Criminal Justice
 

Public Defender says sheriff doesn't provide place for attorney, clients to meet privately

A new temporary jail built by Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman shows he is not serious about providing inmates with their constitutional right to private visits with their attorneys, according to a request for an injunction filed this morning.

The Orleans Parish Public Defender’s Office filed the request in Civil District Court, alleging that Gusman is lagging in his response to an original lawsuit on the issue filed in October.

Through this filing, the Public Defender’s Office hopes to force Gusman to provide a private meeting area for inmates and their attorneys.

Because Gusman has recently opened a new temporary jail facility where inmates’ private visitation rights are all but ignored, the attorneys feel a new sense of urgency in the litigation process, they say, and they are aiming to get the issues resolved quickly.

“At the new facility there’s no private visitation areas, you have to pass documents through a deputy, and everything is done through video conferencing, which makes private consultation with clients all but impossible,” said civil rights attorney Liz Cumming, who filed the injunction this morning along with fellow attorney Stephen Haedicke. Both are representing the Public Defender’s Office.

Because the new facility has been built with FEMA money and has come online well after Hurricane Katrina, Cumming said that Gusman has “no excuse” for failing to provide adequate attorney visitation facilities at the new jail.

Cumming and Haedicke went to court against  Gusman in October, and Gusman’s attorneys responded but withheld some of the discovery information Cumming and Haedicke had asked for, Cumming said.

“Rather than wrangle with Gusman’s attorneys about what pieces of discovery are required, the injunction aims to push the timeline forward for the sheriff to acknowledge that there is a significant and ongoing problem here,” she said.

Following the filing of the request for injunction, a hearing must happen within 10 days.

A spokeswoman for the Public Defender’s Office said attorneys now must wait up to two hours to see clients at the House of Detention, following a narrowing of visitation hours, and that with some attorneys carrying caseloads of up to 150 clients, such wait times are unacceptable.

Gusman’s spokesman, Malcolm Ehrhardt, did not respond to a request for comment.

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  • Neville Delettre

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