The Independent

UPDATE on The IND’s effort to unseal Perret cases

by Leslie Turk

Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Piper Griffin did an about-face at Wednesday’s hearing.

Candyce Perret
Photo by Robin May

Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Piper Griffin did an about-face at Wednesday’s hearing involving The Independent's public records lawsuit against CDC Clerk Dale Atkins.

Last week Griffin said in near certain terms that she would likely open up at least portions of the three lawsuits filed in 2004, 2005 and 2006 against Third Circuit Court of Appeal candidate Candyce Perret by her ex-fiancé, John Houghtaling II of the Gauthier Houghtaling law firm in New Orleans.

Griffin asked Perret’s and Houghtaling’s attorneys to redact portions of the three suits and justify those black outs in a redaction log that was due to our attorney, Gary McGoffin, by Monday at 3 p.m. so that she could review them before Wednesday's 9 a.m. hearing. She said in certain terms she would rule Wednesday.

Read more in this editorial, "Candyce Perret's very troubling candidacy," published ahead of the primary.

Perret and her ex were allowed last week to intervene in our public records suit against the clerk of court, and filed last-minute exceptions to our petition on the eve of this week's hearing.

Attorney James Williams

Both Perret’s and Houghtaling’s attorneys defied the judge’s instructions to create the logs and turn them over to The IND at 3 p.m. Monday, and also missed the same deadline to file exceptions to our suit. Prominent, well-connected New Orleans attorney James Williams, who said last week he represented Houghtaling, appeared this week for both Perret and Houghtaling, his former law partner.

Judge Piper Griffin

By Wednesday morning Griffin had done a 180. In a surprise move (well, it was a surprise to us), said she was wrong last week. “I think I indicated that the intervenors do something improper,” she said. It’s worth nothing that the intervenors’ defiance of her instructions to them last week was never even addressed in court Wednesday.

Griffin then said she realized over the weekend — Sunday night, she thinks it was — that her court does not have jurisdiction to reverse a prior court judgment (i.e., sealing the records in each of the three cases) and denied The IND’s mandamus petition.

We respectfully disagree.

The IND gave notice of its intent to seek a supervisory writ to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, but that won’t come in time for voters to have knowledge of what’s in those cases before going to the polls Saturday to decide whether Perret or Susan Theall, who has faced criticism for what appears to be campaign finance violations, should represent them on the Third Circuit Court of Appeal.

Voters still know so little about Perret, who has refused to appear alongside Theall since a mid-April grilling by audience members at a Louisiana Citizens Action Network forum.

At the request of members, Lafayette Bar Association President Missy Theriot reached out to the Perret campaign to set up of a forum so that the candidates' peers could learn more about them. Theriot says she offered breakfast, lunch or afternoon options, knowing the candidates' schedules would be busy. "[Perret's] response was that with only two weeks [before the election] she had too many commitments. We stopped there," Theriot says, explaining the association, which has remained neutral in the race, did not reach out to Theall because members wanted to hear from both candidates. "We did try to provide that service to our members," Theriot says.

Perret also skipped a bar forum in the primary.

It's unfortunate that voters still don't know enough about Perret's background.

Perret's ex-fiancé's law firm donated $5,000 to her campaign the same day John Houghtaling got a favorable ruling from an Orleans Parish judge.

But they do have an idea of what she's trying to hide in those lawsuits. By some sort of glitch in the clerk’s system, the 2005 suit was obtained online and sent to The IND by a source before this battle to unseal the records was undertaken. What’s contained in that suit alone — Houghtaling asked the court for a restraining order, alleging in a sworn, verified petition that Perret stalked, threatened and intimated him and his new girlfriend — brings into question Candyce Perret's suitability and temperament for the Third Circuit Court of Appeal, and because of Griffin’s unexpected about-face Wednesday, voters will just have to wonder whether what’s in the 2004 and 2006 suits is even more disturbing.

John Houghtaling II

We can assume Perret breathed a sigh of relief after this week's hearing, and it seems Houghtaling was rather pleased with attorney Williams' performance as well, as Gauthier Houghtaling donated $5,000 to the Perret campaign Wednesday.