The Louisiana Supreme Court has reinstated a 2015 indictment against a former St. Bernard Parish employee who was charged with billing for hours as a part-time sheriff’s deputy while he was also on the clock as the parish road superintendent.
The indictment of Jarrod Gourgues was quashed in 2016 when a state district court judge found a report by WWL-TV may have prejudiced the grand jury investigating Gourgues.
Gourgues was indicted by a state grand jury in August 2015 along with his boss, former St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta. While Peralta was charged with 22 counts, ranging from abuse of office to stalking his ex-wife, Gourgues was charged with theft for collecting pay for overlapping work hours, one count of perjury and three counts related to a business he allegedly owned with parish contracts.
The grand jury handed up the indictment on Aug. 4, 2015, one day after WWL-TV had exposed more than 90 hours of overlapping time Gourgues had claimed on his timesheets and duty logs, records filed with the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Department and St. Bernard Parish Government.
Gourgues’ attorney, Mike Magner, questioned the timing of the WWL-TV report. The story reported the grand jury probe based on subpoenas released by the sheriff’s office in response to the station’s public records request. Magner argued that violated grand jury secrecy rules and the indictment should be thrown out.
In May 2016, Judge Jeanne Nunez Juneau agreed with Magner and threw out the whole indictment against Gourgues, saying the sheriff’s office violated the secrecy rules and the resulting WWL-TV report could have prejudiced the grand jurors against Gourgues.
But the Supreme Court said Juneau interpreted the grand jury rules incorrectly. It granted the state’s request to reinstate the indictment and said the Code of Criminal Procedure does not prohibit the release of grand jury subpoenas.
The code “prohibits the divulgence of testimony and other matters occurring during grand jury meetings,” the Supreme Court ruled. And so, “the divulgence by the sheriff’s office of two subpoenas duces tecum, which did not include testimony or evidence presented to the grand jury in the instant matter, did not violate grand jury secrecy.”
The state’s high court also found that merely revealing the existence of a grand jury investigation is not grounds for quashing an indictment.
“We are disappointed in the ruling,” Magner said Monday. “The release of these grand jury subpoenas actually revealed the full extent of what the attorney general’s office was looking at, and the fact that the story aired the evening before the grand jury considered the matter we do believe was prejudicial. At any rate, he’s not guilty of these charges and we intend to fully vindicate him.”
The criminal case against Gourgues now goes back to St. Bernard Parish for a potential trial.
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