By Tom Gogola, The Lens staff writer |
The Orleans Parish Public Defender’s Office and the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office resolved a lawsuit Thursday with a deal designed to end persistent complaints about a lack of attorney-client privacy at the Orleans Parish Prison.
Following a private meeting with lawyers Thursday morning, Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese said the agreement would be finalized and signed by all parties later this afternoon. The agreement ended a lawsuit filed against Sheriff Marlin Gusman in October seeking a court injunction to prevent the sheriff from violating constitutional guarantees of privacy in attorney-prisoner conversations.
Update, 4:45 p.m: The agreement has been signed and can be seen here.
In a statement, Gusman expressed satisfaction with the new arrangement, “which provides for advanced notice to the Sheriff’s Office for contact visits, sets parameters on the number of hours during which attorney visits can occur on weekdays and weekends,” and also limits attorneys’ requests for the number of inmate visits that can be requested at one time.
Part of the agreement would guarantee that defense attorneys would have access to floor plans of the new, 1,438-bed jail being built by Gusman on Perdido Street, said Stephen Haedicke, an attorney representing the Public Defender’s Office. That will let them monitor the design and building of the facility to avoid the confidentiality issues at the existing prison buildings, which prompted the lawsuit, Haedicke said.
And as part of an ongoing reorganization at the multi-facility Orleans Parish Prison, Gusman said that the recently closed House of Detention would still be used for visitations.
There is no area for visits in the post-Katrina temporary jail known as “the Tents,” which is where many of the complaints about confidential visits originated. The 700 prisoners in the FEMA-funded tents had been using the House of Detention for visits, but they had to share the space with the 692 prisoners formerly held there.
Gusman took an assertive tack in his statement, writing that “the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office has always provided and will continue to provide confidential attorney client consultations at its facilities.”
That would come as news to defense attorneys, who have complained about a lack of private rooms and an overall absence of confidentiality for prisoner-attorney meetings in Orleans Parish Prison.
Attorneys representing Gusman’s office were joined in Reese’s court by lawyers with Orleans Parish Public Defender’s Office and an attorney with the Loyola University Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic, which joined as a plaintiff in the suit.