The buried bankruptcy lede in Da Paper is the motivations of plaintiff/creditor attorneys. Featured photo is of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, courtesy Infrogmation.
Corner stone of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 3200 Canal Street. Infrogmation photo.
Buried Bankruptcy Lede
Da Paper did a page one (print) story on the real estate sales the Archdiocese of New Orleans submitted to bankruptcy court. The article (online but paywalled) lists seven properties the Archdiocese wants to sell and have been approved by the court. The article’s headline, describing these properties as “vast” is hyperbolic nonsense. While movement on the bankruptcy is indeed news, these sales aren’t the important part of the story. The buried bankruptcy lede is the issue of new plaintiffs and increasing attorney profits.
What’s for sale
St. Jude Community Center, 400 N. Rampart Street.
The big-ticket items here are the St Jude Community Center and Sacred Heart Church on Canal Street. the Community Center, located at 400 N. Rampart Street, is the “parish building” for Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. It currently functions as a social services hub and food pantry for the neighborhood. Operations there are affiliated with Second Harvest, the regional food bank owned by Catholic Charities.
The other big item here is Sacred Heart Catholic Church on Canal Street. The parish was founded in 1879. The first church stood at 3200 Canal until 1924. The parish built the current church next to the original. When it was completed, they demolished the original church. The parish built the current school building in its place.
The Archdiocese sold the school building years ago. The school, Sacred Heart High (not to be confused with Sacred Heart Academy on St. Charles Avenue) re-organized as Seton Academy in the 1980s. That school merged with Redeemer High School in Gentilly. The merged school, Redeemer-Seton High School, continued in Gentilly until Katrina. The archdiocese sold the school building. It is now the “3222 Canal Apartments.”
Impact of these sales
While these properties will boost the coffers of the Archdiocese, there are bills to be paid. The bankruptcy is in its third year now. The archdiocese retains outside counsel and an outside accounting firm to oversee the myriad of legal activities and financial reports required for reorganization. A significant amount of the proceeds from these real estate sales will go to paying the lawyers and accountants.
The attorneys for clergy sex abuse victims know this. It’s problematic for them, because they’re working on contingency. Chapter 11 proceedings rolled up all the lawsuits against the archdiocese into the overall action. So, the victims are just creditors now. They hold the same status as the water service and coffee service companies that had outstanding invoices at the time of the filing.
Expanding the victim base
That’s the buried bankruptcy lede. Riegel mentions it in passing in the article. The plaintiff attorneys, seeking new clients and new fee potential, want the court to allow new lawsuits against the archdiocese. want the court to allow new lawsuits, based on a 2021 law passed by the state legislature. That law permits claims from years, even decades ago. The law is a part of a current trend to bring sexual assaulters to justice. A related New York State law enabled E. Jean Carroll to take action against Donald Trump.
The crux of the current argument is, should the federal court recognize new claims based on the state law. Bankruptcy cases usually “ban” new lawsuits during the reorganization phase.The theory is, creditors want to see the entity re-organize, so they can recoup some of what they’re owed.
That’s not the case here. There are two groups at odds with the archdiocese who don’t want it to re-organize. The victims share the assets as of the bankruptcy. It’s not clear how much cash the court requires for this. Since the lawyers work on contingency, their share of these settlements won’t be what they desire.
More plaintiffs expand the payout pool. The lawyers receive the same percentages, but on a higher total amount.
Plaintiff lawyers nurture outrage reporting. They’re loving the coverage of Fr. Lawrence Hecker, the 90-something-year-old priest who admits to raping kids. The lawyers leverage the publicity to draw out victims who haven’t spoken up prior to now. So, more victims means more plaintiffs means higher fees. This case has no doubt been a serious financial drain on the lawyers. This became evident when a plaintiff lawyer leaked sealed documents relating to the archdiocese’s finances to the press, which earned him a half-million-dollar fine.
Or maybe not. The other group of people involved here are folks who want to burn the Catholic Church to the ground. I mean, their anger and pain is certainly understandable. The problem here is that bankruptcy law doesn’t know how to handle this grief. In most cases, creditors either want a re-organization, or they want the assets transferred to an entity that will turn things around.
Burning it down
There’s no transferring the church to another entity. It’s not like the Episcopalians or Methodists can just absorb Catholic parishes. The “burn it down” faction wants to put the archdiocese totally out of business. They desire perpetual proceedings here. The more money the archdiocese spends on lawyers and accountants, the more they have to close churches and schools to raise funds. This faction wants to see it all razed.
At some point, however, the burn-it-down group hits the lawyers head-on. While the archdiocese does have assets to sell, the lawyers need settlements. Look for more leaks from these folks as their sense of urgency grows.
