Thursday, February 07, 2013

The Wisner Fund - Battle for the Bayou - Part 2


In the wake of the BP oil spill, it became apparent that the structured settlement process set up by the Obama administration was a woefully inadequate method of dealing with the enormous amount of damage the Macondo spill unleashed on Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. 

President Obama’s handpicked arbitrator, Kenneth Feinberg, was officially ruled  “not neutral” by Federal Judge Carl Barbier in February of 2011.  Before Barbier ever smacked that gavel, the blogosphere pointed out that Feinberg had clear conflicts of interest.  We were also the first to ask if Feinberg was working on a commission based salary...turns out he was.

The solution to reboot the claims process was to create a “Plaintiffs Steering Committee (PSC)”.   These qualified lawyers would be selected by Barbier to represent the people along the Gulf Coast who had been decimated by the ongoing effects of the BP spill.  Hence, Barbier issued a request for attorneys residing in the states affected by the spill to submit resumes to in order to win a spot on the PSC. 

The list of Babier’s appointees are contained in this pretrial order:


I actually obtained the resume submissions to Barbier back in December of 2010 per a public records request.  I found it interesting that at least one of the PSC appointee’s, Calvin Fayard, resume was nowhere to be found in the documents I received (we found it...see update #1 at the very bottom).  I invite everyone to take a look and see if I missed something.


Any person or business filing a claim against BP is not forced to join the PSC process.  They still have the right to file claims independently against BP and for entities that were affected most heavily by the spill, that would seem to be the logical path.  

Also, public entities are not allowed to join the PSC structured settlement, they must arbitrate independently of the Plaintiff Steering Committee process.

Three of these PSC attorneys were also lucky enough to be chosen by the City of New Orleans to represent the City’s case against BP for damages from the oil spill.  The City hired a team of 4 law firms in total to represent them in their case against BP.   

In this post, I will refer to these attorneys as the “joint venture” attorneys or JV attorneys.  

Who are the JV attorneys?  

The three law firms currently representing the city that also have members on the PSC are:   Herman, Herman, Katz and Cotlar Fayard and Honeycutt;  Domengeaux, Wright, Roy & Edwards.  

Also, the firm Leger & Shaw is part of the JV attorney team but they do not have a member of their firm serving on the PSC. 


No conflict here.  Wait...there's a conflict here!

In July of 2010, The Wisner Trust Advisory Committee hired the law firm, Waltzer and Wiygul, to represent the trustees’ claims against BP for the damage caused by the oil spill.  

No RFP (Request for Proposal) was used to hire Waltzer & Wiygul.  At the time Waltzer and Wiygul was hired, the committee members considered the trust to be a private entity, not public.  

In fact, the heirs to the property still consider the entity to be private. 

Last spring, around March and April of 2012, it became very clear that the mayor’s office was intent on removing Waltzer and Wiygul as the Wisner counsel for the BP case and replacing them with the JV lawyers that had been hired to represent the city.    

As council for the Wisner trust, W & W would have little hesitation in taking Wisner’s case against BP to trial instead of simply seeking a quick settlement. The firm has a rich background dealing with environmental issues, in fact, they represent the local branch of the Sierra Club. While a lengthy trial process may be what’s best for the Wisner property to get proper compensation, it may not be the most attractive scenario for the City of New Orleans interests in its litigation process with BP.

In fact, one entity could be used as a bargaining chip to benefit the other.

The mayor’s office claimed that there was a conflict of interest between the City of New Orleans and Waltzer and Wiygul because the firm was representing a company who had a lawsuit against the city in the closure of the Old Gentilly Landfill.

However, in a an email dated July 7, 2010, previous to the mayor's office claim of conflict, then city attorney, now federal judge, Nannette Jolivette Brown, officially waived any potential conflict in the matter on behalf of the City.


Small world, huh? 

How many lawyers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Initially, there was an effort to have the JV (PSC) attorneys work with Waltzer and Wiygul to deal with the BP case.  Even though the JV attorneys had not officially been brought on board for Wisner, the lines started to become blurred on their involvement with the process.  

So much so, that on June 8, 2012 then Treasurer/Secretary, Cathy Norman, issued a letter to one of the JV attorneys, Steve Herman, asking him to define what role the JV attorneys believed they were playing on behalf of the trust.  The JV attorneys had not officially been hired by a majority vote of the Advisory Committee, yet instances were occurring where they seemed to be arbitrating on behalf of the Wisner trust in their case against BP (more on this in a minute).

