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Wisner heirs battle City in Civil Court

NEW ORLEANS - Attorneys for the city argued with heirs to the Wisner fortune most of the day Tuesday, seeking control of a fund that generates tens of millions of dollars each year.

The fund, which derives revenues from thousands of acres of South Louisiana land, was set up in 1914 by Edward Wisner to benefit the city, and the city says its management structure should change next year to give the city full control.

The control of the Wisner Trust and the millions it generates is now in the hands of a state court judge. Attorneys for the Wisner heirs and the city argued most of the day, with the heirs saying the donation should remain in place forever. But attorneys for the mayor argued that it should expire next year, 100 years after the trust was set up, with the city maintaining full control.

"We're not in a position to comment right now, we prefer not to," said Wisner heirs' attorney Dan Lund. "I'm sure our clients will have something to say in a day or two."

The trust governs the use of revenues from 50,000 acres of land in Lafourche, Jefferson and St. John the Baptist parishes. It includes money generated from most of Port Fourchon, as well as revenues from oil leases, camp rentals and hunting rights.

For most of the last century, part of the proceeds have gone to the City of New Orleans, Tulane, LSU, the Salvation Army and about 40 Wisner heirs, but that could change if the city gets full control of the fund that it argues was intended to benefit New Orleans.

Also on the stand today was the mayor's executive counsel Erica Beck, who testified that shortly after Mayor Landrieu took office, they took a hard look at all revenue streams and contracts in an effort to try and maximize their benefits.

One of those revenue streams was the Wisner Trust.

And the city has now spent millions of dollars from it, including $500,000 for the mayor's crime-fighting program called "NOLA for life," under a new grant procedure, separate and apart from the old advisory system that operated for decades.

Though some say the mayor's new grant selection process appears to be more transparent, the heirs say it's a violation, and they're trying to have the mayor removed as a trustee of a fund that promises to generate tons of new cash in the decades to come.

Judge Melvin Zeno, sitting ad hoc in Orleans Civil Court, says he will rule later on who will control the fund.

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