Former Lafayette radiation oncologist turned real estate developer Glenn Stewart was found guilty late Thursday afternoon by District Judge John Trahan on a misdemeanor simple battery charge connected to the Mardi Gras 2012 punch that left a Lafayette school teacher and mom unconscious and hospitalized. Stewart was sentenced to six months in the parish jail - the sentence was suspended; Stewart will serve no time behind bars - as well as 12 months of supervised probation and a $500 fine. Stewart must also pay court costs and complete an anger-management class.
In rendering his verdict, Trahan agreed with prosecutor Jeff Traylor of the state Attorney General's office that Stewart, over the course of a year of attacking The Ind through nasty billboards and paid protests leading up to the battery on Erin May Fitzgerald, never took responsibility for his actions. That, Trahan said, was a main reason he ordered Stewart to serve supervised probation: "Ordinarily I wouldn't put this on a defendant with no criminal history," Trahan said, "but the man thinks he didn't do anything wrong."
The attack on Fitzgerald - the daughter and stepdaughter, respectively, of IND Monthly co-publishers Steve May and Cherry Fisher May - occurred at Pontiac Point downtown where Mardi Gras floats assemble at the start of the parade route. Stewart, who had a long-running dispute with this newspaper over our accurate but unflattering reporting on his business, entered a float in the KADN Fox-15 Independent Parade further attacking The Ind. Also involved in the Mardi Gras melee was John St. Julien, Fitzgerald's step-father. St. Julien lives near Pontiac Point and had been asked by an Ind staff member to walk over and take photographs of Stewart's float. Fitzgerald walked over a short time later, at which time the confrontation occurred.
Traylor called five witnesses including Fitzgerald and St. Julien. The defense only called one witness, Stewart, and it was inconsistencies between his testimony and a statement he had given to police that ultimately foiled him. Over objections from Stewart's attorney, Traylor also cleverly introduced into the trail a lawsuit Stewart filed last year against Lafayette Police and Lafayette Consolidated Government claiming false arrest - a lawsuit that offers an account of the Mardi Gras incident that in several ways is inconsistent with Stewart's testimony and written statement, including a claim in the lawsuit that Stewart was attacked by Fitzgerald and St. Julien and "possibly a third assailant from behind."
Most damning was a statement Stewart gave to investigators when he was arrested on the evening of the attack in which he claimed he accidentally punched Fitzgerald while trying to hit St. Julien - a claim that didn't jibe with his testimony Thursday in which he said he had fended off St. Julien and realized Fitzgerald was coming at him with a pair of scissors. (Fitzgerald and St. Julien both conceded she had brought scissors to the parade staging area that fateful day because she planned to cut banners off Stewart's float.)
"The first thing about that statement is, it's a lie," Judge Trahan said flatly about Stewart's police statement. In that statement to police, Stewart also never mentioned scissors, a point Trahan found telling. For the judge, the case boiled down to whether Stewart was acting in self defense, as he claimed on the stand. "I believe the state has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Dr. Stewart committed this battery," Trahan ruled, "and I believe the state has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that it wasn't in self defense."
"Mr. St. Julien and Ms. Fitzgerald took ownership of their mistakes," Trahan said later. "I hope [Stewart will] take ownership of his."
The 54-year-old sat in quiet defeat at the defense table with his three-man team of attorneys long after Trahan rendered his verdict and the courtroom had cleared.
"I'm glad the judge came out and said it's a lie," Traylor said after the court was adjourned. "And I'm happy for Erin and John."