Critiques of the Judiciary
The Tenacious Whistleblower
Unaware of the fate that lay ahead, attorney Ashton R. O'Dwyer, Jr. was the first to file a
class-actionlawsuit against federal, state and local entities responsible for the failures that exposed citizens of New Orleans to the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, which struck the city on August 29, 2005. Not until years following his incarceration, disbarment and numerous court proceedings would he learn that the United States Government had covertly agreed to assist the State of Louisiana in defeating the claims of thousands of H. Katrina victims, including his own 2,000 clients, against state defendants through joint defense agreements.
A May 22, 2009 court record states: "The purpose of those joint defense agreements was to allow the defendants to share confidences and secrets and confidential information with other defendants, so that we can benefit from each other's information and knowledge in preparing our own defenses in this case and others. There were numerous strategy sessions that were held involving counsel for various defendants."
O'Dwyer's "voice in the wilderness" was solo, abrasive, often coarse, and no match for the
well-organizedestablishment counsel and jurists who would control the outcome of any settlements.
On the 12th anniversary of H. Katrina, local radio host Jeff Crouere had the first of three interviews with O'Dwyer. Following is a recording and transcript of the initial telephone interview streamed from WGSO radio on August 29, 2017.
Audio taken from: Jeff Crouere, "Interview with Ashton R. O'Dwyer, Jr.," Ringside Politics With a Punch, WGSO Radio, New Orleans, http://wgso.com/, podcast, August 29, 2017. Images taken from: Jeff Crouere, "Interview with Ashton R. O'Dwyer, Jr.," Ringside Politics With a Punch, March 2, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyOQop43T7o, WLAE-TV, New Orleans, posted March 8, 2018. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.
§ 107for a non-profit educational purpose.
Transcript: Jeff Crouere's Interview with Ashton R. O'Dwyer, Jr.
"Ringside Politics With a Punch," WGSO Radio, August 29, 2017.
Crouere: When we come back, a very special guest will be joining us. We'll talk to an attorney that tangled with the legal system tangled with judges representing 2,000 Katrina victims, and wound up at the end getting disbarred, and someone who's really made some interesting news since Katrina. Prior to that he had a sterling legal career, and now he's had a life turned upside down by all this, and we're going to examine what he's been doing and how he's continuing to fight.
That's Ashton O'Dwyer. He's going to be joining us next, so keep it right here on "Ringside," on WGSO, 990 a.m. and WGSO.com.
I thought it'd be appropriate today, the 12th anniversary of Katrina to talk to someone whose life was really turned upside down by Katrina. Prior to Katrina, he was a partner with Lemle & Kelleher, he had been a lawyer for more that 35 years, he was living with a lot of elite on the uptown area, on St. Charles Avenue, one of the premier streets in the country, certainly had a great reputation in the legal community and, because of what happened in the aftermath, he really lost everything: his partnership, his marriage, his finances... And, he's going to tell us today what he had to endure, and we'll have him back on for more in-depth discussion, but I want to start the conversation with him today and talk about his representation of 2,000 Katrina clients and what happened in that case.
Ashton O'Dwyer joining us here on the "Ringside" hotline, and Ashton, good morning sir. Welcome.
O'Dwyer: Good morning, Jeff. Thanks for having me.
Crouere: Hey, thank you for joining us, and on the 12th anniversary of Katrina boy, really is a day probably having an impact on you because this is really helping really change in your life, right? Hurricane Katrina?
O'Dwyer: Definitely, it's very emotional.
Crouere: Tell our listeners if you could, your life prior to Katrina, a little bit about who you were prior to the hurricane.
O'Dwyer: Well, I actually lived a storybook life. Everything was terrific. I had a thriving law practice. I was an admiralty and maritime lawyer with a prestigious firm. I loved getting up in the morning and going to work. About all can say. It was great. Wonderful wife, wonderful children, wonderful life.
Crouere: So, Katrina hits, and tell us what you do for the storm. As the storm is preparing to bear down on New Orleans, you decide to stay?
O'Dwyer: I did. I knew that government was not going to be in a position to protect what was mine, and so I hunkered down and decided that I was going to do the job that the government could not do. And, it was a very trying experience. It was like playing "Army." I likened it to living a "Lord of the Flies," "Robinson Crusoe" existence. But because I lived on the "Sliver by the River," I didn't suffer any flooding. The only damage I had was insured roof damage, and there wasn't any leak into the living areas. So, I had provisions there, I was "high and dry," and, you know, I just hunkered down for the duration.
Crouere: So you stayed there. Were you one of the few in your area to stay, or were there lots of people that stayed?
O'Dwyer: There were a handful I wouldn't say a lot and that is kind of fuzzy because at some point in time they started allowing people day passes to come into the city. So, I was visited by people who were there for the day only, but had to leave by curfew which was at 6 p.m. So, I can't say exactly how many stayed in my neighborhood just like I did.
