New Orleans Top Stories Last Week, June 15-19

5) Katrina-Related Lawsuits Allowed Once More, 4) New Orleans to be Hub of Drywall Suits, 3) Deal Inked for New City Hall, Questions Linger, 2) Recorded Conversations Heard in Jefferson Case, 1) Safer, Costlier Flood Control Plan Finds Senate Ally

5) Katrina-Related Lawsuits Allowed Once More
The dismissal last week of class action allegations against insurance companies related to the Katrina levee breaches clears the way for individuals to once again file suit against their own insurers. There was a two-year window to file suit after the Aug. 29, 2005 disaster, but a class action lawsuit stops the clock on that timeline because it covers all potential members of a lawsuit class. The dismissal of that suit means individual homeowners, business owners and renters dissatisfied with the result of their claims are allowed to file suit on their own once more.

4) New Orleans to be Hub of Drywall Suits
A panel of federal judges picked New Orleans as the venue for upcoming class action lawsuits filed around the country against Chinese manufacturers of defective drywall. The judges were part of a litigation panel that consolidates similar cases from different federal courts to be heard by a single judge, in this case U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon. The building material has been in the news and been brought up in Congress after fumes from the wallboard were blamed for corroding copper pipes, causing silverware and jewelry to blacken and possibly making residents ill. Reports suggest up to 100,000 American homes were built or renovated using the material, including many in the Gulf Coast after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

3) Deal Inked for New City Hall, Questions Linger
The city of New Orleans and Chevron signed a deal to sell the oil company’s former downtown regional headquarters building to the city. The Nagin administration intends to relocate City Hall to the 21-story office tower in the CBD. The deal signed last week has a purchase price of $8 million and closing could take place after a 45-day inspection period. Nagin surprised many when he brought up the deal publicly for the first time last month during his state of the city address. Other city leaders say they weren’t briefed and that many questions remain over the deal. Last week, the City Council issued a list of questions concerning the cost of moving to a new building, financing of the deal and the future of the current City Hall. 

2) Recorded Conversations Heard in Jefferson Case
As the trial of former New Orleans congressman William Jefferson got underway in earnest last week, jurors in a federal court in Alexandria, Va. heard the first FBI recordings of conversations between Jefferson and others involved in the schemes in which he’s accused of conspiring. In a secretly taped conversation between Jefferson and telecom company CEO Vernon Jackson, Jefferson reportedly warned they could end up in jail for their activities. Jackson pleaded guilty in 2007 to paying bribes to Jefferson and is testifying in the case against the former congressman in the hopes of a reduced sentence. Jackson reportedly had trouble answering some of the defense team’s questions in cross-examination. Jefferson was indicted two years ago on 16 counts of bribery, racketeering, conspiracy and other charges by the government, which accuses him of seeking payments in exchange for his help securing business deals in Africa. FBI agents found $90,000 in marked bills in a freezer in Jefferson’s Washington, D.C. apartment. The trial continues this week.

1) Safer, Costlier Flood Control Plan Finds Senate Ally
A proposal to pump water from the 17th Street Canal to the Mississippi River that is favored by Louisiana senators Mary Landrieu and David Vitter and local advocates for greater flood control measures gained the support of U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California. Boxier is chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and last week she pledged to push for legislation forcing the Army Corps of Engineers to build the so-called "pump to the river" option. Corps officials insist the agency cannot build the pumping project under law, and that they favor less costly projects to deepen New Orleans drainage canals and install permanent pumping stations on the lake. That plan includes no improvements to the canal walls, which failed during Katrina and caused much of the flooding that devastated New Orleans. Boxer said she wants to fast-track legislation to authorize the Corps to build the pump-to-the-river alternative.

Ian McNulty is a freelance writer in New Orleans and contributing writer for New Orleans Magazine. Reach him at

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