Orleans Parish Prison

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A public defense crisis in Louisiana: 33 of 42 public defenders' offices restricting client services due to funding shortfalls

Posted By on Wed, May 25, 2016 at 3:49 PM


Early last year, Louisiana prosecutors accused and a grand jury indicted local resident Darrian Franklin of second-degree murder after 35-year-old Trenton Gary was shot five times and left to die on the side of Behrman Highway.

In the coming months, Franklin may be released from Orleans Parish Prison. But it’s not because a jury has found him to be innocent of the crime.

Rather, it’s the symptom of what Orleans Public Defender Derwyn Bunton has called a “constitutional crisis” for lawyers representing those too poor to afford private attorneys.

Citing funding shortfalls, the local public defender’s office in January stopped taking complex cases. As a result, Franklin and six other inmates accused of rape, armed robbery and other serious crimes sat for up to four months in jail without seeing a lawyer. In April, Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter demanded their prosecution halt, and a higher court is considering their release.

Franklin’s is one of more than 340 cases that have been refused so far this year in New Orleans. The problem extends statewide, as 33 out of 42 public defenders offices in Louisiana are refusing cases or placing clients on waitlists. Thousands are now sitting in jail, with no foreseeable legal assistance.

As the legal drama comes to a head, the indigent clients, defense lawyers, local judges and legislators all have been in the spotlight, many opining on how best to handle defenders’ dwindling fiscal resources amid the state’s $600 million budget gap.

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Landrieu unveils New Orleans' $593 million budget for 2016

Posted By on Thu, Oct 15, 2015 at 3:36 PM

Mayor Mitch Landrieu. - CHERYL GERBER
  • Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu's top priority is making New Orleans safe, he said as he unveiled his proposed $592.7 million budget this morning. NOPD is set to be funded at $140 million, an 8 percent ($10.5 million) budget increase from 2015, and $31 million more than it received just six years earlier. "Fighting crime and making the city safe is always our No. 1 priority," Landrieu said.

New Orleans isn't cash-strapped — the city's proposed 2016 budget is $50 million higher than the 2015 budget, and it's nearly $100 million stronger than its 2010 budget. 

But the city also is on the hook for millions of dollars to pay New Orleans firefighters in an ongoing battle over pensions — and then there's funding the new jail, two consent decrees, and committing to a well-funded criminal justice system, including new infrastructure, pay raises and new hires within the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) to combat the city's ongoing crime issues.

Landrieu said "the big takeaway" from citywide public budget hearings this summer was "that people of New Orleans want solutions, real plans" to make this city safe and to create jobs, fix streets and offer more affordable housing. Those solutions in Landrieu's 2016 budget are among other "laser focus" priorities that the mayor has targeted, from fighting blight to ambitious capital projects and transportation infrastructure.

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Saturday, May 2, 2015

Library millage approved overwhelmingly, 75-25 percent; law enforcement millage redirection passes 52-48 percent

Posted By on Sat, May 2, 2015 at 10:30 PM

The main branch of the New Orleans Public Library. - CREATIVE COMMONS/JASON PARIS
  • The main branch of the New Orleans Public Library.

New Orleans voters today chose overwhelmingly to create a new 25-year, 2.5 mill tax to support the New Orleans Public Library (NOPL). While the library already is the recipient of a 3.14 mill tax, library officials warned that it wasn't enough to support the system long-term and said without new funds branches would shutter and hours would be cut.

With 99 percent of the vote counted, 75 percent of voters supported the tax, while 25 percent did not. The measure is expected to bring $8.25 million a year to the NOPL.  

The measure had wide community support, including endorsements by local newspapers and a number of New Orleans mayor's wives. The major opposition was stated by the Bureau of Governmental Research; officials said they supported the NOPL, but wanted a more detailed plan and urged that it be put on the fall ballot instead.

