Archive for August 1st, 2007

What’s in the news for da parishes 8/01/07?

August 1, 2007

The Daily Advertiser
Jul 31, 3:35 PM EDT

AG to judge: make lawyers for nursing home owners apologise

By MARY FOSTER
Associated Press Writer

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Louisiana Attorney General wants a court-ordered apology from lawyers for the couple charged in the deaths of 35 nursing home residents after Hurricane Katrina. The lawyers want Foti ordered out of the case.

The judge should not just deny the motions filed for Salvador and Mabel Mangano, who own St. Rita’s nursing home, but make their lawyers apologize publicly, Foti’s office said in court motions. District Judge Jerome Winsberg was scheduled to rule on the motions Wednesday.

One of the Manganos’ motions asks that the attorney general’s $200 billion federal court claim against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers be made part of the court record in their case.

The other contends that because the suit against the Corps blames its faulty levees for the floods that inundated St. Rita’s, the rest of St. Bernard Parish and 80 percent of New Orleans, the charges against the Manganos are conflict of interest.

Foti contends those motions “are part of an ill-conceived and desperate attempt to thwart the jury process,” said a motion filed Monday in the 20th Judicial District Court in St. Francisville.

The attempt to make Foti step aside is pure public relations – an attempt to get their side of the story in the press, Assistant Attorney General Burton Guidry said.

He said the defense is also trying to create a red herring by accusing the attorney general personally and professionally of a conflict of interest, bringing politics into the case.

That “indicates the most frightening realization of how deep and broad the venom of public innuendo and baseless argument can be brought in a court proceeding,” he wrote.

If the court doesn’t make the Manganos’ lawyers apologize, it should penalize them in some way, he wrote.

The attorney general also filed motions to quash a subpoena for Gov. Kathleen Blanco and other state officials, including Foti.

Defense attorneys could not respond to the motion because of a gag order preventing any discussion of the case. They did, however, file motions in opposition to the attorney general’s Tuesday afternoon.

The Advocate
State: Nursing home case targeting Foti

By JAMES MINTON
Advocate Baker – Zachary bureau
Published: Aug 1, 2007 – Page: 1B

ST. FRANCISVILLE — Attempts to bar state Attorney General Charles C. Foti Jr. from prosecuting two St. Bernard Parish nursing home owners are but one more “chapter in the book of character assassination” against Foti, a state response to a defense motion says.

Retired Judge Jerome Winsberg is scheduled to hear arguments today on a request by attorneys for Salvador and Mabel Mangano to bar Foti and his office from prosecuting the case.

The judge should require the defense attorneys to “publicly apologize” for what the state prosecutors call baseless arguments for Foti’s removal, the memorandum signed by Assistant Attorney General Burton P. Guidry says.

The prosecutors also filed motions Monday to halt the defense’s move to have Gov. Kathleen Blanco, Foti and members of Blanco’s cabinet testify in the case.

The Manganos, owners of St. Rita’s nursing home, face 35 counts of negligent homicide in the deaths of residents trapped by flood waters that inundated the facility in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The couple also faces 24 counts of cruelty to the infirm.

Their trial, moved to West Feliciana Parish, is scheduled for Aug. 13.

Winsberg has issued a gag order barring attorneys from commenting publicly about the case.

The couple’s attorneys contend Foti has a conflict of interest in prosecuting the case because he also is claiming in a federal lawsuit that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for the devastation that followed the Aug. 29, 2005, hurricane.

Foti’s reply calls the defense argument a “red herring” and says no conflict of interest exists in his office prosecuting criminal offenses while also representing the legal interests of various state agencies.

“Our courts have been clear in delineating that the normal rules of conflict for private counsel do not apply in the same manner when the Office of Attorney General is concerned,” the state’s filing says.

The state’s reply concludes the defense arguments are intended to obfuscate the legal issues and are “part and parcel of an orchestrated public relations campaign to transfer blame to anyone but the Manganos.”

In a separate motion to quash the subpoena for Blanco’s testimony, the Attorney General’s Office said issuing a subpoena for the governor violates state law because no hearing was held to determine the privileged nature of the testimony and the applicability of constitutional immunity provisions.

Blanco and other cabinet officials subpoenaed are not witnesses to the alleged crime and have no knowledge of the case, other than through media coverage, the motion says.
Hammond Daily Star Online – By Don Ellzey
Thursday, July 26, 2007 10:01 AM CDT
Ponchatoula’s 1st Habitat house

PONCHATOULA – The city’s first Habitat for Humanity house was dedicated Wednesday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that included a large turnout by local and parish officials, Ginger Ford Habitat for Humanity representatives and the general public.

