I walked into Judge Ledet's courtroom this morning at ten past eleven right as Greg Meffert was getting up to walk out.
"I gotta pee," he whispered way too loudly at no one in particular.
And so I found myself in Orleans Parish Civil District Court to check out the latest chapter in the ongoing crime camera saga.
I ended up feeling ill and going home to rest at the first recess so please check out David Hammer's reporting from the courtroom for the T-P, but I will add a couple of my own observations.
Hammer says Meffert "exuded confidence on the stand."
That's not an unfair characterization of how he conducted himself as testimony began. But watching him fidget in his seat beforehand makes me more inclined to consider his cute joke about talking to Drew Brees about his fantasy team to be a nervous defense mechanism. He seems to be a confident-sounding guy naturally. I remember when he went on Garland's show to defend himself. He sounded just as confident then, though he was also extremely agitated.
He was much calmer in court, and seemed to grow more comfortable and confident as the Jim Garner, the plaintiffs' attorney, established a pace to the questioning.
I suppose the big story is that Meffert even testified in the first place, or more specifically, that he didn't plead the Fifth at every opportunity, but someone must have tipped everyone off beforehand.
I really wanted to hear some audible gasps but none came.
So why didn't Meffert invoke the Fifth Amendment?
Isn't he worried about incriminating himself?
I'm just speculating here, but he wouldn't have to worry about incriminating himself if he'd inked a deal to cooperate with the Department of Justice in the swirling federal investigation of City Hall. If a plea agreement is already in place, Meffert may be assured immunity from additional charges stemming from his testimony in the crime camera civil case.
Meffert seemed primed to throw former employee Chris Drake under the bus. Meffert constantly reiterated how much he had on his plate and how he had trusted Drake and delegated the crime camera project to him.
Also from the T-P write-up:
"Good, bad or indifferent, Hawaii definitely had nothing to do with crime cameras, nothing to do with the city of New Orleans," Meffert said. "I had this buisiness. I had the opportunity to give him (Nagin) a break. We went up there as friends. We barbecued. That was when he broke his ankle, if you remember that."
Meffert said he paid out of his own pocket for a "house" in Hawaii and had the mayor and his family stay there with him. He said he was there to meet with economic development officials in Waikiki, but was also there "for pleasure."
Meffert also used the NetMethods credit card to send the Nagins on first-class flights to Jamaica after Hurricane Katrina, but he hasn't fielded any questions about that today.
Meffert said the credit card was a way to supplement his $150,000 annual City Hall income, which amounted to a "50 percent pay cut" for him after some success in the private sector. He likened it to extra-duty pay for a police officer and said the card had nothing to do with crime cameras or work for Dell.
"My relationship with NetMethods was contemplated from the get-go of my coming on with the city," Meffert said, although he started at City Hall in 2002 and NetMethods wasn't created by St. Pierre until 2004. He said he needed the extra income to justify taking the city job because he had enjoyed an income of "a few hundred thousand dollars a year" at the time.
Meffert said the work he did for NetMethods had to do with kiosks and Web solutions the company developed, not crime cameras."I saw no conflict in what I endeavored to do," Meffert said.
Kudos to Hammer for contextualizing Meffert's testimony with the truth. Meffert said that the side pot credit card was part of the deal that allowed him to leave the private sector even though he didn't get a credit card from NetMethods until a few years later since NetMethods didn't yet exist when Meffert moved into City Hall.
For reasons I don't understand, the plaitiffs' attorney Jim Garner didn't press Mr. Meffert on that, didn't follow up with any questions seeking to clarify when Mr. Meffert began receiving payments from NetMethods.
I caught another really interesting quote that Hammer omitted from the T-P article from that same string of dialogue highlighted above.
Referencing the credit card he received from NetMethods, Meffert was explaining how he didn't think having this side account made a difference. He compared it to how NOPD officers have moonlighting gigs on the side of their regular hours on the force.
"When I decided to take a job with the city, the concept [of having a credit card paid for by NetMethods] was introduced to me."
(That quote might not be exactly verbatim, the part that caught my ear was "the concept was introduced to me," so I admit that I might not have the opening clause exactly word-for-word.)
That, to me, begs the question: Who, Mr. Meffert, was it that first introduced you to the concept of maintaining secret expense accounts with private contractors with whom the city does business?
When the court broke for lunch, I had to go home.
Hopefully this won't be the last time I make it in to watch this case
What are your thoughts? Does Meffert's decision to waive his right not to incriminate himself indicate a deal? Or do you think Meffert believes he's at no risk of incriminating himself?