Bringing it to an end
The judge wants this case closed. Being party to the destruction of the Catholic church in a city as Catholic as New Orleans is bad politics. It’s also bad business. If the bankruptcy judge allows further asset liquidation, it won’t be open-ended.
I should have read up on the mission and structure of Louisiana Illuminator.
Independent news from Louisiana Illuminator
Count me as one of those excited when Louisiana Illuminator (LAI) started up. The folks writing for them are all top-notch. Even if they don’t align exactly with my take on the state’s issues, they’re smart people I respect. So, imagine my frustration as the 2023 regular session of the Louisiana Legislature (#lalege on Da Twittah) progressed, and LAI wasn’t offering much in the way of opinion. Lots of facts, but no commentary/opinion.
I live on a steady diet of “librul news,” particularly from Slate and Slate Podcasts. Oh, I follow other sources and commentary, particularly old-school locals like Clancy Dubos. I couldn’t make sense of what I saw as a disconnect between the LAI philosophy/mission and this lack of commentary.
From their “About Us” page:
The Louisiana Illuminator is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization driven by its mission to cast light on how decisions are made in Baton Rouge and how they affect the lives of everyday Louisianians, particularly those who are poor or otherwise marginalized. Here readers will find in-depth investigations and news stories, news briefs and commentary, all of which is intended to help them make sense of how state policy is crafted, how it helps or hurts them and how it helps or hurts their neighbors across the state.
OK, the part about casting light on issues that affect the poor and marginalized is what I came for. In terms of factual presentation, LAI hits this on the head.
It took a message from Editor Greg Larose messaged me, explaining the part I didn’t get. It’s the “nonprofit” part:
An affiliate of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers like you, the Louisiana Illuminator retains editorial independence and is presented to readers free of charge and without advertising.
It’s the 501(c)(3) part that limits LAI’s ability to offer opinions. The reporters can offer personal opinions, but the publication can’t. As I told Greg, Now that I understand, I’ll try to be less of a dick to them on Da Twittah.
The temptation to cringe when a writer/writers declare they are “nonpartisan” is strong. That’s because all to many outlets equate “both sides” writing with “nonpartisan.” In truth, “nonpartisan” has nothing to do with both sides. It has to be with an ethical presentation of the facts.
And that’s something that’s lacking in The Media of late. LAI tells the truth.
LAI facts, my opinions
And that’s the bottom line for me. Going forward, I’ll be using this blog to expound on the facts offered by LAI, using them to offer calls to action. Progressive/Democratic/Liberal Louisiana needs this. It’s the trailer that the truck full of facts needs to pull behind it. Sometimes with a large sound system blaring the call to action as loudly as possible.
Understanding the origins of Alphabet Soup – Black Political Organizations.
Marc Morial, 59th Mayor of New Orleans.
Alphabet Soup – Black Political Organizations
I read with interest an article on Verite News, The rise and fall of Black political organizations in New Orleans. My first reaction to the Professor Collins’ article was, as I tweeted, disappointment. The story of Black political organizations in New Orleans deserves a full telling.
A second reading revealed it wasn’t intended as a full treatment of the subject. The editors tagged it as a “4 min read.” Perhaps what was delivered was all Verite wanted.
What really struck me, though, were two serious omissions.
The first is in the telling of the rise of BOLD, COUP, LIFE, SOUL, and other groups. Collins offers no background here, other than increasing Black voter registration was how these groups came into being. That’s true, but only a small part of the story. The Black organizations did indeed come together. They supported Dutch Morial in his campaign to succeed Moon Landrieu as mayor. Collins doesn’t mention the biggest accommplishment of the political groups at that time.
The Deal With The Judges.
Collins offers this summary of the political landscape of the 1980s:
It should be noted that by the late 1980s, suburban white flight was in full effect in New Orleans, decreasing the white population, and increasing the Black population. The Black organizations enjoyed their most power during this period when the city voting rolls flipped from majority white to majority Black. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the groups increased their power by electing many city council members, state legislators, and judges.
This is entirely accurate, but it’s not enough. The whyte infrastructure of New Orleans eroded over time, starting with Dutch’s election in 1977*. A Black leader in City Hall marked the start of the transition, but for all intents and purposes, city government was incredibly whyte. Right out of the gate, Dutch was forced to face down the whyte police union, as NOPD went on strike. While Dutch overcame the union, the strike demonstrated just how deep the whyte roots of government extended.
That’s when the Black organizations discovered a way to strengthen their position. They struck an unofficial deal with the judges of Orleans Parish. In exchange for the Black political infrastructure allowing those judges to run unopposed, the judges agreed to not endorse whyte candidates to succeed them. Black lawyers fought it out as the incumbents retired. It took longer to shift the balance, but it worked.
