Power of the Press

A combination of publicity and excellent reporting appears to have influenced events in the Meraux case in a positive direction, perhaps by sensitizing the participants that they were being publicly scrutinized.

In 1995, Arlene Meraux formed the Joseph and Arlene Meraux Charitable Foundation to support local causes in St. Bernard Parish.  Years later, Judge Wayne Cresap ruled Arlene Meraux mentally incompetent and placed lawyer Sal Gutierrez in charge of her financial affairs.  According to Karen Turni Bazile, who closely followed the Meraux case:

“After Cresap's ruling, the makeup of the foundation board was altered to include several parish power brokers.  Those politically stacked appointments led to concern among community leaders that the money might not go to charitable causes and may instead be used to benefit the parish's most influential citizens.” [1]

Initially, Gutierrez blocked Meraux's niece, the heir apparent, from participating on the foundation board.  However, upon Meraux's death, he relinquished his role as curator of Meraux's $250 million estate to the niece but remained on the board as one of its five members.  Thus far, the foundation appears to be using its assets for charitable causes that will benefit the general public in St. Bernard Parish [1].

While the issue of Arlene Meraux's disinherited children is still unsettled [2,3], as is the fate of the estate's large tracts of undeveloped land, the press clearly played an important role in averting potential misconduct by spotlighting a situation that was developing in the dark shadows of St. Bernard Parish's political landscape.

After the board paid all attorneys' fees (undisclosed), it began distributing the remaining Meraux proceeds between its own salaries and charitable donations, which in 2007 were $480,000 and $327,000, respectively [4].  In an unrelated matter, Judge Cresap was arrested in 2009 and charged with bribery. [4].  He allegedly was receiving bribes in exchange for allowing inmates to be released from St. Bernard Prison without putting up bond money [5].  In 2010, the corrupt judge was sentenced to five years in prison [6].

  1. Karen Turni Bazile, "Heir to Meraux fortune dies at 80; Philanthropist leaves her estate to charity," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, December 3, 2003, p. A-1.

  2. Karen Turni Bazile, "Conflicting will filed by Meraux's daughter; '92 will includes daughter, grandchildren," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, December 4, 2003, p. A-1.

  3. Karen Turni Bazile, "Meraux estate dispute lives on in the courts; Daughter challenging ruling on curators," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, January 27, 2004, p. A-1.

  4. Chris Kirkham, "Target of probe took on tough cases; But judge avoids fray in St. Bernard," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, May 3, 2009, National, p. 1.

  5. Chris Kirkham, "State judge faces federal charges; Filing identifies two lawyers in St. Bernard as conspirators," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, July 2, 2009, Metro, p. 1.

  6. Chris Kirkham, "St. Bernard judge gets five years in prison; He was part of scheme to release inmates without bond," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, September 10, 2010, National, p. 1.