April 12, 2017 02:35 PM

Third Circuit candidates queried by audience at Louisiana Citizens Action Network forum.

Third Circuit Court of Appeal candidates Candyce Perret, left, and Susan Theall faced off Wednesday in what may be their only dual appearance before the April 29 runoff.
Photo by Robin May

Third Circuit Court of Appeal candidate Candyce Perret said at a Wednesday forum that she would resign from bench if she is elected and later indicted in the ongoing federal investigation into Louisiana Specialty Institute, a company owned by her husband, Hunter, but for which she has served as corporate counsel.

Perret’s statement came in response to questions by audience member and Lafayette attorney Katherine Hurst at a noon forum organized by the Louisiana Citizens Action Network at Lafayette’s Petroleum Club.

It was one of the rare occasions where Perret has agreed to participate in a forum with her runoff opponent, Susan Theall.

About 60 people attended the event, which began with opening statements from the two candidates then gave way to questions from audience members from the floor.

Perret was questioned about her role at LSI and whether the company had received document requests from federal investigators looking into the business practices of the entity for a number of years.

Perret maintained what has become her standard line that neither she nor her husband has been contacted by federal investigators. She said Wednesday that LSI has not been asked to produce records for federal investigators nor been contacted in any way.

As The IND reported in its Feb. 9 story, "Federal investigation looms over Perret Court of Appeal candidacy," plaintiff and defense lawyers moved to have LSI medical billing charges thrown out in the 15th Judicial District Court in 2013 after they discovered that LSI had submitted invoices for providers with which the company did not have contractual relationships. LSI’s billing charges for care provided to a patient in what has become known as "The Stelly Case" was a sticking point in the settlement of the case. LSI and Hunter Perret refused to defend the billings to either the lawyers or, later, Judge Kristian Earles.

When it was discovered that LSI did not have written agreements with the providers, the attorneys contacted the providers, got the direct charges for the services provided and the judge ordered those bills paid, throwing out all of LSI's charges.

Attorney Ian McDonald of Jones Walker was representing the insurance company in the case. In his motion to dismiss LSI’s billing, McDonald charged the company with “profiteering.”

Candyce Perret was not working as counsel for LSI at the time, but was doing so in 2014 when LSI charges were challenged again in a 16th JDC personal injury lawsuit known as "The Narcisse Case." Hunter Perret was called as a witness in that case, as was Dr. Baylor Jewell who claimed that his electronic signature had been used without his permission by someone at LSI. Jewell also testified in open court that he believed his medical reports had been altered in ways to make it appear that injuries were more serious than he had assessed them to be.

Hurst, who was a Vanessa Anseman supporter in the primary, according to her Facebook page, prefaced her question by saying: “It’s widely known in the legal community among lawyers and judges that there is a federal investigation into LSI underway.” Hurst then posed the question: “Would you resign your seat if you or your husband were to be indicted?"

Perret first parried by saying that the same question could be put to Theall. Perret alleged that there is an investigation underway into reports involving loans provided to Theall in her successful 2011 race for the Division M seat on the 15th JDC.

Hurst said she would then address the question to both candidates.

Perret replied that she would resign her seat, if elected and then indicted. She did not say whether she would resign her seat if her husband Hunter, who was in the audience, was indicted.

Theall said that there is no investigation underway in connection with loans she obtained in 2011 from Lafayette businessman Burton Zaunbrecher.

Theall was targeted with a number of questions about the loans by audience members during the session, including one by attorney Kay Karré Gautreaux, who lost to Theall in that 2011 election.

“Campaigns get tough when the money runs out,” Gauthreaux told Theall and the audience. “Mine ran out that year, but yours did not. You got those loans when the maximum contribution in that campaign was $2,500.”

Theall maintained that the process of obtaining the loans from Zaunbrecher had been reviewed by her CPA Mark Shirley and that Shirley had told her he ran the process by the state Ethics Administration. Kathleen Allen, director of the Ethics Administration, told The IND in March that loans to committees (in the case of judicial elections) could not exceed campaign contribution limits.