Under a broiling sun that had almost everyone sweating during the mid-morning ceremony, Rosie August was presented the key to her new home at 333 Cedar Lane.

Blair Edwards, executive director for the Hammond-based Ginger Ford Habitat for Humanity, said the mission of providing homes for people in need is a Christian ministry to change lives.

“It’s amazing how something as simple as picking up a hammer can change people’s lives,” Edwards said.

The family of Mayor Bob Zabbia donated the lot. Waste Management and Charter Communications were the project’s corporate sponsors.

August accumulated more than 1,000 hours of “sweat equity” working on this home and the homes of others. She will move into the gray frame house with her four children, Brittany, Alicia, Quinten and Terry. The house will allow them to leave behind a lifestyle of living with friends and family.

Among those recognized during the ceremony was the Ponchatoula High School Future Farmers of America Chapter. Edwards said chapter members helped build the house and will work with Master Gardeners of Tangipahoa Parish this year to landscape the lot.

The Junior Auxiliary of Hammond provided some clothing and furnishings.

Community support was a key to the success of the project, Edwards said.

Cars for Homes also helped, she said.

Marcia Rundle of Seattle, director of Habitat’s Cars for Homes program, said the organization gets donations of cars and other vehicles to raise money for the Habitat program. Rundle said a resident of a Northeastern state donated a power boat, the sale of which started the Ponchatoula house.

Hurricane Katrina was a “perfect storm” that caused much devastation and hardship, she said. After Katrina, the Habitat for Humanity program was a “perfect storm” of love that has resulted in such projects as the one in Ponchatoula.

“I wish you luck in moving forward with this ministry and the building of more homes,” Rundle said.

Zabbia said it was great to see the culmination of the project. Much effort from many people went into the construction.

He thanked his family for agreeing to the donation, and said he was looking forward to more such projects in the city.

Jim Laurent, director of government relations for Charter Communications, commended Edwards for her role in coordinating the project.

In closing the ceremony, Edwards commented on the “theology of the hammer.” When someone picks up a hammer, regardless of their religious affiliation, they manifest love by building a house. That love passes through the hammer to others.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, a Bible with a hammer on top was passed along the line to each participant.
The Daily Iberian
Tuesday, July 31, 2007 12:36 PM CDT
BY JEFF MOORE, THE DAILY IBERIAN
Comeaux takes parish president’s post
To fill the void created by the resignation of Iberia Parish President Will Langlinais, the Parish Council turned to its elder statesman Monday.

Committee to discuss pay hike for top official
Tuesday, July 31, 2007 12:36 PM CDT
BY JEFF MOORE, THE DAILY IBERIAN

“…A measure that would boost the salary of the parish president by nearly $24,000 will go before the Finance Committee of the Iberia Parish Council on Wednesday.

The committee will discuss increasing the salary of the parish’s top elected official from $103,060 to $126,963…”

Cajun Jokes – Cajun telecommunications
Friday, March 9, 2007 11:34 AM CST

Cast your Vote for LSU Tigers to win the SEC Conference at The Daily Iberian.

Hurricane victims get additional year to sell vacant land The Courier
Houma Today.com August 01. 2007 7:58AM

July 31. 2007 10:51AM
Disagreement over Lafourche levee bill remains at stalemate
BEN LUNDIN- Staff Writer Houma Today.com

July 30. 2007 12:01PM
Locals say illnesses may be linked to FEMA trailers
NAOMI KING- Staff Writer Houma Today.com

Wallace Trosclair (right) stands outside his FEMA trailer home, which he says may be to blame for his recent health problems. In the background (from left to right) are Trosclair’s daughter Amanda Trosclair, 20, Amanda’s daughter, Ansleigh Lovell, and friend Ashely Luke, 17.
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DULAC — At first he didn’t notice the labored breathing, but, Wallace Trosclair said, once he compared his health before and after living in a FEMA trailer, he saw a difference.

The 40-year-old commercial fisherman said he and his 39-year-old wife, Melissa Marie Trosclair, have experienced health problems since they started living in a FEMA trailer. Hurricane Rita flooded the couple’s house in 2005.