As of 10:25 p.m., another measure was too close to call — the redirection of a part of an existing millage to pay operational expenses at Orleans Parish Prison. That measure was barely ahead, 52 percent to 48 percent.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

John Waters on Robert Durst's arrest in New Orleans

Posted By on Mon, Mar 16, 2015 at 2:59 PM

Robert Durst, son of New York real estate mogul Seymour Durst, was arrested in New Orleans Saturday night. Durst has been a suspect in the deaths of three people and admitted he cut up a body in Texas in 2001. He's also the subject of the HBO documentary The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.

I spoke to John Waters this morning for a preview of his appearances at the Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival next week and asked him about the Durst situation. Waters likes to watch criminal trials and famously attended several Manson Family trials. (He also attended Watergate trials and said he'd like to be at the Boston Bomber trial.)

In his book Role Models, Waters includes a very long essay about Leslie Van Houten, a Manson Family member convicted of stabbing Rosemary LaBianca.

The Durst news was still fairly new to Waters, but here's a transcript of that part of the conversation. 

John Waters: I never got arrested in New Orleans. I bet that’s not a great place to go to jail in. I have a feeling it might be rather ... primitive.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Mayor Mitch Landrieu unveils 2015 budget

Posted By on Wed, Oct 15, 2014 at 3:04 PM

Mayor Mitch Landrieu introduces the city's 2015 budget to New Orleans City Council. - ALEX WOODWARD
  • Mayor Mitch Landrieu introduces the city's 2015 budget to New Orleans City Council.

"We heard you loud and clear," said Mayor Mitch Landrieu, addressing the New Orleans City Council and New Orleans residents who attended the citywide budget hearings to deliver input on the city's 2015 budget. According to Landrieu, people want more funding for public safety, jobs, recreation and blight reduction.

Public safety budget increases dominate the proposed $537 million budget, with calls for raises (the first in eight years), more recruits and new vehicles for the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD), while 6 percent of the total budget is dedicated to the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office. More than $7 million from the city's general fund is dedicated to NOPD consent decree improvements, and the 5 percent pay raise for NOPD adds $4.2 million to the budget. Additional funding will help pay for 150 new recruits, while Civil Service is slated to receive a $312,000 boost to pay for recruiting support.

In compliance with pending litigation to fully fund the New Orleans Fire Department pension fund, the budget includes a 37 percent increase to the pension fund, totaling $43.4 million. (Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin noted that the city will pay more in pension costs in 2015 than in firefighter salaries.)

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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Arrest warrant issued for former Orleans Parish Sheriff deputy

Posted By on Thu, May 8, 2014 at 4:34 PM

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman and District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.
  • Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman and District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman announced at a press conference today that a warrant has been issued for the arrest of Lateefa Marshall, a former sheriff's deputy who is accused of initiating a fight with an inmate and subsequently filing a false report about the incident.

On March 29, Marshall allegedly struck an inmate at the Orleans Parish Jail on the chest and head, leaving the inmate bruised. Marshall is charged with simple battery and malfeasance, and she was suspended from her duties as deputy within 24 hours of the fight. She was released from the department earlier this week.

Marshall, who had been working for the department a little over a year, is at large.

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

John Barry is King of Feb. 15 Krewe du Vieux Parade

Posted By on Tue, Feb 4, 2014 at 12:46 PM

Krewe du Vieux parades through Faubourg Marigny.

Gov. Bobby Jindal isn’t likely a fan of the satirical Krewe du Vieux. In recent years, floats have depicted him dumping an old woman out of a wheelchair into the jaws of an alligator (“YoMamaCare”) and forcing himself on a Pelican. This year, the boisterous krewe has anointed historian and wetlands restoration advocate John Barry as king of its “Where the Vile Things Are” parade.

The author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 spent much of the last year championing a lawsuit, that Jindal opposes — a lawsuit against oil companies to pay for damages they caused to the wetlands. On Feb. 15, Barry will lead the irreverent krewe and its procession of brass bands and satirical, racy and offbeat floats. A regular viewer of the parade, Barry embraced the crown with his own theme.

“I’m going to be John of Arc, the Blade of Orleans,” Barry says. “When I walked into the (Krewe du Vieux) den, it occurred to me. It seemed perfect. You have a crusade — trying to protect Orleans. Instead of the Maid of Orleans, it’s the Blade of Orleans.”

