Lawsuit opponent takes reins at Flood Authority

There’s been a changing of the guard at the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, putting a commissioner who opposed the authority’s controversial lawsuit against oil and gas companies at the head of the table.

Attorney Joe Hassinger was elected president of the board at Thursday’s meeting, replacing Stephen Estopinal, who has been one of the leading proponents of continuing the suit. Estopinal will take Hassinger’s place as vice president.

Hassinger was appointed to the Flood Protection Authority in 2013, one of several new members selected by Gov. Bobby Jindal because of their opposition to the lawsuit that tried to hold oil and gas companies accountable for decades of damage to wetlands in southeast Louisiana.

While Hassinger has led attempts to kill that suit, his new position alone is unlikely to have a significant impact on the case. The suit is essentially on life support after a federal judge tossed out the case this spring, ruling that the authority did not have a legal cause of action to sue. A slim majority of commissioners, all of whom voted to pursue the case in the first place, remains in favor of continuing with an appeal.

Beyond the suit, Hassinger’s election as president also is notable given his previous position as chairman of the board of the Non-Flood Protection Asset Management Authority. That group, set up when the Orleans Levee District became part of the Flood Protection Authority, was given oversight of assets that, as the name implies, do not relate to protecting the city from storms, such as Lakefront Airport.

The two boards have been at odds for much of their existence over finances and other issues.

A face not in the crowd at Criminal Court

When the judges of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court gathered in the building’s stately main hallway for their biannual photo shoot on Tuesday, one elected jurist was noticeably absent.

Nobody bothered to ring up Frank Marullo.

The Louisiana Supreme Court suspended Marullo from the bench in February while it decides whether he’s too old to serve, constitutionally speaking.

The “interim” disqualification, it seems, was enough to keep the 75-year-old judge literally out of the picture — a snapshot for history that is taken every two years, to correspond with the term of a chief judge, in this case, Judge Benedict Willard.

The 12 other judges never voted to exclude Marullo, nor apparently did anyone stop to consider his absence as the photo shoot went on without him right outside his former courtroom.

Some courthouse denizens considered it a slight to the longest-serving judge in Louisiana.

Several judges declined to comment, and the court as a whole issued a “no comment.”

Marullo was in town but could not be reached.

The issue of Marullo’s age played out last year in state courts during a challenge to his candidacy for the Section D judgeship he’s held for 40 years.

The state constitution sets a mandatory retirement age of 70 for state judges. But Marullo argued that he fell under an earlier constitution, with a 75-year age cap, that was in place when he was first appointed to the bench in 1974.

The courts last year ruled that Marullo met the minimal qualifications to run, staying silent on whether he could legally serve, and so he ran and won, eking out just more than 50 percent of the vote in a three-way primary.

Then, in February, the state high court placed him on the shelf. The Judiciary Commission opined that Marullo’s “apparent disregard of the law, while he sits in a position to administer it, gives the public the impression that he is above the law.”

The commission, which operates in secrecy, has yet to issue a final recommendation to the Supreme Court on whether Marullo should be kicked off the bench.

He hasn’t been seen around the courthouse since the Supreme Court’s order.

Council goes back to live anthem renditions

City Councilman Jason Williams has wasted no time making his mark as president of the City Council since taking the reins from Stacy Head in May. Live performances of the national anthem have replaced the council’s trusty audio and video recording at the start of the last four meetings.

Williams nixed the recording, which has played at the beginning of meetings for several years now, in favor of live musicians and singers because it “seemed to make sense” in a city like New Orleans, a spokeswoman for the councilman said.

On his first day as president, Williams announced that two trumpeters, James Andrews and Glenn Hall, would play the anthem in honor of musician Trumpet Black, who had died a few days earlier.

They were followed at the next meeting by singer Arséne DeLay and at the following meeting by another trumpeter, Colin Myers. At the most recent meeting, the Landry-Walker High School Concert Choir did the honors.

The change has been well received and will continue, Williams’ spokeswoman said.

Live performances of the national anthem were once a staple of council meetings but became rarer after Hurricane Katrina. A recorded performance looped over images of various locations around town, initially used as a backup to live acts, has been the standard for the past several years.

Compiled by Jeff Adelson, John Simerman and Jaquetta White