“She got diagnosed with asthma. Right before that, I got diagnosed with it,” he said Sunday afternoon, while working to remove the pillars that once supported his now-demolished Shrimpers Row home.

As of Friday, about a dozen Terrebonne and Lafourche people living in FEMA trailers have reported health issues or concerns they say are related to a chemical called formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde is used in a variety of products, including composite wood and plywood panels used in the trailers that house hurricane victims throughout the Gulf Coast.

In light of recent reports that formaldehyde vapors from FEMA trailers led to health problems for its occupants, federal government workers distributed fliers warning of the danger to the more than 45,000 travel-trailer residents in Louisiana and set up a hotline for people who have concerns. And FEMA officials started working with scientists last week to set up a way to test the trailers for the chemical.

Trosclair said he received one of the health-warning fliers and, though he hasn’t reported his health problems to the agency, he suspects that he’s having difficulty breathing at night because of time spent in the trailer.

Trosclair said he hasn’t talked to a doctor about his labored breathing, which is more pronounced while he’s sleeping, because he wants to test his theory that the trailer is to blame by sleeping elsewhere for several nights in a row. He plans to sleep on his boat, he said, and see how he fares.

“I’d have to stay somewhere else to see if I get a different reaction,” he said. “Because then it would be fresh air.”

Farther down Shrimpers Row, Patricia and Joseph Verdin say they and their three kids haven’t had any health problems because of their FEMA trailer.

“No health problems. I just smoke too much,” said 41-year-old Patricia, who spends most of her day inside the trailer, time typically spent cooking, cleaning and browsing the Internet.

If she did notice anything, Patricia said, she would definitely consult a doctor.

“If any of us get cancer, I’ll question it,” she said, adding that the possibility concerns her.

The Verdins said they’re not sure if they can trust FEMA, which handed out fliers without discussion.

“No one was around to speak to you. They just duct-taped them to the FEMA trailers,” Patricia said.

As for official complaints of health problems, FEMA hotlines registered nine calls from Terrebonne, FEMA officials said.

Four of those calls were health questions that FEMA officials referred to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The other five callers asked to review other living options paid for by FEMA.

Five people from Lafourche called FEMA with concerns. Four of those had health-related questions, and the other was interested in finding an alternative place to live, officials said.

Bob Josephson, external-affairs director for Louisiana’s FEMA office, declined to provide specifics on who made the calls or the extent of reported health problems.

“We’re trying to be as transparent as possible. But we can’t cross the line of people’s privacy,” he said.

The CDC is encouraging anyone who may have health problems to see a doctor. It’s important to tell the doctor that the affected person lives in a FEMA trailer.

Symptoms associated with illnesses from inhaling formaldehyde include:

# Headaches, fatigue and irritation of nose, eyes, throat and skin.

# Symptoms can be worse for people with asthma and other chronic health conditions.

FEMA trailer residents can protect themselves from overexposure to formaldehyde by:

# Airing out the trailer by opening the windows and turning on fans.

# Not smoking inside the trailer.

# Keeping indoor temperatures moderate. The warmer the temperature and higher the humidity, the quicker the gas will be released.

At a news conference in New Orleans last week, FEMA officials declined to comment on recent allegations in Congress that FEMA lawyers ignored requests from workers to test trailers for formaldehyde.

“I’m not going to comment on what the lawyers may have said,” said Jim Stark, director of the Louisiana Transitional Recovery Office.

Tuesday, a crew of scientists, epidemiologists, hygienists and other medical experts canvassed New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Biloxi to look at trailers — their design, use and interior humidity.

The information will be used to establish guidelines for testing more trailers in the future.

Though the federal government regulates how much formaldehyde is allowed in homes and buildings, no rules have been made regarding travel trailers.

“At this time, frankly, there is no commonly accepted or federally regulated level for travel trailers,” Stark said.

The goal is to find what is a “reasonable level” of formaldehyde for travel trailers, Stark said.

The scientists also will look at all indoor-air-quality issues, including mold and other potentially harmful chemicals.

As of last week, 291 people from throughout the state had called FEMA’s toll-free number to report a health problem or ask questions about the chemical.

About 30 percent to 40 percent of the callers asked to move out of their trailers, FEMA officials said.

“We’re always trying to get people to transition to more suitable housing,” Stark said.

As of May, people in Terrebonne Parish had 520 trailer leases with FEMA; Lafourche had 215.

In the past few months, FEMA has also offered to sell trailers to those who live in them. So far, 284 people in Terrebonne and 131 in Lafourche have expressed interest.

