Shortly after concluding a hearing to determine the cost of a consent decree for the Orleans Parish jail, U.S. District Judge Lance Africk gave lawyers another two weeks to pick an independent firm to monitor compliance with the ordered reforms.
The selection of the consent decree monitor is not being conducted in the same quasi-public process as the monitor for the consent decree for the New Orleans Police Department. In that case, a joint committee of the U.S. Department of Justice and the city of New Orleans held public meetings and conducted some behind-the-scenes negotiations.
For the jail consent decree, the parties to the lawsuit — the Sheriff’s Office, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the city of New Orleans and the Justice Department — must jointly pick a firm.
Other jail consent decree monitors, such as in Los Angeles, have been chosen the same way, according to reviews of those court orders.
In Africk’s order, issued Tuesday, he gave the parties until Aug. 19 to pick a monitor. If they can’t agree, they must file briefs in support of their picks by Aug. 23, and Africk will pick a firm.
The court monitor came up in this week’s hearing during the testimony of jail expert James Austin. On Monday, city attorney Harry Rosenberg asked Austin if the jail could save money by cutting high-paid administrators and hiring more front-line deputies. Austin said a jail administrator could make such decisions; Africk responded that a consent decree monitor would make its own assessments too. He then urged the parties to make a decision on the monitor soon.
The selection of the NOPD monitor was beset with delays and politics. The firms submitted their proposals in October, but a joint committee of the Justice Department and the city couldn’t agree on a firm by this summer. In July, U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan picked Sheppard Mullin, the Justice Department’s choice.
Besides the selection of the jail court monitor, the next step in the process is a Sept. 30 hearing to determine how much the consent decree will cost once a new jail complex is open.