Louisiana state trooper files defamation suit against Candyce Perret Nicholas J. Schittone alleges ’reckless disregard for the truth.’

by Mike Stagg

Suit alleges abuse claims in Perret campaign ads featuring trooper's ex-wife, also named as defendant, show "reckless disregard for the truth."

A Louisiana state trooper has filed suit against Third Circuit Court of Appeal candidate Candyce Perret, claiming she defamed him in TV and radio spots that began airing in the past week.
Photo by Robin May

The ex-husband of a woman believed to have made claims against former Judge Susan Theall in television and radio ads paid for by the Candyce Perret Campaign filed a defamation lawsuit against his ex-wife and Candyce Perret.

Lafayette attorney Kirk Piccione filed the suit in the 15th JDC in Lafayette Wednesday on behalf of Nicholas J. Schittone, a Louisiana state trooper. The suit alleges that Brooke R. Stoma, his ex-wife, is the woman whose voice is heard in Perret campaign ads that have run for the past week on area television and radio stations.

In the ads (view the TV spot here and listen to the radio spot here), the woman claims that Theall ignored complaints of child abuse she made against her then-husband in a 2013 divorce case over which Theall presided. A transcript of the radio version of the ad quotes the woman as saying that Theall "didn't even look at the evidence of abuse to my children. She didn't want to be bothered with pictures of their bruises or written reports from their doctor."

The Independent reported on the questionable allegations in the ad Tuesday.

On her campaign website, Theall calls the claims in the ad about how she handled the divorce "a complete fabrication."

Although the woman is not identified in either the television or radio versions of the ad (the TV spot calls her "Sarah"), Schittone says in his suit that both he and his attorney in the divorce, Gay Babin, recognized the woman's voice as that of Stoma. In addition, Schittone says they recognized documents used in the ad as those that were used in the divorce proceedings.

"Defendant Candyce Perret published these allegations with reckless disregard for the truth," the suit alleges. "A minimal investigation would have revealed that many of the allegations made by defendant Brooke R. Stoma in the commercial were patently untrue and that defendant Brooke R. Stoma actually petitioned for joint custody in her divorce proceeding, stating, "It is in the best interest of the minor children of the marriage that joint custody be awarded to petitioner, Brooke Rachal Schittone, and defendant, Nicholas John Schittone."

The suit says the commercials are also misleading when they say that Theall ignored evidence of abuse of the couple's children.

"In fact, a simple review of the court record would have revealed that the parties amicably discussed joint custody and visitation schedules in open court, with defendant Brooke R. Stoma stating under oath that she agreed with the stipulations discussed," according to the suit.

"Judge Theall," the suit continues, "was not asked to review the evidence by defendant Brooke R. Stoma. The parties submitted a stipulated consent judgment, the Interim Order, wherein both sides agreed to joint custody." Schittone's suit points out that both parties were represented by attorneys throughout the divorce process.

Contrary to the claims in the ads, the suit states, "A simple review of the court record would have revealed that Judge Theall ordered a psychological evaluation of the parties and the children. After that psychological evaluation, neither party requested that the court look at the doctor's options and reconsider the stipulated consent judgment of joint custody."

Piccione says in a telephone interview that Nicholas Schittone felt compelled to sue because the allegations of abuse "are a nuclear bomb for his career" as a Louisiana state trooper.

"The State Police take allegations of abuse extremely seriously," Piccione explains. "Mr. Schittone's boss became aware of the allegations in the ad and word that the woman in the ad was his ex-wife. Mr. Schittone feels he had to defend himself against this defamation and libel."

Read the suit here.

Continues Piccione, "Mr. Schittone filed suit to defend his name and save his career. He was clearly shaken by these attacks on him and his character."

Attorney Kirk Piccione says Perret's claim that she reviewed the case file before airing the controversial ad is false.

Piccione says Candyce Perret posted on her Facebook page that she had reviewed the divorce record. Piccione says he believes that statement is also false.

"There is no record of Ms. Perret or anyone associated with her campaign having checked out the record of that case," Piccione says.

The suit, which contains transcripts and other records from the divorce case, has been assigned to 15th JDC Judge Marilyn Castle. It seeks "reasonable" damages from Perret and Stoma for the impact on Nicholas Schittone's reputation "both professional and personal," for humiliation, for mental anguish, "and other losses to be fully described at trial."

Perret could also face disciplinary sanctions from the Louisiana Supreme Court's Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee if the contents of the ads are shown to be false. If false, the ads could violate Canon 7(A)9, which states that "a candidate shall not make, or cause to be made, a false statement" about another candidate.

The Judicial Oversight Campaign Committee will neither confirm nor deny that a complaint regarding the ads has been filed. The only way the general public would learn that a complaint had been filed would be for the committee to report a finding of a violation.

Perret and Theall face each other in a runoff election on Saturday for the eight years remaining on the seat made vacant by the election of Judge Jimmy Genovese to the Louisiana Supreme Court last November.