JUDGMENT CALL The circumstances surrounding Candyce Gagnard Perret’s 2004 arrest raise questions about her judgment and, potentially, her character and suitability for the appeals court.

by Mike Stagg

The circumstances surrounding Candyce Gagnard Perret’s 2004 arrest — which has sparked a war of words between her campaign and her former fiancé on one side and Florida law enforcement officials on the other — raise questions about her judgment and, potentially, her character and suitability for the appeals court.

Photo by Robin May

Charges and counter charges about a 2004 arrest report filed by the Walton County Sheriff’s Office have erupted into a full-scale war of words — with the Candyce Gagnard Perret campaign for the Third Circuit Court of Appeal and her former fiancé on one side and that Florida sheriff’s office on the other.

Candyce Perret, then Candyce Gagnard, was arrested in Seaside, Fla., in 2004 for an incident on a beach in which she was nude in the company of at least two other people, one of whom was identified in court records as a judge.

Gagnard Perret, who was 33 at the time, was charged with a single count of indecent exposure (the actual charge in Florida is exposure of sexual organs). The charge was later dismissed in 2005 at the request of Florida prosecutors after Gagnard completed the terms of a deferred prosecution agreement.

The Daily Iberian broke the story on the candidate's 2004 arrest today, noting that the Perret campaign informed its reporter that other media outlets are pursuing the story.

The arrest report has been circulating like wildfire in the legal community in recent weeks, and The Independent has had information about it for as long, looking into various aspects of the circumstances surrounding the incident and arrest.

The arrest raises questions of Gagnard Perret’s judgment and, potentially, her character and suitability for a seat on the appeals court.

It also calls attention to a conspicuous gap in her resumé in 2004.

In the June 11, 2004, arrest report filed by Sgt. Brian Schultz of the Walton County Sheriff’s Office, Gagnard’s job title is listed as “Assistant District Attorney.” In his report of the arrest, Schultz wrote, “At this time, Ms. Gagnard stepped out the front doors of the residence and stated to me, you better have all your t’s crossed and your i’s dotted because I’m an assistant district attorney and I also do civil litigation for false arrest.”

On Feb. 16, The IND asked for the resumés all three candidates for the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal seat on the March 25 ballot. Marie Centanni, Candyce Perret’s campaign manager, replied by email that they did not have a resumé on hand, adding that Perret’s “LinkedIn page is current and should have everything you need.”

In a Feb. 20 email exchange between Centanni and this reporter, the question of whether Gagnard Perret had served as an assistant district attorney was raised.

Centanni writes, “No, she was Marksville City Prosecutor. Why?”

When told that a 2004 arrest report lists Gagnard Perret’s occupation as assistant district attorney, Centanni asks, “She listed or the officer listed?”

Centanni continued to push that line of response in The Daily Iberian’s story.

It is a fact that while Gagnard Perret served as a city prosecutor in Marksville from 1998 to 2001 — several years before her 2004 arrest — she has never been an assistant district attorney, which Centanni confirms to The IND. The campaign manager instead insists that the offense report is incorrect, that the candidate did not say she was an ADA.

The Daily Iberian article cites Loyola Law professor and legal ethicist Dane Ciolino to explain the importance of the ADA claim contained in the arrest report. That misconduct, if proven, could subject Gagnard Perret to disciplinary action, he tells the New Iberia paper:

“Such a statement [that Perret was an assistant district attorney], if false, would violate Louisiana Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(c), which prohibits a lawyer from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation,” Ciolino said in an email Thursday afternoon.

“Misconduct” is broadly used in the rules, and could result in anything from a reprimand to disbarment, depending on the severity of the offense.

John W. Houghtaling II, Gagnard Perret’s fiancé at the time of her arrest, was one of the two men with Gagnard on the beach in the wee hours of the morning on June 9, two days before the arrest warrant was executed. Gagnard’s arrest took place at a house owned by Houghtaling in Seaside. Houghtaling and Gagnard both graduated from Loyola College of Law in New Orleans in 1997, according to the university.

Houghtaling joined the fray on Friday morning in a telephone interview with The IND, confirming that he and Gagnard were engaged at the time of her arrest but also claiming that the officers fabricated the ADA job description. “She was a city prosecutor in Marksville; some people say that’s the same thing,” Houghtaling offers.

Houghtaling says he remembers “the arrest as clearly as if it happened yesterday” and claims that the arrest report is “chock full of intentional falsehoods.”