But whoever they were, eventually made it to my house to get water, ice, gasoline, whatever. I was helping whoever I could.
Crouere: Right. So, you were there, you were doing all this, you were "high and dry," people coming by for help. When did you first interact with, quote, "the government?"
O'Dwyer: I first interacted with the government on September the 19th, 2005, which was a Monday. I had, by that point in time, severed my relationship with my law firm. That's another long story that we're not going to get into today. And, I had written out in long hand a lawsuit against the United States of America, the State, Governor Blanco, Mayor Nagin, the City, and a bunch of others.
And, I drove to Baton Rouge that Monday and filed that lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, which was then sitting in Baton Rouge; the New Orleans Clerk's office was shut down. That was my first real interaction with the government, Ashton O'Dwyer going on the offensive.
Crouere: O.K. And, you were representing 2,000 individuals, right?
O'Dwyer: Not at that point in time. I had about 50 people who had signed up for me to represent them, so the first round if you will, was only about 50 people. That list grew into a 47-page, single-spaced typewritten tome which includes my 2,000 or so clients, most of whom I might add were black, most of whom didn't have much to begin with, but lost everything they had in Katrina and were looking to me for a recovery, okay?
Crouere: How did they find you? How did all these people turn to you, Ashton O'Dwyer?
O'Dwyer: Because I lived on St. Charles Avenue, which was one of the main arteries in and out of New Orleans, I was interviewed on an almost daily basis by journalists from out of town who had videographers with them, and who would see me out on the neutral ground, or on my property, or my neighbor's property, cleaning up. And, they would stop and interview me. They'd want to know: well, what are you doing here, why haven't you left? If they had to go, why did you get to stay? I mean it was that sort of thing.
So, people knew my name, I still have land-line service at that period of time, believe it or not; cell-phone service was intermittent. But, that's how people learned about Ashton O'Dwyer.
Crouere: Alright. So we want to pick up the story when we come back. Ashton O'Dwyer is with us. Jeff Crouere here. It's "Ringside" on WGSO 990 am, WGSO.com. We also hope we have time before we conclude today if we have a call or two at 504-556-9696. Right now we'll check the latest news from Louisiana Radio Network. We'll be right back.
Crouere: Back here with discussion here with Ashton O'Dwyer, a man who "lost everything" exposing the corruption that occurred after Hurricane Katrina, representing 2,000 Katrina clients eventually, by the end. And, we're talking about what happened to him, previously living by the river on beautiful St. Charles Avenue, and wound up, really, bankrupt and disbarred.
We're going to talk about that. But when you get back, Ashton, to what happened to these clients, did any of these clients ever recover any damages?
O'Dwyer: No, Jeff. And, I'd like to say that the purpose of litigation is winning. And, if you look at the Katrina litigation, not only did people not win, but they got zero. How can you do worse than getting zero? Thanks to you, Mr. Joseph Bruno, "Clarence Darrow Bruno" I call him. He was Plaintiff's Liaison Counsel. How can you do worse than zero? The only "recovery" to be made is this corrupt and fraudulent Levee Board settlement for one policy limit of approximately $20 million dollars.
Mark Schleifstein of the "Times-PickYourNose" back in April of 2017 wrote an article in which he put in black and white: "Some claimants are going to receive checks in the amount of $2.50." Boy, I wish I had one of those checks that I could hang on my wall. I mean, this is absurd, okay? You can't do worse than zero! Or, if you want to give them credit for the corrupt and fraudulent Levee Board settlement, you can't do worse than $2.50! You want to hear about how that happened?
Crouere: Please, tell us.
O'Dwyer: Alright. For all of its complexity, I say that the Victims of Katrina litigation was really a single-issue case. It could be reduced to asking the following question: Does the United States of America have immunity or not? If the answer to that question is: No, they don't have immunity, then the federal purse is wide enough, deep enough and full enough to compensate everyone. I mean, we've been fighting in the Middle East for 16 years, trillions of dollars [cross talk here], but if the United States of America had immunity, then who has the next deepest pocket?
Crouere: The State.
O'Dwyer: Absolutely. That answer is obvious. Well, the federal judge in this case has a bunch of cronies that he surrounds himself with and still panders to, to this day, even though he's off the bench now he's retired. And these are rich and powerful people, okay? The "Times-PickYourNose" and Fox-8 Lee Zurich did a series of presentations called "Louisiana Purchased," and these are the types of people, including particularly a despicable character by the name of Calvin Fayard, who's Number 7 on the list of influential people recognized by the Times-Picyune and Fox-8 News as being the movers and shakers here in this state. He's Number 7. They decided that the big money to be made was not in representing Victims of Katrina like me, but they were going to represent the State and presenting a claim for $200 billion dollars on behalf of the State to the United States.
