Criminal Justice

Sheriff agrees to pay $900,000 in legal fees to civil rights group that sued prison

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s office has agreed to pay the Southern Poverty Law Center $900,000 for legal fees and costs the center ran up in its fight to correct abusive conditions at the Orleans Parish Prison.

The sheriff’s office will pay the non-profit civil rights group $15,000 a month, over the course of 60 months, beginning on Jan. 15, according to a joint settlement — yet to be approved by U.S. District Judge Lance Africk.

Both Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Gusman were present at various points during discussions Wednesday in Africk’s chambers. Attorney Harry Rosenberg represented the city; Katie Schwartzmann was the attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The Southern Poverty Law Center sued the jail over inhumane conditions in April 2012 and the U.S. Department of Justice joined the suit that fall, eventually reaching a consent decree under which the prison will institute numerous reforms.

The feds and the civil rights group alleged unconstitutional conditions, guard-on-prisoner brutality, suicides, rapes, understaffing, and rampant prisoner-on-prisoner violence pervasive at the sprawling prison under Gusman’s control.

In early September, Schwartzmann filed for attorney fees and costs associated with the case, requesting a fee of just over $1 million and costs of about $145,000.

There are several issues awaiting Africk’s ruling, including the total cost of the consent decree, who pays for it and who will pay for immediate changes that go into effect during the remainder of the 2013 calendar year.

The City and Sheriff’s Office have disputed the anticipated costs of the decree — estimates range between $7 million and $22 million per year.

City Council members may discuss the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office consent decree in executive session Thursday, according to a notice released Wednesday.

State open meetings law allows public bodies to exclude the public from discussion regarding pending litigation.

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About Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned to New Orleans in the fall of 2014 after covering education for the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with majors in journalism and social welfare and a concentration in educational policy studies.

  • Deputy_Chief

    Gussy’s people have told him he can not win reelection. His political handlers have advised him to promote Chief Tidwell to Deputy Chief and resign by the end of November. Because Chief Tidwell does not meet the state residency requirements to pursue elected office the next Sheriff would have no visible ties to Gussy.

    The fact that Gussy would be out of the public eye for at least four years gives him the opportunity to reconstruct his public persona and potentially win another elected office.

    Chief Tidwell has already arrived and started working even though his first official day is not until November 1st. And chef Tidwell is shaking things up in the upper ranks.

  • Incorporeal Matter

    Deputy_Chief: I tend to concur with your suppositions. While Mr. Tidwell was hired as the “Jail Administrator”, it has been observed somwhere that his title is now “Chief Corrections Deputy.” All that need happen is to erase “Corrections” then shift “Deputy” to the left then PRESTO… we now have a new Chief Deputy. Whatever happens, I hope you are correct in that Marlin “Pseudo Sheriff” Gusman will resign – sooner rather than later. Moreover and regardless to what occurs at their eschelon, the deputies of OPSO should ORGANIZE… NOW!!

  • Lee Barrios

    Congrats and thanks to the SPLC.

  • Tracy Renee

    That’s rich; there’s nothing poor about Southern Poverty .