Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Wisner hearing - LSU weighs in

This Tuesday, Sept. 24, Division D in Orleans Parish Civil District Court....mark the date if you want to watch the battle royale in which the City of New Orleans and Mitch Landrieu attempt to oust the Wisner family heirs from the Edward Wisner Trust, and the heirs attempt to oust Mayor Landrieu from his status as the trustee of the Edward Wisner Donation Advisory Committee.

In case you haven't been following the saga, the Mayor and the City filed a counter motion to the heirs' motion for summary judgement in which they claim the heirs aren't really heirs and should be removed completely from the Trust.  The counter-motion also claimed the trust was not in perpetuity, which could potentially set up a situation where not only the Trust is dissolved but where the City of New Orleans takes over the entire ball of wax.

In response to this counter-motion, the heirs filed a response (counter-counter-motion?) to remove the Mayor as the trustee of the Advisory Committee due to a breach of fiduciary duty and quite possibly the misappropriation of the Wisner Grant funds....a potential criminal offense, mind you.

When the City filed their counter-motion, I feigned surprise that LSU and Tulane had not objected to the City's claim that the Trust was perpetual considering both institutions' interest in the Trust was potentially at stake.  I say I feigned surprise for good reason.  If you have been following AZ and the story of what has happened with the Advisory Committee since Mayor Landrieu took office, you would know that what I would call a "hostile takeover" by the Mayor took place with the five-seat Advisory Committee.  Both LSU and Tulane ousted their existing committee appointees and replaced them with two new members that fell in lockstep with the Mayor's wishes for the Trust.  It seemed apparent that both Tulane and LSU had cut some deal to help the Mayor accomplish whatever his plans were for the Wisner Trust, its legal claim against BP in the 2010 oil spill, and even the fate of the Wisner property itself.

Well, to my surprise...genuine surprise this time....LSU has filed a memo of support backing the heirs' claim that the Trust is, in fact, perpetual.  That doesn't mean they're in total support of the heirs' position but it is a significant development in the final days leading up to the hearing.  From a political standpoint, something has clearly shifted behind the scenes.  The City has filed a memo of opposition to LSU's memo of support but when I went down to CDC that document had not yet made it into the case file so I was just able to get LSU's memo.

If I'm confusing you, I apologize but it's complicated stuff.  Boiled down....LSU is no longer sitting by passively while Mayor Landrieu attempts to dissolve the Trust.  The LSU change of heart is very surprising to me and I think it may reflect a larger shift in the fickle winds of New Orleans/Louisiana politics.  I'll elaborate on that in a subsequent post.

Also, it appears Nadine Ramsey has been removed as the Ad Hoc Judge from Division D and replaced with former Jefferson Parish District Judge, Melvin C. Zeno.  If you read the blog you will recall I raised somewhat of a stink that Ramsey had been pulled up as an Ad Hoc Judge in Div. D, filling in for Judge Lloyd J. Medley who is on an indefinite hiatus.  Ramsey has designs on running for City Council in District C and is reportedly being backed by Rep. Cedric "C-note" Richmond and Ike Spears which concerned me in respect to her partiality in this particular case.  Looks like someone else may have shared my concerns.

In the past few months, I, along with a couple of AZ readers, have been picking through some data that has shed some very interesting light on the Mayor's dealings with the Wisner Trust, the Advisory Committee and the lieutenants carrying out his orders, namely former City Attorney and mayoral appointee to the Advisory Committee, Michael Sherman.  In fact, AZ reader, Kevin, has uncovered some very interesting private dealings Mr. Sherman was carrying out while employed by the City that may constitute a conflict of interest with his role not only as a City Attorney but specifically his position on the Edward Wisner Donation Advisory Committee.  

Also, it looks like the Mayor's Chief Administrative Officer, Andy Kopplin, may have played a significant role in the original effort to persuade LSU to change their appointee to the Advisory Committee.  On the whole, it's become rather clear to me that the hostile takeover of the Committee taking place behind the scenes I suggested was very real and had immediate goals, the most notable being to remove the law firm, Waltzer and Wiygul, as counsel representing the Trust in the case against BP in order to replace them with the JV/PSC attorneys I've been writing about for the past year.