“I really feel I let [Candyce] down by not doing what I had said I was going to do, which is to sue the officers for false arrest,” Houghtatling says. “But, I got busy and learned recently that the statute limits for filing have passed.”

Seaside Security officer Linn Stalbosky's statement on the incident that led to the arrest of Candyce Gagnard Perret in 2004.

Houghtaling heads the New Orleans-based Gauthier Houghtaling firm, having taken over not long after the 2001 death of its founder, noted class action lawyer Wendell Gauthier.

The IND reached out on Facebook to the arresting officer, retired Walton County Sheriff’s Maj. Brian Schultz, for comment on the Perret campaign’s insistence that Gagnard Perret never claimed to be an ADA and Houghtaling’s assertions that the arrest report contains deliberately false statements.

Schultz immediately contacted the public information officer at the Walton County Sheriff’s Office, Corey Dobridnia, who then called this reporter. Dobridnia describes Schultz as a “highly decorated retired law enforcement officer” and says the statements made against Schultz smack of politics.

Gagnard Perret's mugshot from her 2004 arrest

“Speaking personally, I think it’s disgraceful that a politician would attack a law enforcement officer in an attempt to hide something in their past that they’re ashamed about,” Dobridnia says.

Schultz and The IND spoke briefly by phone just before press time. He says he will consider commenting on the matter once he’s had a chance to review the nearly 13-year-old arrest report Dobridnia was forwarding to him.

Candyce Gagnard Perret’s LinkedIn page shows that she was living and working in the New Orleans area in the first part of the first decade of this century. From 2001 to March 2004, the profile shows her working at New Orleans-based Gainsburgh Benjamin David, a long-established firm with practice areas that include personal injury, medical malpractice, maritime law and class action lawsuits, according to the firm’s website.

Gagnard Perret’s LinkedIn bio lists no place of employment between March 2004 and October 2004, the period that covers the Seaside incident and her arrest. In October 2004, she began working as a senior law clerk at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal in New Orleans, where she was employed for two years.

The Louisiana Secretary of State’s Business Filings records show that Gagnard filed an LLC in April 2004, after leaving Gainsburgh Benjamin David. The Law Offices of Candyce Gagnard LLC lists as its address 3500 North Hullen, the same address as her then-fiancé’s firm, Gauthier Houghtaling.

Houghtaling says he leases the bulk of the space in the North Hullen building and subleases it to other attorneys. He says Gagnard Perret leased space from him there in 2004 and did some project work for his firm until October 2004 when she began clerking at the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal. Why she chose to leave her private practice off her LinkedIn profile remains a mystery.

In the arrest report, Gagnard lists as her address 7400 Marconi Drive, a home in the Lake Vista area situated between New Orleans City Park and the Lakefront that is owned by Houghtaling.

The June 9, 2004, incident on the beach that led to Gagnard’s arrest began when two Seaside security guards were drawn to the beach by loud music at around 2 a.m., according to online public records in the case, which are all available for public viewing here.

The IND obtained an official copy of the Walton County Sheriff’s Office arrest report from the department on Feb. 13.

The incident and arrest reports are based on sworn statements of two Seaside security guards and two Walton County Sheriff’s Office deputies. The arrest report was written by Schultz, who was a sergeant at the time but recently retired with the rank of major.

According to Schultz’s report, he and fellow deputy Cullen Coraine were called to Seaside by security officers in the community at 2:15 a.m. on June 9. (Seaside served as the backdrop for the movie The Truman Show and the inspiration for River Ranch.)

According to Houghtaling and the arrest report, music from a radio on the beach drew the attention of the Seaside security officers. The first security officer, identified in the arrest report as Linn Stalbosky, requested that fellow security officer Thomas Jones accompany her to help her. But Jones actually encountered the group on the beach before Stalbosky did, according to the incident report.

“Officer Jones located the several subjects on the beach at the Ruskin Pavilion and did make contact with the subjects in regards to the music. Officer Stalbosky joined Officer Jones in a timely manner and did witness a large white male subject in the face of Officer Jones yelling at him and threatening him. Officer Jones and Stalbosky also stated that they did witness glass bottles and wine glasses on the beach with the subjects towels, also noted by the two officers was that the female was naked on the beach. Officer Jones attempted to tell the subjects about the glass on the beach ordinance and the no nudity issue but was afraid of further problems from the larger gentleman. Both officers left the beach and contacted the Sheriffs [sic] Office.”

