SHREVEPORT — A judge recently dismissed a defamation case against the mayor of Shreveport and her top administrator.
The suit alleged that Mayor Ollie Tyler and Brian Crawford, the city’s chief administrative officer (CAO), equated a lawsuit against the city to blackmail.
The lawsuit the city officials were allegedly referring claims that Scott Pernici, a Shreveport businessman, and Michael Wainwright, a former Shreveport attorney, were not compensated after discovering a glitch in the city’s water billing system that allegedly cost Shreveport $1 million.
“It is my understanding that the judge found the mayor and the CAO comments were made in the context of a matter of public concern," Wainwright told the Louisiana Record. "Though untrue, the statements fell within the protection of the First Amendment and represented only their personal opinions, not allegations of fact under the overall circumstances.”
Wainwright said he and Pernici will appeal Judge Craig Marcotte’s ruling, which held that the First Amendment protected the mayor's and CAO's comments.
"The fact that the mayor’s allegations of attempted blackmail and extortion were accompanied by her declaration that she was referring the matter to the U. S. Department of Justice creates an inference that she was alleging that we had committed a felony," Wainwright said. "That, in my opinion, puts their statements outside the protections of the First Amendment.”
Some have argued that Pernici came up with an elaborate scheme to take advantage of the billing error. Wainwright has denied the accusations, but he conceded that he, Pernici and others gathered and analyzed water bills to construct a pattern.
“Once a pattern emerged, i.e. the error did not occur on lower-tier billings, but only upper-tier billings and the error maxed out at some point," Wainwright said. "We then went to work on figuring out just what the city was doing wrong. That puzzle was tough to break, but trial and error, plus Scott’s whiz-kid youngest son, eventually broke the code.”
Wainwright felt the information would be invaluable to the city once he understood the quantifiable fiscal impact.
“In effect, they [the city] could increase their revenues about $1 million per year without passing any new taxes or raising any new fees," Wainwright said. "The $1 million would continue and grow because of the already scheduled rate hikes.”
The allegations of extortion and blackmail stem from Wainwright and his team requesting a fee of 25 percent during the initial four years for uncovering the error.
“We have never demanded any sum of money from the city," Wainwright said. "Our proposed contract contained our request for a 25 percent contingency, but we repeatedly made clear that we were seeking a mutually agreed upon reasonable compensation that took into consideration the value we brought to the table.”