You have to work pretty hard to make people feel sorry for right-wing radio talk show host Robert Namer, so give Orleans Levee Board president James Huey his due.

Back in 1997, Huey was so upset about Namer's incessant on-air tirades against the Levee Board that he unilaterally authorized board attorneys to hire private dicks to get embarrassing information on Namer. As if Namer's reputation as a political gadfly weren't enough to discredit him, Huey felt the need to (in the words of his former "confidential assistant" Vincent Bruno) "neutralize" Namer.

Per the longstanding Levee Board policy of financing dumb ideas, Huey paid the gumshoes with public funds -- through the board's legal department -- but without telling other board members. After a year, the "investigators" produced nothing. In fact, the probe has become a laughingstock. The tab for the detectives and the attorneys overseeing them came to roughly $45,000.

Details of Namergate came to light only recently when the Louisiana Weekly got hold of a sworn deposition by Bruno, whom Huey fired after Bruno admitted to The Times-Picayune that he did nothing to earn his $50,000-a-year salary.

Whatever Bruno did or didn't do for his salary, he at least paid attention, for he provided some titillating details about the Namer "investigation" in his testimony. He also admitted that no one ever asked whether spying on Namer had anything to do with flood protection.


Even by Levee Board standards, this caper stands apart -- not just for its outrageousness, but also for its laughable cast of characters.

First, of course, there's Namer, the former "special assistant" to Gov. Mike Foster who later turned on Gov. Warbucks for reasons that are not altogether clear. Namer, who also has called himself a newsman, used to flash his badge and drop Foster's name while browbeating civil servants and public officials in pursuit of "stories." He once was arrested in the state Capitol after a scuffle with security guards. No charges were filed.

Then there's Huey, who served on the Levee Board under former Gov. Edwin Edwards and was reappointed by Foster. (The governor appoints six of the board's eight members, and they serve at his pleasure.) Huey defended Namergate through board attorney Gerry Metzger, who said spying on adversaries is "common, everyday stuff with lawyers." Metzger's explanation was so lame that all other Levee Board members signed a joint statement condemning the expenditure as "completely inappropriate."

During EWE's tenure, attorney Bob Harvey was the board's president. Oft-criticized for the board's freestyle spending policies, Harvey at least was never accused of spying on civilians. He was not reappointed by Foster, but not for lack of trying. Now he's Namer's attorney -- and he handled Bruno's deposition. Quelle Chance!

Which brings us to Bruno, the former police union president who reportedly got his Levee Board sinecure at Foster's request. As confidential assistants go, he has to rank right up there with Mata Hari. He's obviously no longer eager to protect and serve his old boss, Huey. Go figure.

Finally, there are the investigators, some of whom produced a videotape from a spycam planted inside Namer's radio station. The tape contained no audio and showed everyone from the waist down. Levee Board attorneys reportedly dubbed it "Trousercam."

If we were talking about any other outfit, I'd swear that somebody was making all this up. But truth is always stranger than fiction where the Orleans Levee Board is concerned.