Fate or fait accompli?   

The issue was becoming increasingly contentious but the majority of the committee members were intent on keeping Waltzer and Wiygul on as the trust’s council for the BP litigation.  

Then a fortuitous turn of events took place that would turn the tide towards the agenda of the Mayor’s administration. 

It started with  the Tulane appointee to the committee, Dr. Sandra Robinson, abruptly resigning her post in October of 2011.  Robinson was then replaced by Tulane with a new appointee, Anthony P. Lorino, who attended his first meeting in January, 2012 along with newly appointed committee member for the mayor, Michael Sherman.

Dr. Everett Williams was the committee appointee for LSU but due to personal issues beginning in the Fall of 2011, he was unable to attend the meetings so his alternate Stacy Gerhold-Marvin began to attend the meetings in his stead.  Gerhold-Marvin took a very active role in her duties, even traveling down to the land to see it firsthand.

In spite of her dedicated involvement, Gerhold-Marvin was abruptly removed from her role as the alternate for LSU less than 24 hours before a scheduled meeting in June of 2012.  

Upon her removal by Interim CEO of the LSU Health Care Services Division, Dr. Roxane Townsend, the committee seat was filled by former LSUHC Vice-Chancellor for Clinical Affairs, Ron Gardner, with Dr. Everett Williams being moved to the alternate position.

Secretary Treasurer and Land Manger of the Wisner Trust, Cathy Normand, spoke with Dr. Townsend about the sudden removal of Gerhold-Marvin . Townsend told Norman that Michael Sherman had called her and told her that Gerhold-Marvin was being “disrespectful and disruptive” in the committee meetings.  (I have tried to contact Dr. Townsend to confirm the phone call took place and find out what the exact impetus for Gerhold-Marvin’s removal was but I have so far been unsuccessful.)  

It’s worth noting that there were no previous complaints by any of the other committee members that Gerhold-Marvin was being disruptive in the meetings.  However, she did not agree with the Mayor’s intent to remove Waltzer and Wiygul and this reportedly led to some heated discussions in the committee meetings.  

I asked Michael Sherman if he contacted Roxane Townsend and lobbied her to remove Gerhold-Marvin from her role with the committee.  He confirmed that he did call Townsend about the LSU appointee position but he said his concern was that Gerhold-Marvin was not an employee of “LSU proper” and he felt the committee needed a new representative to fill the position.  I asked him if he told Townsend that Gerhold-Marvin was being “disruptive and disrespectful” in the meetings but he declined to comment about the matter on the record.

The stars align

 In the July  31, 2012 regular meeting of the committee a motion was made by Michael Sherman to fire Waltzer and Wiygul and replace them with the JV attorneys that were already representing the city in the BP litigation.  Gardner seconded the motion and it was subsequently passed in a 3 to 2 vote with Sherman, Gardner and Lorino voting yea, and the dissenting votes coming from Wisner heir appointee, Michael Peneguy, and Salvation Army appointee (alternate), Ed Buddy.

The way the meeting transpired is interesting.  I was told by an attendee of the meeting that Sherman called a short recess immediately before  the motion to remove W & W was introduced.  Sherman, Lorino and Gardner then “huddled” in the hallway outside with Gardner eventually breaking away from the group to take phone call.  When the meeting was reconvened, Sherman immediately made the motion to fire W & W with Gardner seconding it and the vote was cast. 

Interestingly enough, all of the JV attorneys that were being proposed for the job showed up at this meeting, 

Public:  To be or not to be... 

At this point I want to remind readers that in my previous post, where I laid out my discussion with Ryan Berni and Michael Sherman, they were stressing to me that their primary goal with the Wisner Trust is to create a greater level of transparency as they view the trust to be a public entity.  In our discussion, I asked Sherman if he believed he was behaving as if the entity was public and if he was following the guidelines of Louisiana’s Open Meetings Law.  He responded that he believed he was.

My original concern was that it appears he was influencing committee member's decisions regarding the trust, outside of the official meetings.  I was under the impression that the Open Meetings Law prohibited him from contacting other committee members outside of the meetings but I misunderstood the law when I originally posed this question to him in our meeting.  

What the law actually states is that he can contact other members of the committee individually but he cannot create a quorum of the committee outside of the official meetings to discuss Wisner issues.  This is known as a “roving quorum” and the Open Meetings Law strictly forbids it.  

