Criminal Justice
 

True to word, Gusman yanking deputies from courthouse

By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman partially will follow through Tuesday on his threat to pull some security from the Criminal District Court building unless the city pays him an extra $500,000.

In a letter sent today to Criminal District Court Chief Judge Julian Parker, Gusman’s chief deputy said he will pull his deputies from the Tulane Avenue entrance of the courthouse Tuesday.

Gusman will continue to supply security at the Broad Street entrance, which is now a juror’s entrance.

The move will come as a surprise to those deputies on duty at the Tulane Avenue entrance today.

“I heard there was a meeting about it, but that’s about it,” said one deputy on duty at the Tulane Avenue entrance to the courthouse. “Until I’m told otherwise, I’m going to be here.”

A deputy monitors an X-ray machine at the courthouse's Tulane Avenue entrance Monday morning.

Gusman threatened to pull his deputies out last year, but the City Council paid him an emergency appropriation of $900,000 at the last minute. This year, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office responded to Gusman’s threat by standing firm, telling The Lens and Fox8 News that “the fiscal year ends December 31st,” and “we don’t understand why some departments and agencies spent their budgets as if the fiscal year ended in October.”

City Council members deferred comment to the Landrieu administration, which did not return calls or e-mails. Likewise, Gusman’s office has not yet issued a response.

The removal of some courthouse deputies is likely to escalate tensions between Gusman and Landrieu’s administration, after the sheriff’s July threat to take the city to court unless it paid him more money to house inmates.

Instead, Gusman’s office took a pounding in Landrieu’s proposed budget, released Oct. 15. Gusman asked for $36.3 million, but Landrieu submitted a request to the City Council of only $22.7 million. The council will vote on a final budget Dec. 1.

Unlike other sheriffs around the country who get a set sum for the year, Gusman is paid a daily rate per inmate in his jail, which provides a perverse fiscal incentive to keep inmates in jail. Landrieu’s proposed budget is based on Gusman reducing his inmate population from 2,300 city inmates this year to about 2,000, through the increased use of summonses and diversion programs. Gusman, on the other hand, projected a population of 2,800. Neither figure includes state or federal prisoners.

At the same time, Landrieu’s office has convened a committee, which is expected to dramatically reduce the size of Gusman’s proposed new jail when it makes a recommendation on Nov. 22.

A spokesman for District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said he plans to meet tomorrow morning with Landrieu and Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas to explore the possibility of police officers providing security at the courthouse.

“This situation will certainly impede the administration of criminal justice at a time when we are starting to turn the corner in our fight against the violent criminals,” Assistant District Attorney Christopher Bowman said.

Criminal District Court Chief Judge Parker has asked the mayor to assign three uniformed New Orleans police officers to secure the entrance to the building.

“We anticipate that this will present a significant hardship,” Judge Parker wrote, in a statement issued through a representative. “Approximately 1000 people pass through the entrance of the Criminal Court Building daily. There are 240 employees of the Court and the Clerk of Court’s Office, 250 jurors who report daily, D.A.’s, attorneys and public defenders and hundreds of people with business at the Courthouse.”

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