WDSU-TV6's Web site says political reporter Alec Gifford joined the station in 1955 "at the dawn of the television era." Now, Gifford's efforts on June 20 to interview newly elected New Orleans City Council member Jay Batt may become one of the more memorable chapters in the history of the dean of local journalists.
In a June 25 letter to WDSU-TV6 General Manager Mason Granger, Batt complains that Gifford "verbally and publicly accosted" him. Batt writes that Gifford "repeatedly approached [him] at inopportune moments for comments" and that tempers flared after the Council adjourned for lunch.
"Mr. Gifford accosted Council member Renee Gill-Pratt and myself in the Council chambers," Batt writes. "Loudly enough for all to hear, Mr. Gifford shouted, 'Why the f--k won't you answer my phone calls!?' He then pursued me into the hallway, shouting and cursing."
In the letter, Batt says that other council members and staff personnel witnessed the event. He states that Gifford will no longer receive access to him or his staff, and the letter concludes with Batt asking Granger to assign another reporter "as the liaison for District A."
Gifford declined comment on Batt's accusation. Granger confirms only that he received Batt's letter. "I don't have any comment on it other than to say, as you know, there's always two sides to every story," Granger says.
"I remember him saying something, and I know he cursed," says Pratt, a newly elected council member of District B. "I'm not exactly sure of the word that he used. I remember saying, 'Oh, you're hurting my ears.' And Mr. Batt said, 'You shouldn't have said that in front of Councilmember Pratt.'"
Pratt says she objected to Gifford going onto the Council dais during the meeting to try and arrange for an interview -- a common occurrence in prior city administrations. She says Gifford replied that he had been going up on the platform for years and no one had ever questioned him before. She says she asked Council President Eddie Sapir to tell Gifford not to come up on the dais again.
When the Council broke for lunch, according to another witness who asked not to be named, Batt headed toward the parking lot while talking on his cell phone. Outside the Council Chamber, in a glass-enclosed hallway notorious for its echo, Gifford approached Batt again, says the source: "Alec said, 'Are you going to give me a f--king interview or what?' And Jay said, 'Alec, you are the rudest son of a bitch I've ever known. You're rude. Can't you see I'm on the phone. ... What kind of bullshit is this?"
Council member Oliver Thomas says he also was in the foyer for the alleged altercation. "I just heard the curse word (from Gifford)," Thomas says. "I kept going. It doesn't need to happen. We have been seeing a whole lot of anger around the Council lately."
Pratt says Gifford was present as a reporter for last week's Council meeting, which he covered without fanfare.
Ganucheau to Retire at End of Year
Veteran Civil District Court Judge Richard Ganucheau stunned his fellow judges last week by announcing in an en banc meeting that he will not seek re-election this fall. Ganucheau, who was first elected to the bench in 1979, was twice elected clerk of Civil Court before winning his judgeship. "I have served in this building more than 29 years," the judge told Gambit Weekly.
Ganucheau, 64, has for more than a year presided over a protracted courtroom battle between tobacco companies and a group of plaintiffs who allege that cigarettes caused them numerous medical problems. After 13 months and several interim appeals, lawyers in the case have still not finished selecting a jury, although they are said to be close to finishing that task.
Ganucheau says that he hopes the case will be concluded by the time his term expires on Dec. 31. If not, he says, he would be willing to accept a special appointment from the state Supreme Court to continue presiding over the case. Opening statements have been set for Aug. 19, and lawyers have said testimony could take six months to a year to complete.
The vacancy created by Ganucheau's retirement will have a significant effect on judicial elections this autumn. All district court judges in the state are up for re-election, although incumbents rarely attract opposition. An open seat usually triggers a wide-open race, and it won't take long for lawyers to start queuing up for Ganucheau's seat.
In addition to the Civil and Criminal Court races, voters will fill two imminent vacancies on the state Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal. Those vacancies will occur upon the retirements of Judges Steven Plotkin and Miriam Waltzer. In addition, Fourth Circuit Judge Charles R. Jones is up for re-election.