Parish dismisses Moretco’s ‘race claim’Feb 2nd, 2012 | By William Dilella | Category: top story
In Court, earlier this month, attorneys for Moretco— a land developer, claimed that Plaquemines Parish had racial motivations in attempting to stop the planned 300,000 square-foot shopping complex in Belle Chasse. Moretco claims are based on District 2 Councilman Keith Hinkley’s alleged “off the record” statement at a meeting last year that residents were afraid of, “Blacks coming in from New Orleans.” But before ruling on that preliminary hearing, Judge Frank Foil granted the Parish until January 26 to respond to those allegations.
On the exact date of the deadline, Parish attorneys submitted a ten-page brief in response to Moretco’s filing.
Moretco’s attorney, James Garner of Sher Garner, based his allegations on the remarks by Councilman Hinkley, which Garner said showed the real reason for the apparent arbitrary and capricious move to block the shopping complex in Belle Chasse. Most condemning of all, according to Garner, was the failure by the Parish to put Hinkley himself on the stand to refute the claim while at the trial.
However, Moretco could have called Hinkley to the stand themselves, but didn’t.
Parish fires back
The Parish legal team’s January 26 response to the race-claim had several facets, all arguing the merit of the racial allegations, based on the facts that:
1) The witnesses testifying for Moretco representatives offered inconsistent remarks about what exactly took place at the March 17, 2011 meeting between the Parish and Moretco, and the Plaquemines Parish attorneys cited the testimony about any racial claim as, “vague, inconsistent, self-serving and not credible.”
2) Councilman Hinkley’s failure to testify or be called for testimony does not implicate him, since there had been sufficient testimony refuting the racist remark by other witnesses, including Stan Mathes of the Economic Development Board and Jay Lobrano (who acted as the parish’s counsel during the time of the ordinances in question), both of whom were at the March 17 meeting.
3) Even if the statement was made, the Parish defense team said such a statement has almost no bearing on the case at hand.
“Moretco’s Bench Memorandum is another attempt to shift the focus from the law applicable to this case to its irrelevant and false ‘race card’ allegation,” said the Parish’s January 26 filing. “Moretco’s racist statement allegation has nothing to do with whether the Parish Council’s enactment of the ordinances ‘could have been justified’ by considerations of the public welfare.”
The footnotes highlight further the amount of credence the Parish is giving Mortetco’s racism claims, stating:
“The Parish Council hesitates to even dignify the allegation with any further response but does point out that the alleged statement was allegedly made in an alleged ‘off the record’ conversation more than two months after the ordinances were enacted.”
The filling also revisited Parish President Billy Nungesser’s statement, made during his testimony earlier this month, which pointed out Hinkley’s opposition to the development. However, Nungesser did not address the factual nature of the racist statement while on the stand.
Rather, Nungesser’s comment, the defense attorneys state, was articulated about the problems with traffic and infrastructure.
“President Nungesser believed Councilman Hinkley’s opposition arose from the size and the traffic concerns caused from people coming from Orleans and Jefferson Parishes,” the brief states.
Councilman Hinkley was not available to respond. However, Moretco’s own evidence includes a public meeting where Hinkley responds to questions specifically about the Walmart for the shopping complex in his district, where the Councilman expressed fears about sufficient infrastructure.
“In lieu of what is going on right now, we are in the middle of creating our Master Plan and we need to continue our partnership with that and identify what areas need to be developed and certain type of developments that are brought into this area of Belle Chasse, which is a very congested area with a lot to many issues,” Hinkley said, “It won’t necessarily kill it [the Walmart] but what it will do—there are provisions in here—they will have to come to the Council and we can sit down and we can talk about it. We can see what their plans are and if it’s comparable and if it’s conducive to what we want and to what we need in the area.”
The Parish brief also cited, that even if the claims were made, and even if they had a bearing on the outcome of Moretco’s actual suit, Hinkley was available to both legal teams, and was not called by the plaintiffs either.
“Finally, the adverse influence does not apply because Councilman Hinkley was avialable to be called by Moretco,” the filling said. “An adverse [negative] inference, ‘should not apply when the witness is equally available to the opposing party.”
The hearing’s result is still pending, as Judge Foil’s ruling had yet to be filed by press time.
The 115,000 square-foot Walmart store #5674, is set to be built in Belle Chasse, and has been a source of legal contention ever since Moretco filed the paperwork for a shopping center surrounding one of the infamous superstores. The permit application at the source of the dispute was delivered around the time of Plaquemines Parish’s updates to the zoning code. Those changes prohibited construction on any commercial structure larger than 25,000 square-feet without the Planning and Urban Development Board’s (PUD) express permission.
Moretco’s team has argued that the move is expressly to block this one development, is arbitrary, and does not meet a legal standard by which it can be measured. The Parish legal defense has been that Moretco’s rights as an applicant do not extend to ignoring ordinances passed before an actual permit is granted.
At the press deadline for this article, Sher Garner was preparing an official response for the Court, which Garner himself succinctly summed up by saying, “In simple terms: they [Plaquemines Parish] are wrong, both on the law and facts.”