Hell waiting for high water – the devil in the details of the flooding of Jefferson Parish

Discussions of the legal and technical aspects of the flooding of Jefferson Parish following Hurricane Katrina are best left to legal scholars and expert engineers. I am neither and a post on those aspects is a subject for another day. For lack of a better word, I’m a behaviorist – and it is from that perspective this post examines the event and those that followed.

Among the most basic of human needs are a sense of belonging and acceptance. If and how those needs are met is determined in large part by our environment; and, in some fashion, we’ve all learned that we will be more readily accepted if “when in Rome” we “do as the Romans do”.

Although half-a-world away, shortly after Hurricane Katrina, London’s Telegraph described the “Rome” that is home to Jefferson Parish:

Congressman Billy Tauzin once said of his state: “One half of Louisiana is under water and the other half is under indictment.” Last week, four fifths of New Orleans was under water and the other four fifths should be under indictment – which is the kind of arithmetic the state’s deeply entrenched kleptocrat political culture will have no trouble making add up.

It was in the context of this “kleptocratic” environment that some did their arithmetic before the storm; figured the flooding of Jefferson Parish would result in a massive money-making opportunity; and decided too much was at stake to rely on nature alone.

One early estimate of loss from the resulting flooding of the Parish was $3-5 billion.  However, we’re only beginning to understand how much money there was to be made; but, more importantly, we’re also beginning to understand how.

Attached to the roots of the “deeply entrenched kleptocrat political culture”  is the rather charming custom of lagniappe.  In its bastardized form “give me something for lagniappe” becomes a kickback to the “in crowd”.

In the “kleptocratic political culture” surrounding Jefferson Parish government, getting “in” is likely much easier than getting “out” – unless you were among those Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard literally helped out before Hurricane Katrina:

Parish officials have said that 200 pump operators were evacuated to Washington Parish on August 28th, the day before the storm, and returned the following day at 7 p-m. Broussard has said that leaving the operators at their stations during a Category Four or Five hurricane amounts to a “death sentence”.

Unlike the Parish with its pumps off, Broussard’s self-reported “humanitarian gesture” [sic] didn’t hold water:

Under emergency powers granted to the Parish President, Broussard appropriated the Meadowcrest hospital to use as a hotel for parish employees.

While not the “safe house” federal regulations required, housing the pump operators in the hotel was certainly a better option than losing billions  to property damage from the flooding of Jefferson Parish with the pumps off.

Hell was waiting in the high water.

The deeper the water and the longer it stood, the greater the damage.

Aaron Broussard was a kleptocratic “rainmaker“.

Money rained on contractors who gutted the flooded property and those who hauled and dumped the trash.  Money rained on those contracted to repair and rebuild – and when property owners could afford neither option, money rained on those who bought property at bargain-basement prices and resold at a profit.

Lagniappe came in every color of the rainbow.  The devil came in the details.

SLABBED looked at some of those details in CLUE – the River Birch version and now follows the devil in an examination of of the lawsuit known as Maurice Dela Houssaye v Jefferson Parish, Aaron Broussard and American Alternative Insurance Corporation consolidated with Gayle T. Bennett, et al. vs. Board of Commissioners for the East Jefferson Levee District, AKA “the pump flood case”. (Docket here h/t “anon” SLABBED reader)

The suit was filed in October 2005 and in 2006, after all 16 judges in the 24th District recused themselves, the Louisiana State Supreme Court appointed Judge John Peytavin, a retired judge from Lutcher to handle the case.  Although the name Peytavin was in the details of Jefferson Parish’s “contract” [sic] with River Birch, save a brief comment last September, there was no suggestion of controversy over the Judge’s appointment until January 14, 2011 – the date the Parish Council passed a Resolution awarding a contract to the Judge’s son:

The Parish Attorney is hereby authorized to negotiate a contract with Michael D. Peytavin, and the law firm of Gaudry, Ranson, Higgins & Gremillion, L.L.C., for the purpose of assisting the Parish Attorney in negotiating a contract with River Birch, Inc., for operation of a landfill.

Some claim the contract is creates a conflict of interest and gives cause for the Judge to recuse.  However, after researching the matter, I’m not certain the “cause” is there.