So Sherman was correct in that he had not violated the Open Meetings Law by contacting other members of the committee outside of the meetings

However,  in the particular instance of the “huddle” that took place in the hallway during the recess from the committee meeting....if Lorino, Gardner and Sherman were discussing their intent to issue a motion to remove Waltzer and Wiygul and replace them with the JV attorneys, the three of these men conspiring together, outside of the meeting, would constitute a roving quorum.
  
One ring to litigate them all

With the 3 to 2 vote, some of these JV attorneys are not only serving on the Plaintiff Steering Committee, as well as representing the City in litigation against BP for the oil spill, they are now representing the Wisner Trust to boot.  This begs the question, “Does hiring these lawyers (without an RFP mind you) to represent the Wisner Trust litigation against BP constitute a conflict of interest?”

There are numerous issues that would call a conflict of interest into play but the fact that some of the lawyers are on the PSC and representing the city simultaneously raises questions of conflict unto itself.  Now they have been hired to represent one of the most critical plaintiffs in the entire realm of the BP oil spill litigation, the Wisner Land Trust.  

What is in the best interest of the City is not necessarily in the best interest of the Wisner Trust and it’s hard to imagine that the JV lawyers could separate those interests when bargaining with BP.  

One would think there is a shortage of law firms in South Louisiana.

Previous to the special Advisory Committee meeting that resulted in the removal of Waltzer and Wiygul,  Joel Waltzer was asked by the JV attroneys to attend an informal meeting with Soren Giselson (Herman, Herman, Katz and Cotlar) and Caroline Fayard (Fayard and Honeycutt) to discuss a possible joint venture between the JV attorneys and Waltzer & Wiygul.  Waltzer asked Cathy Norman to attend the meeting along with him. 

In that meeting, held on July 15, 2012, Fayard told Norman that all the city has to do is get the votes on the committee and they could put whoever they want in as counsel.  She also stated that  the trust would “Live by the by-laws and die by the by-laws.”   

Two weeks later, Sherman made the motion in the scheduled July meeting to remove Waltzer and Wiygul. 

This document is Norman’s account of the meeting with Fayard and Giselson.

Back to the conflict of interest thing

Cathy Norman asked the Louisiana State Bar Association for a legal opinion on whether or not the city’s choice of JV attorneys could have potential conflicts of interest in their multiple roles.  LSBA attorney, Eric Barefield, replied by saying a possible conflict could exist.  His summary:
Based on the limited account of the facts presented, we believe there is a concurrent conflict of interest present and , although Rule 1.7(b) may allow what the trustee has proposed, we believe you should be mindful of the risks and fully explain to all involved persons the potential for problems in this situation.  Prudence may suggest that you consider the benefits against the potential risk and the option to avoid the conflict altogether by not using the lawyer for the city, or if needed, finding another, completely different, distinct lawyer to serve as co-counsel for the trust and its beneficiaries. 

The JV attorneys responded to that opinion with their own opinion from attorney Basile Uddo which stated that there was no clear conflict of interest.

Coincidentally, Basile Uddo also serves on the Plaintiff Steering Committee ethics counsel.  

The final decision came down to Federal Judge, Carl Barbier...the same judge overseeing the BP case and the same judge who originally chose the attorneys that comprise the PSC.  He concluded that “..at this time there is no conflict of interest” clearing the way for this group of JV lawyers to represent both the Wisner Trust and the City of New Orleans in their respective cases against BP.

(PLEASE SEE UPDATE 2 BELOW)

At what time do we recognize a conflict of interest?

Even before the motion was made to fire Waltzer and Wiygul, it seems the JV attorneys had taken it upon themselves to arbitrate on behalf of the Wisner Fund.  

In the letter Cathy Norman drafted to the City's JV attorney, Steve Herman, on June 8, 2012,  she asked him to define what role, if any, he believed he was serving on behalf of the Wisner Donation in the pending BP litigation.  Herman responded two days later (response is in the above link).  

In that response Herman states, "'...we' ( I assume he is referring to his own law firm) have not been asked to become involved in the operation or management of the Wisner Donation."

Perhaps not being asked to become involved and becoming involved are two separate matters?

