In a burst of courtroom drama, the former wife of David Peralta lashed out Monday at the embattled St. Bernard Parish president, exclaiming amid a contentious hearing that Peralta is “a monster who should be locked up or put down.”
Sharon Schaefer, Peralta’s ex-wife, had been called to testify in 34th Judicial District Court about whether she and her attorney, Stephen R. Rue, earlier violated a gag order in Peralta’s sexual battery proceedings. The order had been issued over the summer to prevent the parties from making further public comments in a salacious case that has drawn unstinting media attention.
Defense attorney Martin Regan filed a motion for contempt, contending Schaefer and her attorney made statements that could prove “very damaging” to Peralta as he prepares to stand trial. Ironically, Monday’s hearing offered Schaefer a sanctioned platform, in the presence of several reporters, to forcefully reiterate claims that Peralta beat and raped her on her 49th birthday at the couple’s Meraux home.
After fielding dozens of questions from Regan, Schaefer became emotional on the witness stand and, at one point, raised her voice and began pointing at her ex-husband. “I am terrorized and stalked by that man,” she said.
Quizzed about comments she made to the media in September after a grand jury in St. Tammany Parish indicted Peralta on one count of stalking, Schaefer said she believed she had the right to let people know she lives in fear of her ex-husband. As if to underscore the point, she declined as she was being sworn in Monday to provide her current home address for the record, citing safety concerns.
Schaefer added that she did not believe the gag order extended to the St. Tammany case or a lawsuit she filed against Peralta in October. Ad hoc judge Frank Foil clarified Monday that the gag order covers each aspect of the imbroglio between Schaefer and Peralta — irrespective of venue — as the cases are “intertwined.”
Foil did not rule on Regan’s motion for contempt, saying he first needed to hear from Rue, the Kenner attorney who filed a lawsuit against Peralta on Schaefer’s behalf. Rue did not show up Monday to answer accusations that he violated the gag order by saying on television at one point that Schaefer “dreadfully fears” her ex-husband.
Schaefer said she hired Rue after the gag order was issued in late June and never told him about the restriction on public comments in the sexual battery case.
“I have not spoken about the criminal proceedings in this matter with anyone at all,” she said.
Schaefer said she believed Rue had not been served with a subpoena for Monday’s hearing, but Foil, unpersuaded, said he could have issued a warrant for Rue’s arrest after he failed to appear.
“I want to warn him that he needs to be here next time,” Foil said, “or else more drastic measures will be taken.”
The sexual battery prosecution stems from an incident in October 2013. Schaefer alleges that Peralta handcuffed, beat and sexually assaulted her. Peralta has contended publicly that the couple only engaged in “rough sex” at Schaefer’s behest — an assertion Schaefer has denied, saying she wasn’t even on speaking terms with her husband at the time.
Some legal observers have said the charge of sexual battery, instead of rape, seems curious under the circumstances of the case, as Peralta has not disputed having intercourse with Schaefer.
In September, Peralta was indicted by a separate grand jury in St. Tammany Parish on one count of felony stalking for allegedly harassing Schaefer. He has posted bail in both cases but has refused to step down from office, even as his first term as parish president has increasingly been overshadowed by his legal travails.
Of foremost importance to Peralta is a speedy trial in St. Bernard Parish, his attorney said during Monday’s hearing.
Foil agreed. He set a tentative trial date of March 2, even as prosecutors with the state Attorney General’s Office stressed that discovery issues could postpone that date.
“We need to try it,” Foil said. He said the hearing on whether to hold Schaefer or her attorney in contempt of the gag order would resume Jan. 5.
Unaddressed Monday was a request by prosecutors that exceptions to the gag order be granted so they can interview two newspaper reporters who have covered Peralta’s legal proceedings since their beginning.
Prosecutors, in their motion outlining the request, named journalists from The New Orleans Advocate and nola.com whom they wish to question regarding “facts and circumstances concerning the sexual battery and events leading up to and following the sexual battery.”
Prosecutors, according to the motion, are seeking details allegedly outlining “efforts Mr. Peralta made to inhibit (Schaefer’s) decision/ability to proceed with prosecution.”
The filing noted that “such questioning may result in members of the press appearing for grand jury testimony.”
The New Orleans Advocate has not received a subpoena from the state Attorney General’s Office, and there was no mention of one in the works during Monday’s hearing.
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