In advance of a meeting today at the Superdome, a community group focused on police abuse has filed a letter with U.S. District Court Judge Susie Morgan and members of a selection committee urging them to disqualify the city’s preferred candidate to monitor reforms to the New Orleans Police Department.
The two companies under consideration are the Chicago-based Hillard Heintze and SheppardMullin, a corporate law firm based in Washington, D.C. Hillard Heintze is the city’s favorite; SheppardMullin is preferred by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The city and the Justice Department will meet Monday at noon in the Superdome’s Bienville Room to pick a winner. I will live-blog it below.
At stake is a four-year contract, worth at least $7 million, to monitor compliance with a federal consent decree outlining reforms to deal with improper policing and lack of training at the NOPD. If the city and the Justice Department can’t agree on a monitor, Morgan will make the decision by April 30.
Hillard Heintze raised eyebrows around town, and in the pages of the Louisiana Weekly, when it selected as its “special counsel to the monitor” the Rev. Charles Southall III, who has close ties to City Hall. His real estate ventures have been associated with unpaid property taxes and blighted properties in New Orleans.
SheppardMullin’s proposal, meanwhile, listed two members of the selection committee as job references.
Monday’s letter from Community United for Change highlights Southall’s ties to Mayor Mitch Landrieu and says he lacks the necessary independence to be part of a team charged with monitoring compliance with a 492-point reform plan for the New Orleans police.
Community United for Change “finds Hillard Heintze absolutely unqualified and asks the parties and the court to push Sheppard to create a robust and independent community component,” wrote Bill Quigley, a member of the group and a Loyola University law professor.
The letter also was sent to city and Justice Department officials on the selection committee.
The organization wasn’t happy with the Justice Department’s choice, either.
Quigley pointed out that Sheppard submitted its bid without identifying a local liaison. “It needs to do serious work in that area in order to have a realistic chance of being effective as a monitor of the NOPD,” Quigley wrote. “Absent vital community input and trust, the monitor will have little chance of success.”
The city told The Lens last week that all questions about Southall had to be put to Hillard Heintze. Company officials defended his inclusion and said they were confident in his abilities.