Three days later, Herman went so far as to inform BP counsel, via email, of decisions that were made in an executive session of the Wisner Trust Advisory Committee.  This information was privileged and Herman may have violated attorney-client privilege laws by sharing it with BP lawyer, Mark E. Holstein, in a an email transmission at 1:56 PM on June 08, 2012:



Cathy Norman recognized the ethical breach and immediately informed the Committee members at 4:37 PM, June 8, 2012:



Robert Wiygul followed with a warning to the JV lawyers that the information was confidential:



Steve Herman then responded with an apology stating that he wasn’t aware the executive sessions were privileged information: 



Even accepting Herman’s explanation that he wasn’t aware the information was privileged, why would he be sharing a plaintiff’s private deliberations with the defendant, BP?  Especially if three days earlier he stated that he had not been asked to become involved with the Wisner Trust issues.  It not only causes concern for the ethical actions of Herman's counsel in the Wisner case, it brings into question his interactions with BP as a member of the Plaintiff Steering Committee and his role as an attorney for the City.  

Amazingly, at 8:07 PM, June 12, 2012, Steve Herman again made contact with a BP attorney, Nathan Block, regarding Wisner matters and cc’d Michael Sherman on the exchange:



Cathy Norman then forwarded this email exchange to the entire Advisory Committee to inform them of Herman's actions:



So before Herman's firm had been officially instated as Wisner attorneys and even after he had personally been asked not to inform BP attorneys of Wisner’s actions, Herman again forwarded Wisner information to BP lawyers.

This exchange of privileged information also brings up the question as to how Herman was obtaining the information in the first place.    

I asked Michael Sherman if he was informing Steve Herman of decisions being made in the executive meetings of the Advisory Committee and he declined to comment stating it is a matter of litigation and that he was restricted from commenting.  

Sherman did point out that all the Advisory Committee members have the right to have their own attorneys present at the meetings and they have the right to share information that has transpired in the meetings with their attorneys.  

However, in this case, I am not sure that Herman or any of the other JV attorneys were officially representing Michael Sherman in his capacity as a City employee or as the Mayor’s appointee to the Wisner board.  I would assume a city attorney should be providing that service, not Steve Herman who was serving as an independent contractor for the city with the specific purpose of litigating the City’s economic case against BP.  

If Steve Herman was serving as Sherman's council in his role on the Wisner Trust Advisory Committee, was he billing the city for these services independently of his role as JV attorney trying the BP case?  

Regardless, the information that Herman had about the Wisner actions in the executive meeting was privileged and should never have been shared with the defendant, BP.  

I asked Michael Sherman if he was aware that Steve Herman had provided BP with this privileged information from the executive meeting and he once again declined to comment due to pending litigation.

It appears a plaintiff’s privileged information has been traded by an attorney acting as the plaintiff’s counsel (even though he officially wasn’t) to the defense attorneys in what is quite possibly the largest civil case in American history.  The implications of this issue are staggering....so staggering....I don’t even want to speculate on the repercussions.   

Transparency?

I’ve piled a lot of information into this post and I don’t want to overdo it but there is one last item I want to bring up here in Part 2.  

Ryan Berni and Michael Sherman stressed to me that the goal of the Mayor’s administration with the Wisner trust is to increase transparency because they believe the trust is a public entity.  As I pointed out in 1.5, this administration has made significant efforts to inform the public of the fund.

Berni also stressed to me that the administration was intent on fulfilling public records requests.  I then presented him with this public records request submitted by the law firm, Simon, Peragine, Smith & Redfearn, at the request of the Wisner Trust Advisory Committee that has gone unfulfilled since February of 2011.  The city responded to Peragine that they had received the request but they never actually fulfilled it.
    
Ryan said he was unaware of this particular request but that he would look into it.  Sherman was not serving on the Advisory Committee at the time the request was made, but he was made aware of the issue by Advisory Committee members in official meetings.  

I also told Mr. Berni that I have spoken to other journalists who have filled multiple public records requests with the City that have gone unanswered.  He told me he would look into it and stressed that this administration had made great strides in fulfilling PRR’s in comparison to the previous administration but that they still face manpower challenges in fulfilling all of them. 

Along those lines, I have requested information from Mr. Berni that will show where the 2.4 million dollars in funds mentioned in Part 1 went when the City received it from the Wisner account.  We will address that in Part 3 but it may take some time for me to get that information. 

....and....it's Carnival time so don't expect much out of me til we hit lent.   

Update 1:  I was sent Calvin Fayard's application in email...it is here.  But, I can't find Roy's either...anon, were you able to find Roy's application?

Update 2:  I am being told, per email, that the JV attorneys never presented Judge Barbier with the Louisiana State Bar Associations legal opinion. They only provided him with the opinion presented by Basille Uddo.  So Barbier may have issued his opinion without seeing the LSBA's original opinion.  I am going to try and confirm this but in the meantime, check out the first comment by Kevin in the comment section.