Search “Michael Peytavin” and you find a history of his representation of clients filing suit against (not for) Jefferson Parish.  The earliest case I found was dated 1998.  The most recent, and by far the most interesting, Willow, Incorporated v The Jefferson Parish Council and the Parish of Jefferson (LA 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, April 25, 2006), involved a land-use decision of the Parish Council, indicating some measure of merit to the claim stated in the January Resolution:

Michael D. Peytavin, and the law firm of Gaudry, Ranson, Higgins & Gremillion, L.L.C., have such expertise in the legal issues presented in this matter

Search the “pump flood” case against Broussard and you find article after article reporting Judge Peytavin has ruled against Broussard and/or the Parish. Rulings favor flood suit plaintiffs (March 6, 2008) is one example:

Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard’s statements under oath that he took no part in the decision to evacuate parish drainage workers before Hurricane Katrina are not enough evidence to free him from a lawsuit filed by residents blaming him for flood damage, a state judge ruled Wednesday.

Ad hoc Judge John Peytavin delivered that and two other preliminary victories to plaintiffs seeking class action status in the hurricane litigation. He ruled that one insurer, meanwhile, successfully argued that its policy did not cover the damages alleged in the suit…

Peytavin issued a separate judgment denying a defense request to dismiss the parish and its consolidated drainage district from liability because state law gives political subdivisions immunity from damage resulting from their actions to prepare for or respond to disasters. The judge gave weight to the plaintiffs’ argument that parish attorneys failed to prove that all issues of fact were uncontested….

A day later (March 7, 2008) La. Judge Won’t Remove Broussard, Jeff Parish from Flood Lawsuit appeared in the Insurance Journal:

A state judge in Louisiana has refused to remove Jefferson Parish and its president from a lawsuit filed by parish residents over flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina.

At issue in the lawsuit is the decision to evacuate pump station operators before the storm hit in August 2005.

In January, defense attorneys argued that Parish President Aaron Broussard, the parish and its drainage districts should be removed from the suit. They offered a two-page affidavit from Broussard in which he said he had no knowledge of or responsibility for evacuating pump station operators just before the storm hit.

“The parish’s former emergency director, Walter Maestri” refuted Broussard’s claim in La. parish president still facing lawsuits over Katrina (April 2008):

Walter Maestri, who retired about a year after Katrina, told victims’ lawyers this month that he hadn’t discussed evacuation of pump operators with Broussard on Aug. 28, 2005, the eve of the storm. But he contradicted Broussard’s claim of ignorance of the doomsday plan.

Maestri, who drafted the original plan in 1998, revised the document in 2005 to identify a new hurricane shelter for parish employees. Maestri said Broussard sought the change through a deputy, who quoted the parish president as saying he “wanted no one to die on his watch.”

Plaintiffs win a round in suits against Jefferson Parish over Katrina flooding (May 26, 2009) reports the Louisiana State Supreme Court decision on the appeal of Judge Peytavin’s March 2008 decision “denying a defense request to dismiss the parish and its consolidated drainage district from liability”:

The lawsuits against Jefferson Parish over widespread flooding after Hurricane Katrina are inching forward again now that the Louisiana Supreme Court has decided the government may be held responsible for its storm planning…The Supreme Court upheld the March decision of a state appeals court that had dubbed the government immune from liability for any decisions made at the height of the Katrina emergency. But a faulty “doomsday policy,” even if drafted under a former administration, was another matter, both courts seemed to say.

The case now returns to 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna and substitute Judge John Peytavin’s courtroom. Encouraged by the Supreme Court’s ruling, plaintiffs’ attorney Carroll Rogers said Tuesday she will apply for a class-action status to band numerous property owners together in a unified suit against the government.

Consistent with the outcome of the appeal, with the case back in his court, Peytavin “later ruled that Broussard couldn’t be sued for negligence, but left open the possibility that he could be found liable if plaintiffs can show he acted with “willful misconduct” during the emergency. In March 2009, a state appeals court ruled that Jefferson Parish and its drainage district could not be held responsible for decisions made as danger loomed. However that same ruling also found that the government could be liable for any mistakes written into the disaster policy that the administration followed.”

Judge Peytavin made “Hot News”  (September 22, 2010) when he granted the lawsuit class action status:

Following the plaintiff attorneys’ suggestion, Peytavin divided the thousands of potential plaintiffs into two subcategories: one for properties in the parish on each side of the Mississippi River. The exceptions are properties in Old Jefferson and Old Metairie that languished in water let loose by a breach in the 17th Street Canal. The lawsuits blame the flood damage on a decision within Broussard’s administration to evacuate 220 pump operators to Washington Parish as the major storm approached the Gulf Coast.

