OPP consent decree trial set for for early 2013

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wwltv.com

Posted on November 27, 2012 at 7:10 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 27 at 7:21 PM

Brendan McCarthy / Eyewitness News
Email: bmccarthy@wwltv.com | Twitter: @bmccarthyWWL

NEW ORLEANS -- The battle concerning a consent decree over Sheriff Marlin Gusman's office and his jail facilities will play out in federal court early next year.

A federal judge Monday ordered trials early next year in order to sort out the issues plaguing Gusman’s office and the prison complex.

Efforts to negotiate a consent decree between, Gusman, the City of New Orleans, the U.S. Justice Department and the Southern Poverty Law Center, have stalled in recent months.

A court notice filed Monday states that Gusman, U.S. Justice Department attorneys and the plaintiffs all agree that changes “need to be made to ensure the constitutionality of conditions at Orleans Parish prison facilities.”

Nonetheless, the city of New Orleans “will not agree that such changes are needed” until a dispute over funding is resolved.

In light of this, Africk ordered a trial take place to determine whether conditions at the prison are constitutional. That trial is set for Feb. 19.

A second trial – aimed at sorting out the funding issues – is set to take place in April.

Attendees at the conference this morning include Sheriff Marlin Gusman, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, New Orleans Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin, as well as federal judges and attorneys for the groups involved in the suit.

The groups discussed a decades-old consent decree – Hamilton, et al. v. Schiro, et al. – that outlines a how the city is to pay the sheriff a per diem on each inmate he houses.

The between the two mandated that the sheriff from 1990 through 2002 receive $19.65 per inmate, per day from the city. Through the years, costs and prison population rose. That rate eventually increased to the current $22.39.

The city also pays $3.2 million each year for medical expenses and services. That rate has not increased since 2003, according to Gusman’s office.

The court docket in the Hamilton case was re-opened Monday, records show. It was done so that Gusman “can pursue an adjustment to the current per diem rates provided by the 2003 Consent Decree,” according to a court filing.

A spokesman for Gusman said this evening he did not have any new information regarding the consent decree discussions.

Ryan Berni, spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu, reiterated the city’s stance in a statement released Monday.

“The city maintains its position that there has been no proof that any alleged unconstitutional conditions at the jail are the result of a lack of funding from the city,” Berni said.

“We are concerned about the allegations that have been made about the management of the jail,” he added.

Meanwhile, Katie Schwartzmann, attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said: “We are glad we are moving toward a trial on the merits and resolution of our client’s concerns.”

Gusman and the state of his jail facilities have been under scrutiny for years. The SPLC filed its federal civil rights lawsuit in April and the Justice Department joined the case against Gusman months later. The case is likely to serve as a vehicle for an eventual consent decree.

The groups had agreed recently to a slate of jail reforms, at least in principle, but remain divided on funding issues, according to court records.

Gusman said he wants nearly $40 million in interim funding from the city, a request that Mayor Mitch Landrieu called absurd.

 

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