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Friday, March 1, 2013

City files brief opposing OPP consent decree

Posted By on Fri, Mar 1, 2013 at 11:12 AM

The city of New Orleans yesterday filed a pleading in federal court opposing the final approval of the Orleans Parish Prison federal consent decree. While the city is committed to protecting the constitutional rights of inmates in OPP, it says, it objects to being tied to a consent decree while funding remains a question. The court has scheduled a hearing to determine the fairness and necessity of the consent decree for April 1. A hearing on paying for it — how much and who is responsible — is not scheduled until late May.

" is respectfully submitted that review of the proposed Consent Decree cannot be cleanly segregated from the funding hearing," reads the filing.

In July, the sheriff's office informed the city that estimated additional costs to bring the jail into compliance could run as much as $45 million in city dollars for the 2013 fiscal year, an increase of about $23 million from its current per prisoner per day general fund allocation. The filing says such and increase would force it to "lay off more than 600 employees or begin furloughing employees for periods in excess of thirty days."

(More after the jump)

The filing also says that Sheriff Marlin Gusman has not been held properly accountable for his oversight of the jail or how he handles his budget. From the filing:

Under the existing unorthodox framework between the Sheriff and the City, the Sheriff makes all operational decisions involving Orleans Parish Prison (“OPP”) while the City is relegated to contribute funds spent as the Sheriff wishes. Presumably recognizing that the Sheriff has unfettered discretion in running (or choosing not to oversee) the operations of OPP, the Plaintiffs and the Civil Rights Division only sued the Sheriff. This total absence of fiscal accountability by the Sheriff presumably encouraged him to join the Consent Decree without worrying for a moment how the sizeable costs of the proposed Consent Decree would be paid. Indeed, the Sheriff, like a dinner guest at an expensive restaurant, seems too carefree about the cost when he knows someone else can be forced to pick-up the tab.

The city says that Gusman has been less than forthcoming in disclosing his full revenue streams and how that money is spent. (Other revenue streams include commissions from foreclosure sales, commissary income and the Sheriff's Detail Fund.)

As one example of questionable spending, the city cites a recent WVUE report on the sheriff's legal bills.

Another recent news report issued just last week questions the amount of the Sheriff’s legal bills. It has been revealed that the Sheriff pays one of his law firms, who are serving as his counsel of record in this matter, a flat fee of $65,000.00 every two (2) weeks.73 According to the news reports, this sum of $65,000 disbursed every two weeks, year-in and year-out, does not depend upon the number of hours worked each week.74 The Sheriff’s counsel does not submit to the Sheriff—despite the fact that they are receiving public funds—detailed billing records stating exactly what his counsel does.75 This spending habit likewise calls into question the Sheriff’s ability to properly oversee the funds he now receives—much less even more dollars.

As John Simerman reports in The Times-Picayune, the filing also suggests federal receivership as a possible alternative remedy for the sheriff's office.

Read the complete filing: CityBriefonOPPConsent.pdf


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