Peytavin ruled Wednesday that enough property owners had claimed damage to make it impractical to try them individually. He also ruled that the claims were similar enough that a few could represent the rest in court as typical examples. However, he chose to exclude communities around Hoey’s Basin because that flooding did not necessarily come from the evacuation of pump operators.

Despite the evidence – his son’s history of filing suit against the Parish, including the relevant Willow case, and the Judge’s pro-plaintiffs decisions – the value I place on reader comment is such that I researched Louisiana law on recusal and found no cause for either the mandatory or voluntary recusal of Judge Peytavin.

What I did find of interest came via email from a reader – the Expert Report of Paul D. Kuhlmeier, Ph.D., P.E., PG, BS (BS added after reading the report) dated October 29, 2010, over a month after Judge Peytavin’s decision making the case a class action. The report was prepared “on behalf of the State of Louisiana, Jefferson Parish, and Aaron Broussard”.

The devil is in the details of the hell that was waiting for high water – and five plus years after Hurricane Katrina is too late for the guilty to start bailing out of anything other than jail.

Figuratively speaking, Broussard was the kleptocratic version of a “rain-maker‘ – Figuratively speaking, Broussard was the kleptocratic version of a “rain-maker‘ –

18 thoughts on “Hell waiting for high water – the devil in the details of the flooding of Jefferson Parish”

  1. Thank you. Great reading. This whole scandal is outrageous, the TP has never been keen to investigate the damage and pain caued to thousands in JP. This story should never go away until it is resolved.

    Hopefully more on this later but as an fyi:

    These look like some kind of post-Doomsday storm plans for JP, but apparently not relating to the pumpworkers:



    Here is some kind of draft, perhaps 5/5/06?:




    The Broussard Doomsday Plan has never been published by any newspaper, tv station, blog or other media outlet. It must be in that docket somewhere.

    By the way, I had been thinking just that “Aaron Broussard = ‘rainmaker'” equation the last few days while reading content here. That apparently is just what he was and that is exactly how he was remunerated. Maybe still is based on the recent TP story about his debt being retired.

  2. Appreciate those links, Tele. I searched for the “Doomsday Plan” and found a lot of information, just not the Plan. Will definitely do a follow-up post.

  3. Even before the Obama administration developed their masochistic policy of taking advantage of a national tragedy, meaning the housing wall street collapse and recession, to force through Obamacare; there was the homebrewed Broussardcare. Broussardcare gave 15 million dollar FEMA contracts post Katrina to convicted felon Hubbard for which strangely no receipts or work records can be produced. Geeeee perhaps this is the misuse of federal funds mentioned in cry baby’s target letter.

  4. $15 Million my arse…that was just by Oct 2005. By February 2006 had climbed to $32 Million.

    And both Aaron Broussard and then Finance Director Nancy Casseign signed off on the checks.

    Now I ask you: what could Hubbard possibly have done in October 2005 to warrant $15 million dollars…no one was here…there were no workers and the people still were not back.

    And another cool $17 M by February 2006? Help me out here.

    BTW: another famous Billy Tauzin quote when talking about the DC media giving him a hard time for being from Corruption-riddled Louisiana where all politicians are bought and paid for: ” I resent that comment. I cannot be bought. I can be rented .”

  5. Hey Whitmergate: Is that a Camry as your avatar?

    Nowdy:$15 million buys a lot of Camry cars for special friends too.

    Or just maybe that money ended up in NOVA SCOTIA????

  6. Is Michael Peytavin a twin? Somewhere in the archives I seem to recall that nugget. No point just curious.

    He was an Assistant Parish attorney under Wilkinson, I think, and then moved over to the connected Gaudry firm. Check out the members of their firm.

    Enough already, this is incestuous behavior at its best ( or worse).

  7. I’ve heard he was a twin – and will see what else I can find out about his association with the Parish.

    Be assured, I plan to dig under every rock!

