council members who voted to override his vetoes. Council member Nathan Gorbaty wasn’t named because he did not attend that meeting.
The suit alleges that the council “unlawfully and illegally” overstepped its bounds in attempting to end the contract and asks for a temporary restraining order that would reinstate the deal.
But the filing does not stop with the contract or the council. The suit also rehashes accusations that Peralta made against Attorney General Buddy Caldwell in a lawsuit filed earlier this year in federal court in New Orleans. Facing criminal charges from Caldwell’s office in two separate jurisdictions, Peralta has accused Caldwell of carrying out a politically motivated attack on him.
As in previous court filings, the new lawsuit argues that Caldwell is trying to help Wayne Landry, a former council member who plans to run against Peralta in this fall’s election.
Peralta now also alleges that one of two parish employees whom he fired recently is pulling for Landry. In a move that immediately raised concerns on the council, Peralta dismissed two employees who are known to be cooperating with the state’s criminal case against him.
One of those employees is former Technology Director Jeffrey Brannon. The new lawsuit accuses Brannon of being “politically motivated against President Peralta and aligned with Mr. Landry’s cadre.”
The lawsuit claims that Brannon improperly accessed Peralta’s private emails. It also alleges that someone sent incriminating emails from Peralta’s private email address, although it stops short of explicitly alleging that Brannon sent the emails.
It is unclear what any of that has to with the council’s authority to end contracts, but Peralta is likely setting up an argument he plans to use at his expected trial in St. Tammany Parish, where he was indicted last year for allegedly stalking his ex-wife, Sharon Schaefer.
In that case, Caldwell’s office has disclosed that a parish employee — Brannon — told investigators that Peralta had asked him to create phony email addresses for him.
Meanwhile, the council on Tuesday decided against investigating Peralta’s firing of Brannon and Donald Bourgeois, his onetime campaign manager who is also known to be cooperating with the state’s criminal investigation.
After some back-and-forth, the council instead decided to focus its inquiry on the hiring and billing practices of the parish’s in-house vendors. During the meeting, several council members agreed that any investigation into the dismissal of the two employees would be better left up to Caldwell’s office.
Peralta told council members he would fully cooperate with any probe they ordered. He offered to supply them with payroll records and details of the alleged missteps by the two fired employees.
“I will voluntarily submit to this committee any and all documents that they may need,” Peralta said.
Council member Guy McInnis — who also plans to run against Peralta in the fall — said the investigation discussed by the council was “not about criminal wrongdoing” but instead about auditing the parish’s policies and procedures “so that our employees feel protected by the civil service system.”
At the meeting, Peralta also supplied reporters with an affidavit from Jason Cleveland, a ParaTech partner who alleged that council member Ray Lauga tried in April to get him to break away from Perniciaro and form his own company, which Lauga allegedly offered to back.
Lauga, who did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, denied the allegations in an interview, saying there was “absolutely no truth to that.”
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.