Criminal Justice

Judge tells sheriff, public defenders to negotiate solution to privacy complaint

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman's attorneys were told to work with the Public Defender's Office to find a solution to complaints over attorney-client privacy. Photo by Tom Gogola

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s attorneys were told to work with the Public Defender’s Office to find a solution to complaints over attorney-client privacy. Photo by Tom Gogola

Attorneys suing Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman over what they say is a lack of confidentiality in attorney-inmate consultations were told by a judge Monday to come back to court Thursday — ideally with a deal negotiated with Gusman’s attorneys.

Civil-rights and defense attorneys have long complained about a lack of private rooms and an overall absence of confidentiality for prisoner-attorney meetings in Orleans Parish Prison, which is run by Gusman

An initial lawsuit was filed in October by the Orleans Parish Public Defender’s Office, and Loyola University’s Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic later joined as a plaintiff.

The most recent court action, filed in March, asks the court to issue an injunction that would prevent Gusman from violating Constitutional guarantees of privacy in attorney-prisoner discussions.

Judge Kern Reese met privately with lawyers from these organizations and the Sheriff’s Office. Afterward in open court, he said the parties ought to be able to work out an agreement, rather than asking him to issue an order.

Attorney Elizabeth Cummings, who is representing the Public Defender’s Office, is pursuing two reforms.

One would impel Gusman to provide private consultation rooms or areas for lawyers and their clients at all Orleans Parish Prison facilities.

The other seeks to ensure that the 1,438-bed jail under construction would be built to provide a maximum of attorney-client privacy, Cummings said.

Reese scheduled the next hearing for 9 a.m. Thursday.

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About Tom Gogola

Tom Gogola covered criminal justice for The Lens from February 2012 to May 2013. He is a veteran journalist and editor who has written on a range of subjects for many publications, including Newsday, New York, The Nation, and Maxim. Gogola was a 2011 winner of the Hillman Foundation Sidney Award, for his groundbreaking report in New York magazine detailing regulatory waste in the commercial fishing industry.