32 comments:

Kevin said...

Didn't Basile Uddo represent Fayard & Honeycutt and Domengeaux Wright Roy & Edwards in the Road Home (Katrina) litigation in response to a motion to disqualify them that was filed by several insurance companies? I think (my layman interpretation) the insurance companies challenged the legitimacy of the "contracts" the Fayard and Domengeaux firms had been given by then-AG Foti to represent the state of Louisiana in the Road Home litigation. I believe there is a pleading filed on or about April 7, 2008 in the Road Home litigation that may answer this question.

If the Fayard and Wright firms were Mr. Uddo's clients in the recent past, can you explain how it is that his recent opinion on their behalf is "independent"?
Mr. Uddo has been Counsel for Intervenor Plaintiffs-Appellees/Cross Appellants, the Council for the City of New Orleans and Individual Council Members since August or September 2011 in a legal matter involving the City of New Orleans and BellSouth Telecommunications. He and his firm are still identified as attorneys for the New Orleans City Council Members.

I'm not an attorney, so I must be confused as to the meaning of the word "independent".

Jules B. said...

Damn.

TruittLaw said...

Jason

Wow! What can I say about the depth and insight of this series. It is people like you who tend to make society a better place to live by taking time to out the ne'er do wells and miscreants. Bravo!

Anonymous said...

So many conflicts of interest here its staggering. How is this allowed? Where is the attorney watchdog group on this one? ODC? Anyone out there? Hello.....

Anonymous said...

Judge Barbier needs to throw every single one of them and their firms off the PSC immediately. The entire BP settlement process is now tainted

Kevin said...

oConflicts?

Here's one for you: there were numerous District Attorneys who filed suits against BP and the others for penalties against BP for each and every animal, bird, fish and creature damaged by the oil spill in each of the Parishes affected by the oil spill.

Fayard, Herman, and other members of the PSC are also "local/special counsel" to the DA's on those suits, which were all brought on behalf of the State of Louisiana (figure that one out).

Anonymous said...

Kevin,
What of the conflict of the City Rep bringing forth a motion to hire the City's attorneys and voting? Should that rep not have abstained?

Anonymous said...

Some of the same people mentioned in your Wisner investigation were and still are involved in another controversy,
It was started several years back by Mike Sherman, then argued in front of the BZA by Basile Uddo and currently in litigation with Soren Giseleson as the plaintiff`s Attorney

Dambala - Jason B. Berry said...

Do tell....what controversy do you speak of?

Anonymous said...

Looks as if Mr. Basile Uddo is also contracted by the City. Mitch paid Uddo $160,000 in 2012 according this December 28, 2012 NOLA.com article. Guess it's easy to have the opinion you want written when you have that specific person on your payroll!

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2012/12/new_orleans_city_c.html

Steve Haas said...

The economic impact of your story could easily reach into the billion dollar zone. One thing we know about BP by now is they love to entangle the claims process with structural corruption built right in. It helps their company control the process by making it easily corrupted. This is not by accident but by design.

Here is the economic problem BP faces which is key to understanding the situation. Deep water drilling is different than land or shallow water drilling not just technologically but economically. Deep water wells take longer to turn a profit than land or shallow water drilling does. This is the key factor in why BP loves the USA. Property rights in the USA are respected. Drill in some third world nation and before you can begin to reap a profit ---5 years or more is the norm for deep water drilling--- you will find your assets nationalized. So BP has to balance the payout for damages while maintaining the relationship with the host nation.

Key concepts are the huge capital outlay needed for deep water drilling, the long period of time it takes to recoup those capital cost, the property rights of the host nation, the need to reduce oil spill payouts while maintaining a positive political environment with the host nation and lastly the lack of control over bloggers like Jason.

Had they had to do it over BP would have stuffed money in the bloggers pockets like they did every other potential source of problem causing entity in the entire oil spill saga. BP has technical expertise in corruption and taking over local governments so they can protect their corporate interest. It ain't their first rodeo and will not be their last.

Great job. I am sure they didn't see it coming. The problem now is what can be done with this problem. BP bought every marine research scientist in the Nation off after the spill that they could find to do "impact research" on the spill, IE to prevent them from doing independent impact research on the spill or worse class action lawyer paid research on the spill. So the only question I have is this---

Is their anyone BP has not corrupted left to challenge them?

Dambala - Jason B. Berry said...

( waits for a show of hands )

Anonymous said...