Theall told Gautreaux and the audience that the loans Zaunbrecher made to her were personal loans for which she is on the hook. She said she made the loans to her campaign.

In response to another question about the loans, Theall said that her case was different from the Ourso Case in which a father gave his candidate son money that was later classified as loans. Theall said her matter has been reviewed and that there is no investigation taking place.

Allen of the Ethics Administration told The IND in March that the statute of limitations for campaign finance violations involving contributions was three years. The fact that the loans to Theall were made in 2011 appear to make the question moot. Read more about the questionable "loans" here.

Theall and Perret were also questioned regarding judicial philosophy and experience. Both candidates pointed out that appellate courts deal only in the business of reviewing matters of law, not rehearing cases.

Both Perret and Theall said they are pro-life Catholics and that, regardless of their personal views, they would be bound by the laws as written by the Legislature and signed by the governor.

This might have been the only forum where the two candidates will face each other prior to the April 29 runoff. Perret has not accepted an invitation extended by Lafayette’s Concerned Citizens for Good Government to participate in a forum Monday evening at Alesi’s restaurant. Theall has accepted.

In other related news on the election, The IND is pursuing a public records lawsuit against Orleans Parish Civil District Court Clerk Dale N. Atkins to unseal three cases in which Perret was sued by her former fiancé, high-profile New Orleans plaintiffs’ attorney John W. Houghtaling II, in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Both Perret and Houghtaling are fighting this news organization's efforts to bring the suits back into the public domain. The IND, citing case law, is arguing that the trial court cannot seal an entire civil case record from public inspection and that neither Perret nor Houghtaling has standing because they "do not constitute parties in interest (with respect to the Clerk of Court's ministerial duty or any action to enforce it)" in this news organization's request to the clerk to inspect and copy the records.

On April 10, Perret emailed Fred Herman, Atkins' attorney:

Mr. Herman,

I am a candidate for judge, 3d circuit court of appeal and the general election is April 29. The Independent Weekly, an online rag column, has been trying to unseal personal records of mine in CDC. They have been relentless in harassing me and my family. They were able to unseal one document ex parte through misrepresentation to the court. They are now attempting to unseal other documents, one of which is a confidential settlement agreement between me and my ex-fiance. A hearing was held in March before Judge Griffin and their request was denied. I just learned that the Independent Weekly is again attempting to unseal this confidential settlement agreement via a Petition for Mandamus directed to Honorable Dale Atkins.

Before any hearing goes forward, I wanted to let you know that the parties to the agreement object to these records being unsealed and will be intervening in this matter.

Perret's statement that The IND was "able to unseal one document ex parte through misrepresentation to the court" is false. The paper received from a source the 2005 suit, in which Houghtaling sought a restraining order against her, alleging she threatened, stalked and harassed him.

Her email to Herman came the same day Houghtaling issued the following threatening email to IND attorney Gary McGoffin:

Gary, one of those suits contains a DEC action on confidential settlement terms.

If you get this out and your client publishes terms of a confidential settlement by avoiding me from lodging an objection I will pursue any legal and all legal rights I have against you and your client.

A hearing in front of Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Piper Griffin has been set for 9:30 a.m April 20, nine days before the election.

Early voting starts this Saturday, April 15, and will run through the following Saturday, April 22.

Voters in eight parishes will have the final say on the candidates on April 29. The parishes in the district include Acadia, Allen, Evangeline, Iberia, Lafayette, St. Landry, St. Martin, and Vermilion. The race is for the eight years remaining on the term for the seat made vacant when Jimmy Genovese of Opelousas won election to the Louisiana Supreme Court over Marilyn Castle of Lafayette in November.

Turnout in Lafayette Parish is expected to nearly double from the 9.4 percent primary turnout thanks to the presence of a proposed half-cent sales tax issue by the Lafayette Parish Public School System appearing on the ballot.

Perret led Theall by fewer than 2,000 votes in the March 25 primary, despite a huge financial advantage over Theall and Anseman.


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