Monday, March 26, 2012

Public defenders file for injunction against sheriff, demand immediate improvements to client access

Posted By on Mon, Mar 26, 2012 at 12:39 PM

The Orleans Public Defenders (OPD) office today filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against Sheriff Marlin Gusman and the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office (OPSO) demanding "immediate constitutionally compliant access to clients" detained in the parish jail system.

Since filing a lawsuit last fall claiming a lack of privacy, restrictive visiting hours and lack of facilities that would allow attorneys and clients to view court documents together in OPSO controlled facilities, " not only have visitation conditions not improved, attorneys say they have actually worsened" says an OPD press release.

(OPSO officials could not immediately comment on the motion.) See below for update.

The OPD filing says part of the reason for the worsening conditions is the opening of OPSO's new temporary detention facility on South Salcedo Street. The facility opened on March 1, and 200 pretrial inmates were transferred there. Public defenders with clients in the new facility claim they weren't informed that the temporary center was opened and, for the first five days of the month, were not able to visit them because it wasn't ready for visitation.

Since then, defenders have only been allowed to visit clients intermittently, court filings claim.
From today's motion:

"At this time, no official visitation hours have been announced; however, OPD staff has been told by Sheriff deputies at the facility that hours of visitation are 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily. However, attorneys have been denied visitation when they have attempted to conduct an evening visit."

When defenders are able to speak to their clients, OPD says, they can only speak to each other through video, which can be viewed by anyone else in the room with a detainee. From the OPD's motion:

"Whereas the attorney is sitting in a fully enclosed, private room, the detaiinee is not sitting in an enclosed space. Rather, the detainees' visitation space is at one end of a large open room used for recreation (watching TV) and dining for all TDC inmates. The video screens for visitation is [sic] on the same wall as the television. Detainees watching television can see who is conducting an attorney visit.


"Additionally, the video and phone system is on a timer. After 15 minutes, the video screen and the phone goes dead. Attorney must then request the sheriff deputy to reactivate the system."

“The complete lack of confidentiality currently in TDC cannot be blamed on Katrina or the poor construction of the existing facilities. This failure has created a new and increased urgency to ensure visitation conditions at both the existing structures and the planned jail meet the basic constitutional requirements for privacy and access to clients,” says Elizabeth Cumming, an attorney representing OPD, in the press release.

Update: A spokesperson for OPSO has emailed the following statement attributed to Gusman:

"The Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office has not been served with the revised complaint filed by the Public Defender's Office. As a result, we cannot speculate about the details contained in their document.

That being said, the OPSO is ready and willing to work with the Public Defender's Office to address their needs and ensure that all defendants are able to meet with their designated counsel. We are making every effort to create a safe environment that allows public defenders and all attorneys to meet with their clients and conduct their business in an efficient manner."

(An unrelated story about the safe environment from Laura Maggi: "Federal Inmates pulled out of the Orleans Parish jail" )

Read the motion for an injunction and supporting documents, including attorney affidavits, here (47 page PDF): preliminary_injunction_filing_and_exhibits.pdf

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