Final negotiations on a consent decree improving conditions at Orleans Parish Prison now hinge on funding, according to court documents filed over the past several days in a federal class action lawsuit against Sheriff Marlin Gusman and the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office. To resolve a dispute between city government — which is reluctant to "write a blank check" to cover the costs of jail reforms — and the other parties to the suit, U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk has said he will appoint retired Criminal District Court Judge Terry Alarcon as special master to arbitrate.
The plaintiffs — the Southern Poverty Law Center and the U.S. Department of Justice — have agreed to a special master.
But a statement filed by assistant city attorney Sharonda Williams today asks Africk to reconsider, indicating that the city wants a full discovery process followed by an evidentiary hearing on appropriate funding levels and sources.
The statement also offers this warning:
As the City stated during the last status conference held on Monday, October 15, 2012, the City is keenly interested in obtaining additional information on the issue of funding as the City is not prepared to “write a blank check." The additional funding being sought by the Sheriff would have a crippling effect on the City’s operations.
(More after the jump)
It is worth repeating—for every million dollars requested, the City will need to furlough at least 24 employees between now and the end of the year. This would include critical personnel such as police officers and firefighters. The safety of the citizens of New Orleans should not be jeopardized by the payment of unsubstantiated amounts to the Sheriff when the Sheriff simply may need to use his current funding more effectively.Indeed, the Louisiana Constitution, the Code of Civil Procedure, and the Louisiana Revised Statutes prevent courts from ordering a municipality from appropriating funds if such action would create a deficit that would require the City to lay-off or furlough a significant number of employees.
As part of the proposed discovery process, the city hopes to audit Gusman's books to find out whether the funds he already receives are being used properly, or whether he has "other revenue sources that will allow him to operate the jail constitutionally."
"There has been no proof that any alleged unconstitutional conditions at the jail are the result of a lack of funding. These statements are pure speculation at this point," the statement says.
Despite its objections to the use of the special master, if Africk chooses to appoint one, the city does not object to Alarcon, the filing concludes.
Read the city's full statement: 08516124348.pdf
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