Schultz writes in his report that by the time he and Deputy Coraine arrived at the beach, the party had moved on from the beach to what was later identified as Houghtaling’s Seaside home. Schultz and Coraine walked there.

“On arrival at the residence there was a lot of noise coming from the residence, that sounded like slamming of doors. The front gate to the stairs was open along with the front doors of the residence. Deputy Coraine and myself walked up the stairs and onto the front porch, at this time we made contact with a male subject that was identified as the smaller subject on the beach. We then spoke with him in regards to the events on the beach and advised him that there was no glass allowed on the beach and that nudity was not allowed as well. And then asked him who the larger male subject was that threatened Security Officer Jones. He then stated that the big guy was Judge Barron and that he could not comment on whether anyone on the beach was nude and that he did not think there was any glass down there. [T]here was a white female present at the residence at the time Deputy Coraine and myself were talking with the male subject. After advising him of the county ordinance and the state statute regarding nudity Deputy Coraine and myself turned and started to leave.”

According to his report, Schultz accidentally knocked over a candle on the porch on the way out. The report says that upset Houghtaling, the owner of the house. Houghtaling, in his telephone interview with The IND, claims the candle was knocked over intentionally.

Houghtaling maintains that there was no “Judge Barron” on the beach. “The judge was actually Judge Reggie Badeaux,” he tells The IND in a phone interview Friday. Badeaux, of the 22nd JDC in St. Tammany Parish, was censured by the Louisiana Supreme Court in 2011 for not recusing himself from a divorce case involving two close friends. Badeaux has served as a district court judge in the 22nd JDC since 1997.

Photo by Robin May

Houghtaling, who says he and Candyce never married but declined to say when they broke up, also disputes the statement in the arrest report that the deputies got confirmation from the two Seaside security guards that the nude woman on the beach was the same woman present in the house when the deputies spoke with him. However, one of the security officers, Linn Stalbosky, says in her statement that she personally identified Gagnard Perret at the residence.

A portion of then-Sgt. Schultz's statement from the original arrest report, which The IND obtained from the Walton County Sheriff's Office Feb. 13. All records in the case are available on the Walton County Clerk of Court's website.

Gagnard was arrested by deputies Schultz and Coraine at Houghtaling’s Seaside home two days later, on June 11, 2004. Houghtaling answered the door, according the arrest report, which indicates Houghtaling “stated that this whole issue was complete harassment.”

The report continues:

At this point Ms. Gagnard did come to the door at which time I advised Ms. Gagnard that I had a warrant for her arrest. At this time Mr. Houghtaling and the other gentleman known only as judge became very aggravated [and] started to question my investigation of the case and demanding that I show them the signed warrant and stated to them that I was under no obligation at this time to show them a warrant. They stood as to block the door way into the residence and advised that I was not going to take her until they were shown the warrant. At this time both subjects were advised that if they interfered with the execution of the arrest warrant they would both be arrested for interference with a law enforcement officer. [A]t this time Ms. Gagnard was given the opportunity to collect some of her personal effects and remove any jewelry she might be wearing and leave it at the residence. During this period of time both Mr. Houghtaling and the subject that only identified himself as a judge continually question my investigation along with my knowledge of the law and continued to act my personal integrity as if to bait me into saying or doing something that would compromise my law enforcement position.

It was during the actual arrest that Gagnard Perret is reported to have told the officers, “You better have all your t’s crossed and your i’s dotted because I’m an assistant district attorney and I also do civil litigation for false arrest.”

Houghtaling posted a $1,000 cash bond to secure Gagnard Perret’s release from the Walton County Jail.

Public records indicate that Candyce Gagnard Perret was not prosecuted for indecent exposure because she completed a pre-trial diversion program.

For his part, Houghtaling says there were three couples on the beach, not three people, as contained in the police report. He also acknowledges that he got a call from Gagnard Perret recently, saying that "desperate opponents" were trying to use the arrest against her.

But despite Houghtaling’s claim that the arrest report was riddled with inaccuracies and that the arrest of Gagnard was “retaliatory against me and Judge Badeaux,” there are no records to indicate that the arrest report was ever challenged during the process in which Gagnard Perret completed the pre-trial diversion program before she could have the charge dismissed.

Contact Mike Stagg at [email protected] Read more on the candidates in the Third Circuit Court of Appeal race here, where you will find links to all of the stories in our series. The election is March 25.