Now, what was so despicable about this is: 1) They didn't tell anybody about it until the second anniversary of Katrina, and 2) They were appointed by the presiding judge, Stanwood R. Duval, Jr., to represent the class in the Katrina litigation, which obligated them, not to the State, but to all of the people who suffered like my 2,000 clients.
So, these people had a clear conflict of interests for two years that they didn't disclose to anyone. They couldn't simultaneously represent the interests of the State in secret and represent the interests of the class. They should have been suing the State, but they didn't sue the State because they secretly represented the State [cross talk here].
Crouere: So, what did you, Ashton O'Dwyer, do after discovering this?
O'Dwyer: Well, on the second anniversary of Katrina, they had to file pleadings; that was a magical date under the Federal Tort Claims Act structure. And, I saw their names on pleadings representing the State of Louisiana. I literally went ballistic, and it took me quite a while to figure it all out, and to figure out who precisely was involved. But, to make a long story short, I exposed this corruption, and for that, in retaliation and retribution, I have been severely punished [cross talk here].
Crouere: You filed a legal malpractice class-action lawsuit, right?
O'Dwyer: Yes, a pleading that I call the largest legal malpractice lawsuit in the annals of American jurisprudence. It's still there, believe it or not. It bears Civil Action No. 08-4728, on the docket of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, and it was filed on October 23, 2008.
Exactly two weeks after I filed that lawsuit, on November 7, 2008, I was suspended from the practice of law summarily by a lazy, stupid and corrupt federal judge by the name of Ivan L. R. Lemelle, which in effect shut me down and shut down my lawsuit, okay? I mean, once I was suspended from the practice of law and then later disbarred in federal court, I could no longer do anything to... (Crouere: represent your clients) ...advance the cause of my clients. Correct, that is right.
Crouere: And, a few questions. We're visiting with Ashton O'Dwyer. Jeff Crouere here, "Ringside," WGSO. Under what grounds were you suspended from the practice of law?
O'Dwyer: Alright. They didn't really need any grounds, okay? So they manufactured them. Remember, these were the people who "maka da rules," Jeff. Okay?
I have in front of me a 30-some-odd page Disbarment Order which came down from what I call the "bought-and-paid-for" Louisiana Supreme Court in March of this year . And, it's just packed full of misrepresentations, outright lies and fiction. It reads like a work of fiction.
Usually, one associates a lawyer's disbarment with violating or ignoring to their detriment the rights of his clients, or doing something dishonest like stealing client's funds, or misrepresenting things to the court: telling lies, in other words. Which, incidentally, Bruno himself has been suspended for a period of one year for having done in his past, okay? I never did anything like that. They just made-up stuff about me, and all of this is a matter of public record, both in the federal court system and before the "bought-and-paid-for" Louisiana Supreme Court.
I can give you one specific example of their dishonesty. One of the grounds for which I was disbarred was "practicing law without a license" after my suspension. The lynchpin of that false argument was whether I signed a particular pleading, whether my signature appears on it.
Well, at the time, I was represented by my cousin, Joseph W. P. Hecker, who is now deceased, who was a practicing lawyer and who was representing me. "Billy," as we called him, signed the pleading, not me. Well, we consulted about the case, and I gave him input as to what should go in it, but it was his pleading, signed by him. When I argued orally before the "bought-and-paid-for" Supreme Court in January of this year , I had signature pages from pleadings both signed by me and by my cousin, and I introduced those into evidence, without objection I might add, and yet the Supreme Court, in its dishonest opinion, wrote, and I quote here (just one second, I've got to find it): "O'Dwyer claims that he did not sign the pleading, but he offers no evidence in support of his assertion,"
The direct quote is: "He now says his cousin, acting as respondent's (that means me) counsel, actually signed the pleading. However he presents no evidence in support of his assertion." Page [29 and 30].* A blatant lie and falsehood. So, why was I disbarred? Because I was disbarred by a bunch of corrupt, conniving, dishonest scoundrels. Both in federal court and in state court [cross talk here].
Crouere: And, have you appealed that, Ashton, after your disbarment?
O'Dwyer: I don't have a right of appeal from the state court disbarment, the Louisiana Supreme Court, the "bought-and-paid-for" Supreme Court. It's the court of last resort. I did appeal the federal suspension and later disbarment, and that was thrown out on a technicality by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. That's a story for another day. That is another unbelievable story.
Crouere: Alright. Now, we have limited time, and I do want to ask... We're visiting with Ashton O'Dwyer here. Jeff Crouere with "Ringside" on WGSO.