The fix was clearly in.  It's ironic as Governor Jindal is pulling pretty much the same thing right now with the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East.  The democratic process isn't meeting the desires and political machinations of the executive branch so the Governor subverts the process in order to accomplish his own selfish goals...this is exactly what happened with our Mayor and the Edward Wisner Donation Advisory Committee.

There's a lot riding on this hearing, not just for the heirs and the other beneficiaries of the Wisner Trust but potentially for the City and the Mayor, himself.  If the court decides in favor of the City and the Mayor, the final chapter in a century-long, land boondoggle will come to an end and the family legacy of Ed Wisner along with it, not to mention the potential for the complete dissolution of the Trust and the sale of the land, itself.  If the court rules in favor of the heirs, it could range from being a slap in the face to Mayor Landrieu to a catastrophic, political beat down.  If he is removed as Trustee, I'm not even sure what happens at that point.  I'm not even sure what would happen to the City's position with the Trust for that matter.  There's also the potential for legal/criminal ramifications if he was found to have misappropriated the Wisner grant funds although now that Polite is at the helm on Poydras Street I can't imagine anything coming of that.

I will be at the hearing on Tuesday, I encourage any of my readers to attend.  I'm always interested in readers' perspectives so if you do go, please comment always comments are anonymous and I'll guard that with my life.    



Anonymous said...

An interesting side note to this is that when the Wisner ladies filed suit against the City of New Orleans et al in 1928, the parties who had acquired the Wisners family's other lands in 1917 via a dation en paiment, intervened and claimed that whatever interest the Wisner ladies had in the trust belonged to them. They ended up appealing to the Louisiana Supreme Court and in a reported decision, lost.

Clay said...

Is this going to be some sort of Jindal/Mitch proxy fight?

Jason Brad Berry said...

That is one incredibly observant question, sir. I have some observations I will share a little later.

Anonymous said...


You couldn't be more wrong. The Donation was not a 'payment in donation'. There was no appeal in 1917 but a challenge of Donation by Wisner's wife and daughters. There was nothing owed. As far as The LA Supreme Court (of which I assume you refer) are you referring to Peneguy vs. Porteous?

Jason Brad Berry said...

I don't think he did say the "The Donation" was a dation en paiment.

Just to clarify what's being stated, I think Anon 1 is referring to the story that Millings, Knapp and crew were claiming that what was left in Mary Jane Wisner's name of Ed Wisner's land that they had not already stolen was theirs as well but they lost that challenge in the LA Supreme Court. I'm not sure if this is true, I'm trying to find out. I think you're misunderstanding what Anon 1 is referring to. If he/she is referring to the situation I think he/she is, it's one hell of a story.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 4:23 -

A dation en paiment is analogous to a deed in lieu of foreclosure, and that is what the Wisner heirs were forced to signed in 1917.

Quoting from this site:

"His estate contained about 1 million acres in the state of Louisiana, much of which he left to his wife and children. Unfortunately the attorneys and friends Wisner entrusted to take care of his wife and daughters after his death had other intentions and the family's fortune was lost before the end of 1917."

Anonymous said...

If the hearing takes place on Tuesday? You would have to think that a ruling won`t come down until after 2014 elections.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 7:24 September 22,

You are referring to a matter separate from the the "trust" that is currently in litigation. Accept my apologies for not thoroughly reading your original post.
That said - please elaborate, if you can....

Anonymous said...

What the estate attorneys didn't steal from the children of Wisner prior to 1917 will now be stolen by the politicos.

This should serve notice to anyone setting up a public trust( look at the Meaux trust thievery in St. Bernard) to leave their money to Children's Hospital.

Anonymous said...

Jefferson Parish District Judge, Melvin C. Zeno otherwise known as Rev. Melvin C. Zeno of the St. Joseph Baptist Church" In 1996 Marrero Land & Improvement Association donates 2 lots to St. Joseph Baptist Church.

Strangely enough this suit was taken off the LSBA website recently but luckily it was cached and indexed.

Not that it means anything at all but Rev. Reno's Church has ties to the Marrero Land & Improvement Association but could be grounds for another judicial recusal.