Criminal Justice
 

State says it’s still waiting on Gusman to prove deputies should get extra pay

A month after Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman claimed he had won a lawsuit against the Louisiana Department of Treasury to force it to pay bonuses to some of his deputies, the case remains unresolved.

Last week, a lawyer for the state told a judge that Gusman hasn’t followed through with what seemed last month to be a formality: written job descriptions, signed by the sheriff to pledge that they’re accurate.

Instead, Gusman has handed over unsigned Word documents that the Department of Treasury says are useless. Even that took almost a month, wrote Thomas Enright Jr., executive counsel for the department.

The dispute concerns 38 Orleans Parish sheriff’s deputies who Gusman said should get a supplement of $500 a month. The state offers the extra pay to deputies who are directly involved in law enforcement. For Orleans Parish deputies, that means at least half of their time must be spent supervising inmates.

In April, the state legislative auditor reported that Gusman may have misused more than $1 million in supplemental pay over three years because he submitted paperwork requesting the supplement for 56 deputies who didn’t appear to qualify. That included administrative staff, kitchen workers and maintenance personnel.

Two months before that report came out, the Treasury Department began withholding the supplemental pay for 38 deputies still employed by Gusman. He sued after the report was released, claiming that those deputies were entitled to the bonuses.

The two sides met in court last month and verbally reached a deal, as long as Gusman provided full job descriptions for all the employees and the Treasury department signed off on them.

Gusman announced that he had won the case.

Since then, he has provided two batches of job descriptions, one in late April and another this month.

But there’s no sign of who prepared them, and the sheriff hasn’t signed them, Enright wrote. Normally sheriffs are required to sign the forms requesting supplements, promising that the information is accurate.

“It is simply untenable to expect Defendant [the Department of Treasury] to disburse public funds based on unsigned, unverified information — particularly when the submitted expressly refuses to do so,” Enright wrote in a letter to East Baton Rouge Parish Civil District Judge Janice Clark last week.

Gusman spokesman Phil Stelly did not respond to repeated requests to comment on this story.

Enright also objected to Gusman’s proposed agreement to end the lawsuit because it appears to require the department to continue paying the bonus to these deputies regardless of their job duties.

An alternate agreement, prepared by Enright, would make it clear that the deputies would  receive the pay in the future only if they work in eligible positions.

“If it becomes apparent to this Honorable Court that no agreement was actually reached on the day of the hearing … the Defendant respectfully requests this matter be set for trial,” Enright wrote.

Some of the job descriptions Gusman’s office submitted to the Department of Treasury do not match the ones provided verbally outside court in May, Enright wrote.

And the ones provided in writing to the Department of Treasury differ from the ones Gusman gave to U.S. District Judge Lance Africk in February in a separate matter, the federal consent decree over the parish jail.

One example is Michael Carr, a maintenance worker, a job that state law specifically excludes from supplemental pay.

This is how Gusman described Carr’s duties in the federal court filing: “Performs duties associated with installing, repairing and maintaining pipes, fixtures and other plumbing for water and wastewater distribution and disposal” at the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office.

And this is how he described Carr’s duties to the Department of Treasury: “Care, custody and control of inmates assigned to assist the Facilities Maintenance Division. Responsible for general maintenance of the jail facilities.”

Treasury spokeswoman Michelle Millhollon told The Lens that the department is prepared to pay the 30 deputies that appear to be eligible as soon as the sheriff “submits their names on a signed, dated list.”

That leaves eight others. The department wasn’t able to determine whether five of them should get the bonus based on Gusman’s job descriptions.

Gusman has voluntarily removed the last three from his supplemental pay list, though he insisted in a letter to State Treasurer John Kennedy that they are still eligible. He didn’t explain why he removed them, writing, “This is simply a decision I have made in my discretion.”

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