But only six trailers have been sold so far, FEMA officials said. If people want to return the trailers they buy, FEMA will reimburse them.

Officials at the CDC said they couldn’t comment on the extent of problems being reported. Instead the center gives information about the possible heath risks and tells callers to consult local doctors, said spokeswoman Dagny Olivares.

Formaldehyde can be found in a range of everyday items, including cleaning solutions, shampoos, clothing, couch cushions, gas appliances, cigarettes and plywood. Long-term exposure has been linked to cancer, asthma, bronchitis and allergies.

It’s not clear, however, what constitutes long-term exposure, Olivares said.

“A lot of the work that’s been done has been worker related,” Olivares said of studies.

Workers tend to be at work eight hours a day, she said. So, someone living in a trailer could conceivably be exposed for longer periods of time. That factor will be taken into account when CDC scientists establish “reasonable” exposure levels, she said.

Staff Writer Naomi King can be reached at 857-2209 or naomi.king@houmatoday.com.

N.O. project to provide housing
By JOE GYAN JR.
Advocate New Orleans bureau
Published: Aug 1, 2007 – Page: 14A

The Advocate Baton Rouge, Louisiana
E-mails: FEMA knew about toxin
By GERARD SHIELDS
Advocate Washington bureau
Published: Jul 21, 2007 – Page: 1A

WASHINGTON – When FEMA tested unoccupied trailers in Baton Rouge for formaldehyde, the move confused staff attorney Jill F. Igert.

Igert raised red flags to FEMA administrators that the testing would not yield a realistic reading of how residents who were complaining of toxic fumes were living. FEMA had tested the trailers over a 14-day period in September 2006 with the windows open and the air conditioners running, according to documents released Thursday by a House oversight committee.

“I don’t understand why Sample B is focused on the utilization of the air conditioner and virtually nothing else since it is unrealistic that an applicant will use it 24 hours a day,” Igert wrote in a report.

But Federal Emergency Management Agency officials used that testing to conclude that the only step occupants of the trailers needed to take was “airing out” their campers.

The Igert report was part of the documents released Thursday by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Igert wasn’t alone in her concern. E-mails released by the committee show that FEMA field workers recognized a problem.

“We need to take a proactive approach,” staffer James Lowery wrote on March 17, 2006. “The implications are much too large not to take immediate steps to assure safety of our units.”

“This needs to be fixed today,” wrote James Russo, another FEMA staffer, also on March 17, 2006.

However, dozens of e-mails released by the committee and reviewed by The Advocate show that FEMA lawyers were more concerned about being sued than protecting residents.

“Do not initiate any testing until we give the OK,” FEMA attorney Patrick Pearson advised in an e-mail. “While I agree we should conduct testing, we should not do so until we are fully prepare (sic) to respond to the results. Once you get the results and should they indicate a problem, the clock is ticking on our duty to respond to them.”

Lawmakers rap FEMA
House members participating in the hearing on the matter Thursday accused FEMA of covering up the reports of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, despite receiving 200 complaints.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal, R-Kenner, requested the hearing. E-mails showed that FEMA was more concerned about negative publicity and being sued than it was over the potential health risks to travel trailer occupants, he said.

FEMA issued 120,000 travel trailers after hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit in 2005, FEMA said. About 62,000 trailers are still in use, including 44,000 in Louisiana, according to the agency.

“This is more than an isolated problem and they refused to treat it as systematic,” Jindal said. “What you never see in the e-mail chain is someone saying ‘What about the health of the children?’ ”

FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison told the House panel that he did not instruct agency attorneys to recommend holding off testing. Paulison said he lets the office of general counsel operate at its own discretion.

But Paulison acknowledged that the final responsibility rests with him. The agency replaced 58 trailers, including 18 in Louisiana, Paulison said.

“The department did not stop dealing with formaldehyde,” Paulison said. “We were not formaldehyde experts. In hindsight, we could’ve moved faster.”

U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., told Paulison that attorneys trying to protect the agency may have put it in more legal hot water.

“You should get new lawyers,” said Norton, an attorney. “You have increased your liability. Plaintiffs may be able to show you knew.”

Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., criticized Paulison for not being more hands on.

“That’s not hindsight,” Waxman said. “You didn’t have the foresight to listen to your own staff.”

