U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk delayed Monday morning the second of three hearings on a consent decree for Orleans Parish Prison after a last-minute motion for a continuance. The city of New Orleans asked for the delay Monday morning because the sheriff has refused to provide budget documents, according to today’s filing.
“Despite the City’s best efforts to take discovery from the Sheriff on these issues, the city has been faced with delay and foot-dragging by the Sheriff,” reads the city’s memorandum in support of its motion. All parties to the lawsuit, including the sheriff, agreed to the continuance.
Monday’s hearing, the second of three, followed an April hearing to determine whether conditions at the jail are unconstitutional and whether the consent decree would address them. In a ruling last week, Africk ruled yes on both issues.
The next and possibly more contentious task before the court is to determine how much the consent decree will cost and who will pay for it. Monday’s hearing was to be the start of that debate; now it will start June 24.
In Monday’s abbreviated hearing, Africk also referred to recent claims, made by the U.S. Department of Justice and inmates represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, that the new 1,438-bed jail complex is inadequate. The plaintiffs have stated in court filings that the complex, approved by City Council in 2011 and now under construction, will not meet the medical and mental health needs of the inmates as required by the consent decree.
The Sheriff’s Office has been in talks with the city on a controversial plan to build another 650-bed jail. But Katie Schwartzmann, managing attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the plaintiffs “absolutely” do not believe another building is needed. She said the plaintiffs have asked Gusman for information about how the 1,438-bed facility can be modified to bring it into compliance with the consent decree. But the requests have been ignored, she said.
“The new facility is clearly inadequate for medical and mental health care,” she said.
Former U.S. Attorney Harry Rosenberg, representing the city of New Orleans, said the City Council’s ordinance authorizing construction of the 1,438-bed building mandated that it serve all classes of inmates.
“The Sheriff understood plain as day that this facility [the one under construction] would accommodate inmates from a housing standpoint and a medical standpoint. Now we find out there aren’t medical facilities,” Rosenberg said in Monday’s hearing.
Attorney Blake Arcuri, representing the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, didn’t respond to that point in the hearing, but he said Gusman doesn’t agree that the new facility won’t meet the requirements of the consent decree.
Africk told the lawyers that he’d prefer that Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Gusman reach an agreement on the facility under construction, rather than him dictating a solution.