LAFAYETTE — A Louisiana state trooper has filed a defamation lawsuit against his ex-wife and a judge for allegedly making false claims about him in election ads.
Attorney Kirk Piccione filed the lawsuit in a Lafayette district court in late April on behalf of the plaintiff, Nicholas J. Schittone. According to court documents, Schittone claims his wife's voice can be heard in television and radio ads paid for by the Candyce Perret Campaign discussing the former couple's divorce case. In the ads, Perret, who recently won a seat on the Third Circuit Court of Appeal, was rivaling former Judge Susan Theall for the position.
The divorce case between Schittone and his ex-wife, Brooke R. Stoma, was seen before Theall in 2013. The woman referencing the case in Perret's ad can be heard saying 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 woman in the ads is not identified but is labeled as "Sarah" in the television version. However, Schittone alleges in the lawsuit that he and the attorney he used in the divorce, Gay Babin, recognized Stoma's voice. He mentioned that he was also able to identify court documents from the divorce that were used in the ad.
The suit states that not only are the allegations made by Stoma in the ad untrue, but that she petitioned for joint custody of their children to be awarded to both herself and Schittone.
"Defendant Candyce Perret published these allegations with reckless disregard for the truth," according to the suit. "A minimal investigation would have revealed that... Brooke R. Stoma actually petitioned for joint custody in her divorce proceeding."
The suit further explains that Theall "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."
The absence of court records stating Stoma mentioned any abuse during the divorce proceedings may give Schittone an advantage in this case, according to Gretna-based attorney and former police officer Peter Russell.
"[Stoma] never raised the issue that her children were being abused in court," Russell told the Louisiana Record. "[Perret] is responsible for her advertisements and taking those alleged statements for fact when they were never heard as fact in that courtroom."
After Schittone filed the lawsuit, Perret took to Facebook to defend herself against the allegations.
"The woman in this case came to us wanting to tell her story, which we verified in court documents and doctor reports," Perret said on her official campaign Facebook page. "There are children involved in a continuing abusive situation."
This statement Perret made on social media could further be a hindrance for her in this case if Stoma's comments are found to be fabricated.
"She doubled down in that comment and opened herself up for a second count of defamation," Russell said. "It probably would have served them better to not say a word. If it comes back that [the campaign] did not use the records as evidence, they are facing lack of candor."
According to the lawsuit, Schittone, a state trooper, decided to sue in order to defend his name and character after his boss was made aware of his wife's allegations.
"The state police take allegations of abuse extremely seriously," Piccione explained.
Schittone is seeking "reasonable" damages based on humiliation and mental anguish that will be revealed further in court.
If the claims made by Stoma and Perret are found to be false, Perret could face disciplinary action from the Louisiana Supreme Court's Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee.
"This judge is going to have some issues involving civil damages," Russell said. "When you run for judge, it's better to use information in ads that is fact-proven and doesn't involve actual court proceedings."
Perret was elected in the runoff race after receiving 54 percent of the vote. She succeeded Judge Jimmy Genovese, who was elected to the Louisiana Supreme Court in November.