Tony Pelicano won a skirmish but may have lost the war in his years-long battle with the Louisiana Office of Community Development (OCD) over poor workmanship and claims of fraud in connection with the reconstruction of a rent house in Metairie destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
Because inferior materials were used in the work, Pelicano, himself a contractor, refused to accept the work and he filed suit against the contractor and the state filed suit against him to foreclose on the property.
The trial for his suit against Woodrow Wilson Contractors of Baton Rouge is scheduled for trial in January. The state’s foreclosure suit was scheduled for jury trial on Monday but the state threw a curve ball at Pelicano who apparently had not suffered quite enough in the eyes of OCD and the Division of Administration (DOA).
To make matters worse, the state’s attorney, Lesia Batiste, laughed at an emotional Pelicano after court adjourned.
Pelicano, represented by Baton Rouge attorney Jill Craft, entered Monday’s proceedings in 19th Judicial District Court fighting the state’s motion to deny Pelicano a jury trial but less than two hours before jury selection was slated to begin, Batiste filed a motion to dismiss its case without prejudice, meaning the state would be free to renew its foreclosure efforts at any time in the future.
Craft argued vehemently in favor of dismissal with prejudice, meaning the case would be over and done.
In September 2009, Pelicano was personally solicited by the State of Louisiana through OCD to submit an application to become the first test applicant for the Small Rental Program through the agency. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/09/23/state-ocd-figure-partnered-with-firm-that-blocked-repairs-to-road-home-project-shelter-at-home-follows-same-formula/
Specifications called for pressure treated lumber for the house but upon inspecting the work, Pelicano discovered pressure treated lumber was not used, leading almost immediately to termite infestation. Moreover, leaks in the roof resulted in rust of the top of the hot water heater and kitchen stove and the hot water heater was located in the wrong place, resulting in workers having to cut a hole in the door in order to close it. Joints and window sills have separated since the work was done, all of which have left the house uninhabitable despite Batiste’s contention that “I would live in the house.”
An independent engineer was retained by Pelicano to inspect the house. His photos-and-report are included here in order that you, the reader, can determine if you would pay rent to live in the house.
“I don’t file a suit and then come in here on the day of jury selection and say, ‘Hey, just kidding. They don’t get a do-over,” she said.
“The home owner (Pelicano) must approve a contractor’s punch list. All corrections in construction must be made before the contractor can be paid. These people (Pelicano and his wife) have gone through enough,” Craft said. “Dismissing without prejudice means the state may want to sue them again.”
She said the Pelicanos and the state “reached a settlement in 2013 and the state backed out. That cost my clients an extra $10,000 and now the state wants to allow itself another bite.”
Batiste argued that she did not believe a dismissal without prejudice would create any hardship on the Pelicanos.
District Judge Tim Kelley ruled that the Pelicanos were entitled to a jury trial but then upheld the state’s motion for dismissal without prejudice.
After Kelley adjourned court and exited the courtroom, Pelicano shouted to Batiste, “Take the house! Just take it! I’ve had it! I’m Through!”
Batiste, watching Pelicano’s emotional outburst, laughed.
“It’s not funny,” Craft said to Batiste.
LouisianaVoice asked Batiste why the state would not dismiss with prejudice and her answer left no doubt that the state still has the Pelicanos in its crosshairs.
“They’re under foreclosure,” she said. Not were, but are. Left unsaid was the unmistakable intent that the state would be back for more retribution against the Pelicanos at some future date.
“Have you seen that house?” we asked.
“Yes, I’ve been in it. There’s nothing wrong with it. I would live in it.”
No, she would not. Not without raising holy hell over the condition of the structure.
And neither would you. The mold and mildew in the house, fostered by what Pelicano says was the use of substandard materials, presents a clear health hazard.
And now the state is asking August flood victims to trust its Shelter at Home program, the illegitimate child of its precursor, the Road Home program.
Pelicano came to Baton Rouge Monday hoping for some measure of justice but the state lived down to its customary expectations of disillusionment and disappointment which in turn only nurtures a climate of manipulation and corruption.
He deserves better.