  8. Question……Why weren’t those 200 pump station operators at the Emergency Operations Center on Ames Blvd. or at East or West Jefferson Hospitals????? It makes no sense to send them north to Washington Parish. That is absolute insanity!!! God knows who was sitting in the command center on Ames Boulevard in Marrero. I am sure it was full of political deadbeats who served no essential duty fuction. The pump station operators should have been stationed at a command center in Jefferson Parish, where they could have resumed their duties shortly after the the storm passed.

  9. Nolakat : you are dead-on about who was in the Command Centers … they cluster there as if they had any skill set needed to take care of the business of securing the Parish.

    It is ridiculous. At least with Bonano gone it won’t be comical. Although there will still be a lot of overblown bully-boys blowing hot air .

  10. It’s not against the law to be dumb – but you can’t have it both ways. Either there was “willful misconduct” or the various decision-makers didn’t have the basic intelligence needed to meet any sort of minimum job requirements! More about these decisions over the weekend!

  11. nolakat the Pump oprators were to be on duty at the Pump Station as per the requirements of Federal Regulations published in 1963, but never followed by the COE & possibly never informed the local sponsor

  12. Is that the same Peytavin that contributed to all of the council members, including the Parish President and all of the Judges and just got all of the BP work for the Parish?

  13. In 2009, the Gaudry Law Firm (Michael Peytavin) billed $250,224 thousand dollars…$100,000 of which related to negotiations with River Birch. And yes, they have given tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions across the board. I have yet to receive the numbers for 2010, but I suspect the fees paid will be substantial as were their political contributions. Frankly these fees are but a small percentage of the $ 5 plus MILLION JP paid to out side council in 2009.

    But the kicker is that not only is Peytavin’s firm hired, they (JP Council) ante up and hire an additional law firm with expertise in these matters to work with Peytavin ! Again 7-0…no discussion, no dissent…just another slam, bam fuck you taxpayer from this corrupt Council of Clowns.

    “The seven-member panel unanimously chose the Gretna law firm Gaudry, Ranson, Higgins and Gremillion to handle such legal matters. It also chose Boykin Ehret & Utley of New Orleans as a subcontractor.”

    Jefferson Council picks law firm to handle future oil spill lawsuits
    Published: Wednesday, February 02, 2011, 10:55 AM Updated: Wednesday, February 02, 2011, 4:25 PM
    By Richard Rainey, The Times-Picayune

    And what do we call this “you get contract, I get political contribution” merry-go-round ?


    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Pay to play, sometimes pay for play, is a phrase used for a variety of situations in which money is exchanged for services or the privilege to engage (play) in certain activities. The common denominator of all forms of pay to play is that one must pay to “get in the game,” with the sports analogy frequently arising.[1]

    1 In politics
    9 References
    [edit]In politics

    See also: Quid pro quo

    In politics, pay to play refers to a system, akin to payola in the music industry, by which one pays (or must pay) money to become a player.

    Typically, the payer (an individual, business, or organization) makes campaign contributions to public officials, party officials, or parties themselves, and receives political or pecuniary benefit such as no-bid government contracts, influence over legislation,[2][3] political appointments or nominations,[4][5] special access[6] or other favors. The contributions, less frequently, may be to nonprofit or institutional entities,[7] or may take the form of some benefit to a third party, such as a family member of a governmental official.[8]

    The phrase, almost always used in criticism, also refers to the increasing cost of elections and the “price of admission” to even run[9] and the concern “that one candidate can far outspend his opponents, essentially buying the election.”[10]

    While the direct exchange of campaign contributions for contracts is the most visible form of Pay to Play, the greater concern is the central role of money in politics, and its skewing both the composition and the policies of government.[11][12] Thus, those who can pay the price of admission, such as to a $1000/plate dinner or $25,000 “breakout session,” gain access to power and/or its spoils, to the exclusion of those who cannot or will not pay: “giving certain people advantages that other[s] don’t have because they donated to your campaign.”[13] Good-government advocates consider this an outrage because “political fundraising should have no relationship to policy recommendations.”[14] Citizens for Responsible Ethics in Washington called the “Pay-to-Play Congress” one of the top 10 scandals of 2008.[15]

    Incumbent candidates and their political organizations[16] are typically the greatest beneficiaries of Pay-to-Play. Both the Democratic and Republican parties have been criticized for the practice. Many seeking to ban or restrict the practice characterize pay-to-play as legalized corruption.