Mr. Haas
Waltzer & Wiygul were representing the Wisner Trust, as Jason explains. However, they were not 'corruptible' - so the City removed them.
Makes you think, huh?

Kevin said...

"Did the JV/PSC attorneys present Judge Barbier with the dissenting opinion of the Louisiana State Bar Association by attorney, Eric Barefield?”

I’m not an attorney. I’m not attempting to give legal advice or practice law without a license. But, I can read and write and I believe the language below is sort of related to your question. It is retyped from the 8/23/12 order of Judge Barbier appointing Wisner counsel:

“Before the Court is a motion seeking to substitute counsel for the Edward Wisner Donation (“Donation”), a land trust. (Rec. Doc. 7144). Some of the beneficiaries of the Donation object to the substitution on the perceived grounds that it would create a conflict of interest and support this position with an advisory opinion from the Louisiana State Bar Association’s Ethics Advisory Service. (Rec. Doc. 7140). The objectors (fn.1) also request that they be given until September 4, 2012 to file a full opposition. The proposed substituting counsel filed a response to the objection. (Rec. Doc. 7148).”

“fn.1: The Court does not consider here the argument that the objectors lack standing to oppose the motion to substitute counsel.”


In response to another question, this one about Basile Uddo and campaign contributions to Mitch Landrieu, according to campaign finance records available online from the Louisiana Board of Ethics, Basile Uddo donated $2,500 on 4/20/06; $1,000 on 4/26/11; $500 on 2/8/10; and, $200 on 10/19/07 to Mitch Landrieu.

Calvin Fayard and daughter, Caroline, each appointed by the Court as Wisner counsel, also each donated $5,000 to Mitch on 11/20/12.

Will these Wisner attorneys be perpetually representing the interests of the Donation (or whatever it becomes) pursuant to an order of a federal court? If so, that’s not a bad client to catch when you’ve been practicing law a little more than 5 years.

Kevin said...

"In spite of her dedicated involvement, Gerhold-Marvin was abruptly removed from her role as the alternate for LSU less than 24 hours before a scheduled meeting in June of 2012.

Upon her removal by Interim CEO of the LSU Health Care Services Division, Dr. ROXANE TOWNSEND, ..."

It is my understanding that the LSU Health Care Ssrvices Division was lacking some necessary funds to keep this program going.

Enter the LSU Foundation, a private organization not subject to the public disclosure laws or transparency required of public agencies. The LSU Foundation is made up of LSU alum having deep pockets and political influence.

I wonder how many PSC/Wisner court-appointed counsel are members of the LSU Foundation?

I know at least 1 who is not only a member of the LSU Foundation, but is also on the board of directors of the Ochsner Health Foundation.

Anonymous said...

Kevin,
Name that rat! Thought we were all friends here?

Anonymous said...

Kevin,
Name that rat! Thought we were all friends here?

Dambala - Jason B. Berry said...

Fayard huh?

Kevin said...

There is a Calvin Fayard, Jr. listed in the LSU Foundation membership list, and he there is a Calvin Fayard, Jr. that also shows up as a director of Ochsner Health Foundation.

There is also a Jim Roy listed on the LSU Foundation membership list.

Anonymous said...

Townsend was able to act because she was also Interim CEO of Interim LSU Public Hospital, Charity Hospital's replacement. The LSU Foundation supports the schools but not the hospital itself. LSU Foundation does not benefit from the Wisner funds.

Kevin said...

Anonymous:

Not in disagreement with your comments, but in her own words:

"SWH: Can you clarify how the funding is going to work? Is there anything that is still in negotiation?

Roxane Townsend: Well, we have the $300 million commitment from the State. We have the $474 million that was awarded from FEMA for the replacement of Charity Hospital. Right now there are some negotiations that aren’t finalized yet for contents of some of the other buildings, because there were multiple buildings that were actually destroyed…not just Charity Hospital. And that could be upwards of another $150 million that we may receive from FEMA for the contents that would go towards the construction. The balance of the funds for the ambulatory care building and the parking garage—that commitment is being made by the LSU Foundation. They are going to do a third party financing to complete that piece of the project."

She was replaced as CEO about a month after her nomination of Ron Gardner to the Wisner position.

As I understand it, Ron Gardner is a member of the board of the DDD; he was a vice chancellor in the LSU medical system or program where Dr. Townsend was working. And, he is on the 2013 Super Bowl committee of some kind, as well as on the 2014 NBA All-Star Committee, both of which have requested some serious money from the legislature.

