A St. Bernard Parish judge has thrown out an indictment charging a former Sheriff’s Office deputy who doubled as the parish road director with corruption.
Judge Jeanne Nunez Juneau, of 34th Judicial District Court, ruled last week that the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office violated grand jury secrecy rules by handing a pair of grand jury subpoenas to WWL-TV reporter David Hammer in response to a public records request.
Jarrod Gourgues was indicted in August on one count of perjury, three counts of malfeasance in office and a theft charge, accused of double-billing the Sheriff’s Office and parish government for overlapping hours.
WWL-TV said Gourgues’ timesheets and his clock-in and clock-out times at both jobs established that he overlapped for a total of more than 90 hours over about seven months.
He also was accused in the indictment of taking more than $10,000 from a parish contractor with close ties to David Peralta, the indicted former parish president.
Michael Magner, a former federal prosecutor who represents Gourgues, filed a motion to quash the indictment, and Juneau agreed.
The judge cited an acknowledgement by the Sheriff’s Office that it had turned over copies of two grand jury subpoenas to Hammer that were issued a day after the reporter filed a public records request seeking documents about Gourgues’ work hours similar to those sought by the grand jury.
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Juneau found that revealing the subpoenas violated grand jury secrecy laws and prejudiced Gourgues, thanks to a WWL-TV broadcast that aired the day before the grand jury returned its indictment.
The broadcast, the judge wrote, offered “an opportunity ... to exert prejudice and influence on members of the grand jury.”
The District Attorney’s Office filed a motion Tuesday to appeal Juneau’s ruling to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal.
District Attorney Perry Nicosia said Juneau’s ruling “sets a bad precedent” because the Sheriff’s Office was not a party to the grand jury proceedings and wasn’t bound by its secrecy rules.
“The St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office’s production of a subpoena along with public records was not a breach of the grand jury secrecy,” Nicosia said. “I stand by our Sheriff’s Office’s decision to release what was obviously public records.”
Ruth Wisher, spokeswoman for Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office, said the state agency would leave it to Nicosia’s office to pursue the case against Gourgues further.
“At the request of the St. Bernard District Attorney’s Office, the Louisiana Department of Justice assisted in the prosecution of Jarrod Gourges,” Wisher said by email. “And since this case came to our office as an assist, we anticipate the local DA being the decision-maker on future proceedings related to this matter.”
Magner praised the judge for recognizing that what he described as “a blatant violation of grand jury secrecy” warranted tossing out the indictment.
“The state has virtually unlimited power to ruin a good man’s name and reputation through unlawful disclosures of secret grand jury material. The violation here was even more inappropriate because Mr. Gourgues was wrongfully accused,” Magner said in a statement.
“That said, we take no issue with WWL’s pursuing its rights and duty to report the news fully and fairly. That is an essential part of our constitutional form of government. What happened here, though, was that someone affiliated with law enforcement leaked secret grand jury information to the press, and then the Sheriff’s Office confirmed that leak.”
The investigation of Gourgues was an offshoot of a wider probe into Peralta’s dealings.
Gourgues also stood near the center of a report released in January by state Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office related to failures by a local scrap yard to properly weigh and record scrap metal purchases from the parish.
WWL-TV contributed to this story.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.