There are other stories related to the Black organizations that don’t fit in a “4 min read,” and I can’t hold Professor Collins for that. Still, the piece leaves so much out.
Collins writes about the groups’ decline:
There were several structural factors that led to this decline. The first was unique to New Orleans: Hurricane Katrina in 2005. These organizations are neighborhood-based. The hurricane ripped apart many traditional neighborhood ties as former residents rebuilt in new locations.
The decline of the Black organizations pre-dates Hurricane Katrina. Department of Justice came for these organizations almost immediately after George W. Bush took office as President. James B. Letten succeeded Eddie Jordan as US Attorney. Letten and staff came for outgoing Mayor Marc Morial (LIFE). He then came for Congressman Bill Jefferson (Progressive Democrats). Years before the storm, Republicans aggressively came for the Black political infrastructure.
They incarcerated Oliver Thomas
DOJ locked up Bill Jefferson.
The feds came hard for Jacques Morial, in the hopes he would roll on his brother.
Bush’s Department of Justice seriously damaged the Black organizations in Orleans Parish.
Understanding the past is how any group moves forward. Understanding just how much Republicans want to destroy voting blocs who will never support them is important.
*While Dutch did not take office until 1-May-1978, he won the election in November of the previous year. That long delay between election and inauguration was changed for Mitch Landrieu’s second term.
There’s a Mayoral Recall in New Orleans.
Mayoral Recall is dumb
Residents of Orleans Parish filed a recall petition against Mayor LaToya Cantrell in August. It was a silly idea then and it continues to be a month later. Here’s the top five reasons the recall is dumb:
5. City Leadership aren’t interested
At least in public. Oh, you know full well they’re quite interested. Like most folks, they just don’t want to give the petition oxygen.
4. Horrible timing
Petitioners filed on 26-August, which means they must produce 54,000 signatures. While the grass isn’t greener for the other six months of the year, the Fall, going into Carnival, is dumb. Any and all events taking place during this period become automatically more interesting. Events that attract tourists make it more of a challenge to collect valid signatures.
3. Costs will be more than $30K
The recall effort will absolutely cost more than $30,000. That’s basically the amount at issue here. Yes, the petitioners have a lot of things to say about the mayor’s “leadership” and such, but what they’re really upset about is that her honor sat in the front of the planes she took on her European junket. Your opinion on spending city money on flight upgrades doesn’t matter at this point. Someone decided first class was the rallying cry. That means the direct outrage focuses on thirty large. If the organizers get their signatures, the city will then be forced to spend half a million on the election.
2. Most problems with the city date back decades
While there are many things a city chief executive or manager can do to screw things up in a couple of years, those are relatively minimal. Pumping stations? The electric grid? NOPD? All of these items were a mess when Cantrell took office. Shit, they were a mess for Morial. That’s why the pro-recall types needed a specific incident that they could hang directly on Cantrell. This is why almost all of the city’s elected officials are silent on the recall. They don’t want to kick the hornet’s nest. They know this is a “there but for the grace of god” situation. It might not be air travel upgrades, but there’s something worth $30K in everyone’s past.
1. It’s racist
The motivation behind the Cantrell effort is absolutely racist. How dare a Black woman fly first class? Imagine having to sit next to her?! Horrors! Racism is what brings Whyte New Orleans out to vote.
New Orleans is a minority-majority city/parish. This drives the larger whyte population in suburban parishes insane. We’re talking about whyte people who simply loathe the notion of Black people in charge. If there’s an opportunity for the whyte folks to increase their control in the city doesn’t come around every day.
So, let’s rile up the whyte people! We’ll bring along some Black folks who don’t agree with the flight reservations, either. While whyte legislators squeeze the city regularly, this would be an internal foothold. And yes, I know how this sounds. This nonsense is for real.
It’s too late to completely stop the recall process. It’s possible to remind folks of why it’s dumb until next February.
Hashtag #rexcomus has been overrun by assholes
Cover of the program for the 1867 Comus bal masque.
Hashtag #RexComus evolves into something awful
Live-tweeting the “Meeting of the Courts” as WYES broadcast of the bal masque of the Rex Organization isn established #NOLATwitter tradition for the last few years, The combination of the event’s television hosts and the activities at the ball make for fun Twitter fodder.
Rex Ball, Rex meets Comus
The “Meeting of the Courts” happens on Mardi Gras Night. The balls began at 9pm, back in the days when the Mystick Krewe of Comus paraded. Comus currently only presents their ball. The organization stopped parading in the 1990s. The tradition of the meeting dates to 1882, when Rex was ten years old.