First complaints
The first complaint about formaldehyde came in March 2006 when a Mississippi couple reported problems to a local television station. FEMA’s test of the trailer – the only occupied trailer the agency has tested – showed levels that were 75 percent higher than the maximum workplace exposure level recommended by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Safe levels were recommended at below .01 parts per million, but parts of the trailer tested as high as 2.4 ppm. A room that contained bunk beds tested at 1.2 ppm.

“Who sleeps in bunk beds?” asked committee member U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn. “Our precious children.”

FEMA also was criticized for not providing residents with contact numbers to address their problems. James Harris, a 46-year-old minister from Gulf Port, Miss., testified that the contractors representing FEMA changed often.

Not being able to reach FEMA representatives to complain, the married father of one tried to make the best of the situation by buying a $470 air purifier. On Monday, Harris ended up in the emergency room with respiratory problems.

“When you’re helpless, that’s one thing, but when you’re hopeless that’s worse,” Harris said.

FEMA e-mails indicate that one agency representative advised another not to put a contact phone number on information handed out to residents.

“I don’t see a number on it,” staffer Sidney Melton wrote. “Are y’all going to put your MDC numbers on it? We here in (Mississippi) would put our call center number on it.”

Martin McNeese, a FEMA staffer in Louisiana, wrote back: “Hi Sid, we are trying to not generate a lot of calls, just get the facts out as we know them so we are not putting our number on it.”

Paulison denied committee claims that FEMA intentionally tried not to respond to complaints. Each trailer had a number posted on it so people with problems could call a FEMA maintenance center, he said.

But after the hearing, Paulison acknowledged that FEMA should have used the formaldehyde warning brochure they eventually put out to alert residents to call the maintenance centers.

“We should have done that and we didn’t do that,” Paulison said.

Media reports sickness
E-mails also show that FEMA workers initially were suspicious of people complaining about formaldehyde. That was especially true in Mississippi, where the first media report of sickness surfaced during a local television newscast.

Lindsay Huckabee, a mother of five from Kiln, Miss., testified that she never saw the TV report. Huckabee said her ear, nose and throat doctor warned her to get out of her trailer because he had seen other travel trailer patients with similar respiratory symptoms.

Over-exposure to formaldehyde, a solvent used in press wood and adhesives, can result in burning eyes, coughing, sore throats, chest pains and nose bleeds, scientists say. Huckabee’s daughter suffered chronic nosebleeds, she said.

“I was told by our ENT that we needed to get out of the trailer as soon as we could,” Huckabee said. “He had many repeat patients with the same symptoms all living in FEMA trailers.”

A class action suit was filed about six weeks ago against the travel trailer manufacturers. Daniel Becnel, an attorney in Reserve, is handling the case, representing “a couple of thousand” FEMA trailer occupants from Florida to Louisiana, he said. Becnel is seeking $2 billion in his lawsuit.

And formaldehyde exposure is the subject of a lawsuit in Baton Rouge federal court. Desiree Collins, 47, who moved to Renaissance Village after losing her home in New Orleans, sued River Forest Inc. and other makers of the FEMA trailers.

Collins died earlier this month of lung cancer; it isn’t clear yet whether formaldehyde played any role.

U.S. Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., represents a district where 60 percent of the nation’s travel trailers are made. Souder criticized the hearings Thursday, saying none of the testimony implicated trailer manufacturers.

“We don’t have any experts on this panel,” Souder said. “What we have here is terrible personal stories that the government should have responded to. You cannot say on the record that it was the way they were made.”

On Wednesday, the eve of the committee hearing, FEMA announced it had asked the national Centers for Disease Control to conduct short-term tests on the air quality in occupied trailers and long-term tests on the possible health ramifications of those who may have been exposed to the toxins, which were used in campers.

“This agency has made the best decisions it could with the information we had,” Paulison said. “Now we have to do something different than we’ve done in the past.”

Ex-Saint No. 1 on bad list
Former New Orleans Saints linebacker Rickey Jackson.
‘Most wanted’ poster lists delinquent parents
By EMILY KERN
Advocate staff writer
Published: Aug 1, 2007 – Page: 1A

“Former New Orleans Saints player Rickey Jackson, who earned millions of dollars on the gridiron, holds the top spot in Louisiana as the noncustodial parent who owes the most in back child support.

Jackson and 17 others are featured on this year’s “Most Wanted” poster by the state Department of Social Services Support Enforcement Services division. They owe more than $759,000 combined — Jackson owes $160,000 — in court-ordered child support…”
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