JUDGE DAVID ARCENEAUX read the Jury’s unanimous decision to the courtroom, “On all 10 items the Jury finds Gulf South Engineers at fault”. A woman attending every day of the trial said “someone has finally defeated the HOUMA MAFIA.” Little did she know there was a surprise coming. Gulf South Engineers, a Houma based company, immediately asked Judge Arceneaux for a new trial. Judge Arceneaux wrote, “I find no fault with the Jury’s findings and will not grant GSE a new trial.
The Judge, by law, had 30 days to issue the written judgment. Eight months passed before Judge David Arceneaux issued the judgment. He over turned the unanimous jury verdict, ruling that GSE was not at fault and Hartec Corp. was responsible for 2.3 million dollars even though the damages were never proven on an item-by-item basis during the trial.
Could this case get worse? Hartec, wanting to appeal Judge Arceneaux’s ruling, requested a copy of the trial transcript. After several requests, Hartec was told they could have a copy if they wrote a check for $42,000… to the court. They would also have to pay $22,000… for a one year bond. After their complaints fell on deaf ears, Hartec wrote the check for $42,000 and paid $22,000 for the bond.Thirteen months later the court still hadn’t given Hartec a copy of the trial transcript. Hartec had to file a legal complaint. After filing the complaint, a year went by and the bond expired, forcing Hartec to pay another $22,000. Shortly thereafter, Hartec received a copy of the transcript. Hartec then filed the proper documents with the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Baton Rouge. To the disappointment of the family-owned Hartec, the case was assigned to activist Judges Mike McDonald and Paige McClendon who was allegedly circumventing the law at the time.
This case was about a construction contract to build an addition to the existing Schriever Water Plant in Terrebonne Parish. The worst tropical storm in the history of the United States was Tropical Storm Allison, which caused billions in damages. Twenty three inches of rain fell within 24 hours in the Thibodaux-Houma area. The Gulf of Mexico surged and Terrebonne Parish flood control pumps failed. Even if the pumps had continued to run there was no place to pump the water. The parish was flooded which included all of the Schriever Water Plant’s existing structures and land.
The case was brought to the First Circuit. Judge McDonald’s ruling was beyond law or logic. Judge Mike McDonald ruled that Hartec should have purchased and supplied pumps capable of holding back the water (a billion dollars in pumps couldn’t hold back the water). McDonald also ruled Hartec should have built levies to protect the Schriever Water Plant even though it was not a part of Hartec’s contract. (The levy with overpasses would have cost over $12 million). The ruling was so bizarre that business organizations filed amicus briefs asking the La. Supreme Court to hear the case. Our source tells us the Supreme Court only hears 1% of the hearing requests. Opinion research shows Attorney General Buddy Caldwell is perceived to be the most honest public official in Louisiana and his office reviewed the McDonald decision and filed an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to hear the case because it was in conflict with other rulings. The Supreme Court still refused to hear the case. The two small businessmen, father and son, had to personally pay $2.3 million in unproven costs.