As Carnival approaches its end, Comus extends an invitation to the King of Carnival and his court to join him at the senior krewe’s ball. Rex makes his farewells to his ball and heads to the Comus soiree. The two monarchs, along with their queens, perform a Grand March. After that march, general dancing continues. While they march at Comus, Rex ball-goers continue their party.
So much fodder for satire and humor here! It’s as if the Meeting was created for Twitter. Local folks on Da Twittah comment on all aspects of the event. From Peggy Scott Laborde’s gaffes to Errol Laborde (her husband) being more of a curmudgeon than the Curmudgeon Class of #NOLAtwitter, to the antics of the two carnival organizations, local folks are merciless in mockery.
Anger is not a good look
Over the years, hashtag #rexcomus became a place of anger rather than mockery. The event offers an opportunity for folks who are angry at Trump and conservatives to lash out. What was once satire is now flooded with bitter remarks.
I empathize with people who are not OK since Trump became President. It’s back to the old adage that liberals have no sense of humor. It also doesn’t help that Senator Sanders’ stature within the Democratic Party’s race for a nominee is falling. That exacerbates the anger among what I call “nonpartisan liberals.” They hate All Things Democratic Party. Unfortunately, they use hashtag #rexcomus as an outlet.
Nothing is permanent
I like to think that most of these angry people will slink away after this fall’s election, should a Democrat defeat Trump. The nonpartisan liberals usually only come out for the Presidential election cycle. We saw this in 2018, when many red Congressional districts went blue, thanks to the hard work of mainstream Democrats. I anticipate a better, funnier, less-angry hashtag #rexcomus in 2021.
Chris Roberts suicide deserves the benefit of the doubt from us.
Chris Roberts, dead at 42
Chris Roberts died yesterday, most likely at his own hand.
Chris Roberts died yesterday, down off Engineer’s Road in Plaquemine Parish. From Da Paper:
The Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s Office is leading the investigation into Roberts’ death, which an agency spokesman described as an apparent suicide. The spokesman declined to elaborate.
A law enforcement source with knowledge of the situation said Roberts’ parents had reported him missing to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office earlier Wednesday. The Sheriff’s Office tracked his cellphone to a wooded area off Engineers Road in Belle Chasse, near the Jefferson Parish line, and found his body there.
Roberts resigned his seat on the Jefferson Parish Council last year, under the shadow of an extensive federal indictment. He served on the Council for fifteen years. Before his Council service, Roberts sat on the Jefferson Parish School Board. For those unfamiliar with the workings of the Jefferson Parish Council, the body consists of five district and two at-large members. Since so much of Jefferson Parish is unincorporated, the district members function as the “mayors” of their respective neighborhoods. When a district member decides an issue, the others usually respect their decision and vote as they do. Therefore, politicians like Roberts carry a lot of influence.
Until they’re indicted by feds, that is.
Fall from grace
In 2018, the Department of Justice dropped a pallet of bricks on Roberts, with an extensive indictment filing. Again, from Vargas at Da Paper:
Most of the counts related to his work managing a Terrytown-based landscaping company from which he allegedly used money for personal purchases. Roberts was also accused of hiding hundreds of thousands of dollars in income over a seven-year period, and only filing amended tax returns accounting for the income after he learned of the federal inquiry.
The indictment painted a picture of Roberts as a profligate spender who used business and campaign funds to purchase a $16,000 engagement ring and spent thousands more at area casinos.
Then, to make matters worse:
In October, federal prosecutors added 10 new wire fraud counts to the indictment, ramping up the pressure on him. The new indictment also accused Roberts of improperly spending business funds.
So, the whole notion of deputies finding this guy dead in the woods, likely by his own hand, doesn’t sound far-fetched. When I read the initial tweets, it sounded like a classic case of, get your affairs in order and take care of your problems.
Benefit of the doubt
Chris Roberts presented himself as an arrogant asshole on social media. His attacks on Mike Yennni were bush league. His supporters say he worked hard for his district. The feds say he’s a thief. Suffering from depression was never part of Roberts’ public persona. That doesn’t mean it didn’t exist! So many people struggle with depression, and it does indeed claim them. I can see the weight of his world crashing in on him taking that toll.
“Doing the right thing for the family” isn’t the same these days. People do time for white-collar crime regularly. They come back from prison and often do right by the community. It’s not like a guy like Roberts faced hard time for his crimes.
Influence of family and friends
People coping with depression need a support network. If someone doesn’t feel that support, their depression can deepen. That can lead to suicide attempts as a cry for help. Or worse, you go out to the woods and end it. It’s certainly unclear how much support for his condition Roberts got from friends and family. It’s too late for Roberts, but it’s not too late for those you care for. Check your people.