Although she had several years left on her contract with LSU, Dr. Townsend "started her tenure Feb. 1 as chief executive officer of UAMS Medical Center and vice chancellor for clinical programs for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS)."

Anonymous said...

Not a surprise that the LSU Foundation would contribute to the financing for the new hospital...as you said, very deep pockets, and it will be the new academic hospital so it does have a stake there. However, I assure you, the money from Wisner for Charity Hospital is but a drop in the bucket compared to those expenses. Wisner money is deposited into the CH Trust Fund and has been spent on CH and is now spent on Interim LSU Public Hospital. The mission of LSU Foundation and Charity are different. It would be a misappropriation of funds for Wisner money to go to LSU Fdn, and that's not happening.

Kevin said...

Never meant to imply that any Wisner funds are going to LSU Foundation. Sorry if my comments gave that impression.

I'm more interested in the conduit used by Mitch and others to get Dr. Townsend to remove someone from the Wisner committee.

Kevin said...

Anonymous said...
Some of the same people mentioned in your Wisner investigation were and still are involved in another controversy, It was started several years back by Mike Sherman, then argued in front of the BZA by Basile Uddo and currently in litigation with Soren Giseleson as the plaintiff`s Attorney

February 14, 2013 at 5:29:00 PM CST

Is that the lawsuit and intervention brought by Michael Sherman against the City of New Orleans and the Zoning Commission?

Is that the lawsuit where Michael Sherman is represented against the City of New Orleans by the same law firm that was nominated to, and appointed by, the court as Wisner counsel?

What was the reason the City terminated W&W as the attorneys for the Donation?

Kevin said...

I hope this cut and paste is allowed and legal and proper:

http://uptownmessenger.com/2012/10/controversial-gabrielle-dinners-on-hold-again-at-the-uptowner-amid-litigation/

Anonymous said...

I'm in complete agreement with you on that, but wanted to set the record straight so it's not misinterpreted.

Kevin said...

Pardon my fascination with this topic. But, this Michael Sherman stuff is interesting.

Because Michael Sherman appears to have expressed a desire to AZ to bring some transparency to these Wisner Donation matters, I wanted to see if he has some comments he could share about his personal relationship(s) to the attorneys ultimately appointed by the court to represent the City of New Orleans.

Today, I will limit my questions to his familiarity with the Herman Katz law firm.

Remember, I'm not an attorney, I am expressing my own personal thoughts, opinions and feelings, and I'm not attempting to provide legal advice or practice law without a license.

It is my layman's understanding that Michael Sherman may not have actually filed a lawsuit against the City of New Orleans and the Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA). However, he may have filed an appeal of a decision of the BZA.

I do believe there is a matter in the CDC docketed as Michael Sherman v. City of New Orleans and Board of Zoning Adjustments for the City of New Orleans. It was assigned to Section 15, Division "B". I don't yet have a copy of any documents from that matter, but perhaps Michael Sherman can provide some directly to Jason and clear up this question.

Based upon pubic documents I have read, he seems to have filed an intervention in a somewhat related lawsuit that can be found here:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/45651381/Michael-Sherman-Complaint

It appears to me, a non-lawyer, that Michael Sherman was represented by the Herman Katz firm in at least that intervention.

Then something happened in 2010 that made Michael Sherman want to substitute a neighborhood association in his place as the intervenor, etc.

I promise, the 10/31/12 deposition of Kent Blackwell is a read worthy of your time. You can find it here:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/119809651/deposition-of-Kent-Blackwell-Volunteer-President-Burtheville-Association-of-Neighbors

According to my layman's understanding of Mr. Blackwell's deposition testimony, Michael Sherman was once an officer or something in the neighborhood association.

It's not clear to me who was/is paying the attorney's fees before or since Michael Sherman got the association to substitute as plaintiff. I think it's clear Mr. Blackwell didn't know, either.

AZ's source says it was Michael Sherman who made the motion to terminate W&W as counsel for the Wisner Donation. Did Michael Sherman have anything to do with recommending, suggesting, or approving the hiring of the lawyers to replace W&W?

Anonymous said...

Kevin,

Mr. Sherman was Presidnet of the Board your referred to in your above post, just to be clear. And, yes it does seem questionable.

As to the Wisner issue and W&W. Mr Sherman heavily advocated for the City's attorneys to represent Wisner. And, in a manner of transparency perhaps Mr Sherman would like to release the minutes of the May, June, and July meetings of the Edward Wisner Donation Advisory Committee. Mr. Sherman and the City of course maintain Winser is a public entity, so the docs should be released.....I would think. Of course, just for transparency.

