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Judge Perilloux “on leave” from bench week after sexual assault allegations made public

EDGARD — Division B Judge E. Jeffrey Perilloux stepped down from the bench today.

The move, termed an “on leave” absence from Perilloux’s office, began today (May 16).

Judge Mary Hotard Becnel has been appointed ad hoc and is handling the duties of Division B during Perilloux’s leave.

Perilloux’s status had been somewhat in question since news broke more than a week ago about criminal investigations by at least two law enforcement agencies into allegations of improper sexual advances made toward underage girls.

He faces a grand jury hearing June 25, officials said.

Perilloux did attend Friday’s 40th Judicial District Court Law Day Ceremony, where more than 100 local students were introduced to themed elements of the legal system.

Perilloux was elected judge in December 2016 and began serving the following month after capturing 55 percent of the turnout to defeat a runoff challenge from attorney Nghana Lewis Gauff.

The election was necessary to fill the unexpired term of departing Judge Becnel.

The 40th Judicial District Court covers St. John the Baptist Parish and is divided into three divisions — A, B and C — one judge presiding in each division.

The general jurisdiction court hears civil, criminal, traffic, juvenile, family and probate matters.

Perilloux was elected to Division B, Judge Madeline Jasmine to Division A and Judge J. Sterling Snowdy to Division C.

The Louisiana Supreme Court is the body that receives the recommendation of the Judiciary Commission, and the Supreme Court may censure, suspend, remove from office or involuntarily retire a judge for a number of reasons including conduct that brings the office into disrepute or constitute a felony conviction.

Louisiana’s Commission makes recommendations to the Court and reviews cases based on filed complaints.

A Commission representative did not comment on any pending reviews of Perilloux.

Allegations

Authorities with Louisiana State Police and the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office in Florida have interviewed numerous teenage girls, some of who are friends of Perilloux’s daughter, and received complaints from at least two individuals who said Perilloux inappropriately touched them.

Perilloux “categorically” denies the allegations.

“I will spend every nickel that I have to defend myself and my family on these allegations,” he said. “I am not a wealthy man, but I will spend every penny that I have to defend (myself) from these allegations.”

The investigations are at least 10 months old, as Okaloosa authorities said they were first notified July 15, 2017, of a criminal complaint.

Officials with Okaloosa County have maintained their evidence collecting and witness interviewing is complete and a decision on charges is tied to moves that first need to be made by authorities in Louisiana.

How and why the investigations in two states are linked has not been shared publicly by any of the agencies.

The situation was exasperated last week when The New Orleans Advocate published sourced details from Louisiana State Police’s investigation detailing a 15-year-old’s claim that Perilloux slid his fingers inside her bathing suit bottom during a Florida vacation and inappropriately stroked her breasts in separate incidents that took place last summer in St. John the Baptist Parish.

Judge’s response

Perilloux said he first heard of the allegations when The New Orleans Advocate reported them.

In speaking with L’OBSERVATEUR last week, Perilloux said he did not have any immediate plans to step down. That decision changed this week.

Perilloux’s attorney David Courcelle told L’OBSERVATEUR last week Louisiana State Police and the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office had not contacted his client, adding Perilloux had not provided any statements to Okaloosa or State Police.

Ruth Wisher, press secretary for Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, said State Police turned over findings to the A.G.’s office. According to Wisher, St. John Parish District Attorney Bridget A. Dinvaut asked the Attorney General’s office to come in and assist.

The A.G.’s office is preparing to present the investigation’s findings to a grand jury June 25 for potential charges.