    The opposite of a pay-to-play system is one that is “fair and open”; the New Jersey Pay to Play Act specifically sets out bid processes that are or are not considered fair and open, depending upon who has contributed what to whom.[17]

    Because of individual federal campaign contribution limits in the wake of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (McCain-Feingold), pay-to-play payments of “soft money” (money not contributed directly to candidate campaigns and that does not “expressly advocate” election or defeat of a candidate) donations to state parties and county committees have come under greater scrutiny. This method refers to money that is donated to an intermediary with a higher contribution limit, which in turn donates money to individual candidates or campaign committees who could not directly accept the payor’s funds.

    Pay-to-Play practices have come under scrutiny by both the federal government[18] and a number of states.[19] In Illinois, federal prosecutors in 2006 were investigating “pay-to-play allegations that surround Democratic Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s administration.”[20] The allegations of pay-to-play in Illinois became a national scandal after the arrest of Gov. Blagojevich in December 2008, on charges that, among other things, he and a staffer attempted to “sell” the vacated U.S. Senate seat of then-president-elect Barack Obama.[21][22]

    Many agencies have been created to regulate and control campaign contributions. Furthermore, many third-party government “watchdog” groups have formed to monitor campaign donations and make them more transparent.


    ^ Terry Golway, Nothing Innocent About Pay-to-Play, The New York Observer, Aug. 26, 2001.
    ^ J. Nesmith, Execs Pay to Play with GOP, CommonDreams.org NewsCenter, Jan. 7, 2004, retrieved 2007-12-12.
    ^ Chicago’s Pay-to-Play Zoning (linking to series of articles from Chicago Tribune), retrieved 2008-01-30.
    ^ L. Riscalla, Pilot shows way to end pay to play, Home News Tribune, Nov. 1, 2005, reprinted by Common Cause at http://www.commoncause.org, retrieved 2008-01-31.
    ^ Pay-to-Play, Fletcher-Style, Bluegrassreport.org, February 27, 2007, retrieved 2008-01-31.
    ^ Governor Giving Carte Blanche, Special Access to Major Donors: Pay-to-Play Abuses Aimed at Derailing Public Employee Unions, Jun. 6, 2005.
    ^ H. Hausemann, Politicos should return money from casino owner who admits trying to buy their support, nmpolitics.net, July 18, 2006 (contributions to university and schools).
    ^ St. Clair, Stacy (2008-12-11). “Criminal Complaint Reveals Extent of Gov. Blagojevich’s ‘Pay-for-Play’ Scheme”. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-12-23.
    ^ Mori Dinauer, Pay to Play, The American Prospect, Jan. 23, 2008, retrieved 2008-01-31.
    ^ M. Schmitt, New America Foundation, Pay to Play: Why a Billion-Dollar Election Isn’t a Bad Thing, The New Republic Online, Mar. 16, 2007.
    ^ C. Canary and E. Wojcicki, Dollarocracy: Pay-to-play culture still has a chokehold on Illinois politics, Illinois Issues, May 2007.
    ^ Clean Money, Clean Elections.
    ^ Jonathan Fine, president of Preservation Chicago, quoted in D. Mihalopoulos, R. Becker, & D. Little, Neighborhoods for Sale: How cash, clout transform Chicago neighborhoods, Chicago Tribune, January 27, 2008, retrieved 2008-01-31.
    ^ J. Rood, On Heels of 9/11, Clinton Fundraiser Raises Eyebrows, ABC News: The Blotter (quoting Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight).
    ^ Top Ten Ethics Scandals of 2008, 2008-12-16.
    ^ Soraghan, Mike (2008-12-16). “Experts:

  14. As promised, I’ve been digging under every rock since this post published and my files are bulging with information that will continue this series of posts.

    Despite the disclaimer in the first paragraph of the post, my files are also bulging with complaints over my “censorship” of comments about the “legal and technical aspects of the flooding of Jefferson Parish”.

    Both of those aspects are important and I assure all concerned that related posts will follow and comments that I’ve withheld and saved will be included.

    Also, be assured that I know where I’m going – and that “if you don’t know where you’re going any road will take you there”.

    The next “stop” will examine the “Doomsday Plan” and reveal some rather surprising details.

  15. Gate, hope you don’t mind if I “borrow” from your excellent comment on “Pay to Play” – assuming Sop doesn’t beat me to it.

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