Whitney Pesnell vs. Caddo Commission … Because It’s Right

August 13, 2016

As our work against Caddo Parish Commission corruption broadens and deepens, one of its untold stories is ripe for telling.  It is Whitney Pesnell’s story, the Shreveport attorney volunteering his services while lawyers on the other side rake in loads of our money for all the wrong reasons.

My research into what has proven to be a Commission self-pay scandal peaked in November 2014.  I then reached out to attorney friend and government watchdog, the late C.B. Forgotston.  With the help of legislative staff specialists he knew, C.B. laboriously vetted my research, on his own dime.

I will never forget C.B.’s encouragement as he so creatively concluded, “Elliott, you got ’em surrounded.  All they can do now is come out with their hands up!”  

From the jump, we proved that the retirement benefit Commissioners had been paying themselves since early 2000 – the Caddo Parish Employees Retirement System, “CPERS” – was explicitly banned years earlier by a statewide constitutional amendment vote.

On December 22, 2014, the first installment of my work was published online.  Entitled “Caddo Commissioners Hit Us Again … and Hard,” parts two and three followed on December 31, 2014, and January 7, 2015.  (Articles herehere and here.)

Then, Whitney Pesnell volunteered to “do the legal work,” also pro bono. His soon-following additional research uncovered far more illegal self-pay than CPERS.  Some of that – illegal salary increases – began in the early 1990s.

Just after my research was released, Daryl Purpera, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor (LLA) officially responded.  On February 12, 2015, he notified the Commission by letter that CPERS benefits for Commissioners had been banned as of January 1, 1997.  Mr. Purpera would later and well sum-up how the Commission should respond:

“The Parish should consult with legal counsel on options to remedy and recoup the improper contributions paid into the retirement accounts of Commissioners.”

The Caddo Commission conferred with “legal counsel” alright, but in direct opposition:  to preserve Caddo Commissioners’ grab.

Commissioners hired local attorney Tom Arceneaux.  On the same day as the LLA letter, he filed suit in state district court his opening gambit in the op to protect Commissioners.  A month later, Whitney Pesnell responded with my lawsuit on behalf of taxpayers.

Local lawyers Jerry Edwards and Michael Lowe soon joined Arceneaux, plying their trade to prevent taxpayers from recouping our losses.  In fact, they drive our losses higher:  as of the middle of last month, Commissioners have been given $120,332.28 of our money to work against our interests.

While Whitney Pesnell works long and hard for us, attorneys on the other side work for the money … so Commissioners can keep what they broke laws to take.

This battle has been upside-down and inside-out for Whitney Pesnell.  He is dead in the middle of what may ultimately prove to be a local surrender of The Law to corruption.

An example is the successful argument (subject to appeal) by Commission attorneys that neither I nor any other lowly Caddo citizen taxpayer has a right to sue the Caddo Commission, or Commissioners individually, to recoup money we lose to their corrupt acts.

Yes, you read that right.  Arceneaux, et al, insist only the offenders, Commissioners themselves, are legally allowed to “recover” for taxpayers that which those same Commissioners broke laws to take.  If such were possible, of course, no Commissioners would have taken our money in the first place, or they would have quickly returned the plunder to public coffers.

Whitney Pesnell fights such unthinkable stuff because it is the right thing to do.  Period.

Elliott Stonecipher

All of this work is pro bono.  I have, since March 2014, written and published online 52 articles about corruption within the Caddo Parish Commission.  Many of the articles may be read on RealShreveport.com.  Click first on “News,” then “CPERS Timeline,” and begin reading the first – oldest – article at the bottom of Page 3.

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