Tell us about the existence of a secret agreement between the U.S. and the State, by the terms of which the U.S., through the Department of what you call "Injustice," agreed to assist the State in defeating the claims of innocent victims of Katrina.
O'Dwyer: Jeff, this is an unbelievable document. I only got a copy of it yesterday, believe it or not. I call it the most nefarious and reprehensible document to ever come out of the Victims of Katrina litigation. I'm going to read you what the lawyer for the United States Department of "Injustice," a scoundrel by the name of Robin Doyle Smith stated on the record to Stanwood R. Duval, Jr. who's as crooked as a snake that was the presiding judge in the Katrina litigation.
This is what Smith represented to the judge in open court on April 28, 2009, during the trial of the MRGO-Robinson case, the only Katrina case to be tried: "The purpose of those joint defense agreements was to allow the defendants to share confidences and secrets and confidential information with other defendants, so that we can benefit from each other's information and knowledge in preparing our own defenses in this case and in others. There were numerous strategy sessions that were held involving counsel for various defendants." That's at page 8 of 79, Record Document 18882, filed on May 22 of '09, but it was said in open court on April 28 of '09 in the Robinson-MRGO case.
Now, who were... who were the parties to the agreement? Well, it was an agreement between the United States of America and get this just a moment, I'm looking at my pages here the Orleans Levee Board, the New Orleans Sewage and Water Board, the Board of Commissioners of the East Jefferson Levee District, the State of Louisiana through the Department of Transportation and Development, which was the body which served as the engineering arm of the Orleans Levee Board, the Parish of Jefferson, which is another story, and the Board of Commissioners of the Port of New Orleans.
So, what you had, Jeff, was the United States entering into a secret agreement with all of these State entities and including the State in order to... pardon my expression... "screw" the innocent victims of Katrina, and to make sure that even if they couldn't recover against the United States, they wouldn't be able to recover against the State or its agencies and instrumentalities and political subdivisions either. This is reprehensible. This is like our own government entering into a contract with ISIS to kill American soldiers. It's nefarious and reprehensible.
Crouere: Ashton, this is an amazing story, so many different components to it that we don't have time to get into today. We'll certainly explore this more, but I want to just share with our listeners the point that you make here in this document that you give me. You say, lastly, the point should be made that, not withstanding the above and foregoing public corruption, not to mention the 1,500 deaths, the $200 billion in property damage, the untold anguish and misery caused by Katrina, Ashton O'Dwyer has been the only person punished.
Not one employee of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, not one employee of the Board of Commissioners of the New Orleans Levee District, not one employee of the Sewage and Water Board of New Orleans, not one employee of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, which served as the engineering arm of the Orleans Levee Board, has been punished.
And with that, we have to roll. Ashton O'Dwyer, thank you for joining us. We'll explore this again on this 12th anniversary of the day that certainly changed your life and the lives of so many people here in the area. But, Ashton went from St. Charles Avenue to bankrupt, and we certainly appreciate him sharing part of this story today. It's a very involved and complex story.
James Gill has touched on part of it in some of his columns you can check out. He's been the only local journalist who's written about this extensively. But, thank you, Ashton, for being with us. We'll come back and wrap it up.
Next, on "Ringside," right here on WGSO, 990 am, WGSO.com, or talk on 504-556-9696, email address: jeff@WGSO.com. We'll be right back.
*Corrected from the interview, in which O’Dwyer stated pages 18 and 19 in error.
From: Jeff Crouere, "Interview with Ashton R. O'Dwyer, Jr., " Ringside Politics With a Punch, WGSO Radio, New Orleans, http://wgso.com/, podcast, August 29, 2017. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.
§ 107for a non-profit educational purpose..
- Maureen O'Dwyer, et al. v. The United States of America, et al., Civil Action
No. 05-4181, filed September 19, 2005, by Ashton R. O'Dwyer, Jr. and Joseph W. P. Hecker in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, New Orleans Division.
- Ashton R. O'Dwyer, Jr., et al. v. Stanwood R. Duval, Jr., et al., Civil Action No. 08-4728, filed October 23, 2008 in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, New Orleans Division.
- Civil Action No. 05-4182, Record Document 18882, Transcript of proceedings of April 29, 2009, Re: "Joint Defense Agreement," filed May 22, 2009.
- James Gill, "Still fighting Hurricane Katrina's demons," The Advocate, Baton Rouge, November 20, 2016, Metro, Page: 6B.
- Jeff Crouere, "Interview with Ashton R. O'Dwyer, Jr.," Ringside Politics With a Punch, WLAE-TV, New Orleans, March 2, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyOQop43T7o, posted March 8, 2018.
- Jeff Crouere, "Interview with Ashton R. O'Dwyer, Jr.," Ringside Politics With a Punch, https://goo.gl/C5zFGp, WGSO Radio, New Orleans, May 22, 2018.
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