Rumor has it that not only did Mr. Sherman bring the motion to fire W&W and hire the City's attorneys but he also voted in favor of the motion. I would think this is a clear conflict of interest. Of course, we are just trying to be transparent.

Kevin said...

This is just some more background on Michael Sherman, some of which you may already know because of his policy on transparency.

From Tulane Political Science Week 2008:

"Michael G. Sherman is a 2001 graduate of Tulane University. A Mayoral Fellow in the Marc Morial administration, he attended Georgetown University School of Law, from which he earned his J.D. in 2004. While attending law school, he was elected by the citizens of the District of Columbia as Commissioner, representing an area that encompassed the residential neighborhood surrounding Capitol Hill. Upon graduation, he joined the firm of Sullivan & Worcester, in Washington, D.C., where he worked on energy utility regulation and other matters.

Immediately after Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Sherman returned to New Orleans, and represented the New Orleans City Council in their successful effort to secure emergency funding on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Sherman left the security of large firm legal work in D.C. to become Vice President of Coastal States Development, a Florida-based real estate company.

Now working for himself, Mr. Sherman recently opened a law practice, Sapir and Sherman, with Eddie Sapir, a former City Council President and judge, and continues to develop real estate for commercial and residential uses in Louisiana and Mississippi."

Okay: In 2005, he represented the New Orleans City Council and was involved in re-building efforts.

Then, sometime later he quit his job representing the city council and became VP of Coastal States Development, a real estate development company with a newly-opened office in New Orleans (not to be confused with an entity formely known as Coastal States Development Corporation).

I could not find Mr. Sherman's company as being registered to do business in Louisiana at any time. But, I did find a couple of addresses which matched the same addresses for Eddie L. Sapir.

Below is a 9/26/2006 announcement about a real estate development by Coastal States Development:

West Bank/Westwego: Bayou Segnette TND

$58M Westwego gated community closer to reality

WESTWEGO - Developers won parish council rezoning approval today for a $58-million project involving nearly 300 townhomes and commercial space in Westwego.

Coastal States Development, a Tampa, Fla.-based real estate development company that opened a New Orleans office after Hurricane Katrina, wants to build the "upscale development" south of the West Bank Expressway on 58 acres across from the Alario Center on Bayou Segnette Drive.

Highlights of the development-the project will be gated with 280 "luxury, high-end townhomes",will sit above garages and the buildings will be built to "sustain natural disasters", each building to have its own look so that they do not look the same. Units will have balconies.

An estimated 226,000 square feet of commercial is planned, including a home improvement store such as Lowe's or Home Depot . The commercial space will be located adjacent to a planned WalMart Supercenter project on West Bank Expressway."

I'm left to wonder if this is the same Coastal States Development as Mr. Sherman's

Does anyone know if this Westwego gated community was ever built?

Does anyone know what happened to Coastal States Development?

Does anyone know if Michael G. Sherman is still in the real estate development business in Louisiana and Mississippi?

Does anyone know if Michael G. Sherman or his businesses/developments suffered any damage as a result of the BP oil spill?

Kevin said...

Michael Sherman:

In 2006, you were vice-president of Coastal States Devlopment on the project described above in Westwego. Was that land owned by Joseph Marcello?

In 2007, fpr some reason the Corps had a Phase I inspection done of a "Churchill Farms Pit A" in Westwego. Were you the representative of Churchill Farms and its owner Joseph Marcello?

What has happened with these 2 projects? Are you still involved in developing any of that west bank land? JEDCO?

Kevin said...

Does the donation own land located in the Bayou Segnette area?

If so, is the Donation's Bayou Segnette land located near the Churchill Farms Pit being used by the Corps of Engineers for clay to rebuild levees?

Are the 2 locations (Donation land/Churchill Farms Pit land) similar in any way?

Mr. Sherman: do you know how much per acre was paid by the Corps for the Churchill Farms Pit land? Is that information published anywhere?





Anonymous said...

I know that the Winser Foundation owns land south of the area mentioned above. That is south the Alario Center. That land is located along and off of Bayou Segnette and is, at least in part, where a good 100+ bayou adjacent camps are located and pay a yearly lease to the foundation. Also the development of the land as mentioned south of the Westbank Expwy / Hwy 90 and across from the Alario Center has not broken ground. I live in Westwego and frequent the afore mentioned camps.