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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Election Night 2014: Gusman and Foti head to runoff in sheriff's race

Posted By on Sat, Feb 1, 2014 at 11:46 PM

Sheriff Marlin Gusman: Were going to be victorious.
  • Alex Woodward
  • Sheriff Marlin Gusman: "We're going to be victorious."

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman will face off against his predecessor, Charles Foti, in a March 15 runoff following today's election. With 100 percent of the vote in, Gusman fell just below the victory mark with 49 percent of the vote to Foti's 29 percent. Challenger Ira Thomas took 19 percent and Quentin Brown 3 percent.

"I've been on pins and needles upstairs," Gusman told supporters at LACE The Grand Ballroom banquet hall in New Orleans East after an early projection showed him taking the race outright. "We don't know 'for sure' for sure, but things look pretty good." Several minutes later, however, the situation had changed, and Gusman came back to tell the crowd, "Looks like we have a little more work to do. ... We're going to be victorious."

In perhaps the evening's biggest irony, Gusman had entered his party to the strains of the Doobie Brothers' "What a Fool Believes."

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Election Night 2014: Landrieu coasts to second term; Head, Guidry, Gray reelected

Posted By on Sat, Feb 1, 2014 at 10:15 PM

Mayor Mitch Landrieu greets supporters at his election night party at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown New Orleans Feb. 1.
  • Mayor Mitch Landrieu greets supporters at his election night party at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown New Orleans Feb. 1.

Repeatng his familiar "One team, one voice, one fight, one city" slogan in his victory speech, Mayor Mitch Landrieu pledged to continue  "peaceful pathway to the future ... and now the people of New Orleans have spoken again." 

"How y'all doin'?" he began to a crowd of several hundred supporters at the Hyatt Regency downtown, rattling off a list of the neighborhoods where he said he heard the voices of New Orleanians ("I heard you in Gentilly, Pontilly and Pontchartrain Park ... in Gert Town, in backatown, and Mama, I even heard you on Prieur Street"). "a city that is something more, a New Orleans that we've always dreamed she could be."

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Monday, January 20, 2014

The race for Orleans Parish Sheriff: who's in it and what's at stake

Posted By on Mon, Jan 20, 2014 at 10:27 AM

Former Orleans Parish Sheriff Charles Foti Jr. (left) and Orleans Parish School Board president and former NOPD officer Ira Thomas (right) are challenging Marlin Gusman (center) in the Orleans Parish Sheriff's race.
  • Former Orleans Parish Sheriff Charles Foti Jr. (left) and Orleans Parish School Board president and former NOPD officer Ira Thomas (right) are challenging Marlin Gusman (center) in the Orleans Parish Sheriff's race.

If there’s any seat that should be ripe for the picking in the Feb. 1 municipal election, it’s that of Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman. Last year, a 30-minute jailhouse video (made in 2009) went viral with its images of prisoners waving firearms, drinking beer, showing off pills, snorting white powder (from the cover of a Bible workbook) and roaming Bourbon Street. A federal consent decree, mandating extensive reforms at the jail, is about to kick in, which could cost the cash-strapped city millions per year.

Moreover, an October survey by University of New Orleans pollster Ed Chernevak showed Gusman had a 56 percent disapproval rating among voters — including a majority of black voters.

But consensus has eluded both of Gusman’s major opponents, while the incumbent’s campaign has picked up steam.

Gusman’s challengers are Charles Foti Jr., the former sheriff who held the job for nearly 30 years until he became Louisiana attorney general in 2004; and Ira Thomas, a 28-year veteran of the New Orleans Police Department and current president of the Orleans Parish School Board. A fourth candidate, Quentin Brown, is a local gardener who previously mounted homespun campaigns for mayor, city councilman and governor.

Everyone in town, including U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, who is presiding over litigation that led to the consent decree, agrees that Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) is an unsafe place. All, that is, except Gusman, who told an audience at a recent Alliance for Good Government forum that OPP is “on the cusp” of being “a world-class prison facility.”

“We are poised to make a big difference in the way we handle corrections in this community,” Gusman told Gambit recently.

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