A proposed judgment released Thursday in a lawsuit against the New Orleans City Council would void the council’s two 2018 votes approving Entergy New Orleans’ power plant in eastern New Orleans. But attorneys for the city say that one of them — the final one — should stand.
On June 14, Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Piper Griffin ruled against the city in the suit, filed last year by a coalition of environmental and community groups. The groups said that two votes on the plant — a utility committee vote in February 2018 and and a final vote by the full council in March 2018 — violated the state’s Open Meetings Act, which requires the public to have access to and an opportunity to comment during meetings of public bodies.
The plaintiffs filed a proposed written judgment on Thursday, voiding both votes. But a note attached to the judgment says that the city does not believe that the final vote from March should be voided.
That’s because Griffin’s ruling hinged on “Entergy’s actions,” specifically a subcontractor’s use of paid actors to appear at meetings in support of the plant.
As of Friday morning, Griffin had not yet signed a final judgment.
Andrew Tuozzolo, chief of staff for Councilwoman and utility committee Chairwoman Helena Moreno, declined to comment on this story, citing the ongoing litigation.
“We don’t want to comment on anything that the judge may or may not do,” said Adam Swensek, executive counsel to the City Council. “I suspect we’ll have more to say once the court issues the final judgment.”
Last year, The Lens reported that those actors — hired by California-based company Crowds on Demand — appeared at the February meeting and an earlier meeting in October 2o17.
“The Council is not aware of any evidence establishing the presence of paid citizens at the March 8 meeting,” reads a June 26 email from the city’s attorneys to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, quoted by the plaintiffs. “Therefore, the Council objects to the proposed judgment’s order concerning the March 8 meeting.”
“It appears the Court may have only intended to vacate the first vote,” they wrote.
But the plaintiffs’ attorneys said Griffin’s ruling for the bench contained no evidence that she was distinguishing between the two meetings when she ruled against the city, adding that she made “no finding that citizens’ voices were heard and in the room at either of these public meetings.”
Under the Open Meetings Law, “Any vote leading up to final vote voids the process,” said Susan Miller, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the case.
That decision will fall to Griffin, who can sign the judgment as it was written or modify it. Asked when she expects Griffin to weigh in, Miller said, “We don’t think there’s any reason to sit on this.”