Sheriff's office: Federal consent decree negotiations, furloughed staff account for lawsuit records response time

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Attorneys for Sheriff Marlin Gusman today filed a response to last week's motion to compel discovery by the Southern Poverty Law Center in the ongoing federal prisoners' rights suit the organization filed against the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office (OPSO) in April.

In its response, attorneys for OPSO deny SPLC's charges that staff members haven't been producing documents the organization has requested because they aren't taking the matter seriously.

This Court has given the defendants until 13th day of July, 2012 to complete production of the available records in their possession. The Court also instructed the Defendants produce to the Plaintiffs those documents that are available on a rolling basis. In their Motion, Plaintiffs repeatedly alleged that Defendants are not “taking this seriously,” and/or that Defendants’ attorneys are purposely delaying the production of documents. This is completely untrue.

The filing goes on to give OPSO's explanations why the requested documents haven't been handed over. The reason, say the office's attorneys, is the SPLC has asked for a huge number of records that aren't easy immediately and easily available. On top of that, negotiations between the Sheriff's Office and the Department of Justice over a possible federal consent decree have eaten up a lot of time and resources. And on top of that, OPSO is short on available personnel because employees have been furloughed one day per week due to budget constraints.

(Read the full court filing after the jump.)

MAY IT PLEASE THE COURT:
This Court has given the defendants until 13th day of July, 2012 to complete production of the available records in their possession. The Court also instructed the Defendants produce to the Plaintiffs those documents that are available on a rolling basis. In their Motion, Plaintiffs repeatedly alleged that Defendants are not “taking this seriously,” and/or that Defendants’ attorneys are purposely delaying the production of documents. This is completely untrue.

Since receipt of the Plaintiff’s discovery, Defendants have been actively seeking any and all responsive documents from the Sheriff’s Office through those channels available for counsel to locate such documents. The purpose for the requested additional time was for several reasons, all of which still exist. The Plaintiffs’ requested a vast volume of documents and the Sheriff’s Office has to reallocate its resources so as to locate and copy these documents.

Counsel was tasked with the classification of over 90 requests and had to then channel same to the appropriate Sheriff’s Departments. It is necessary for counsel to review all documents to exclude any privileged information in order to protect the rights of both Defendants and the inmates. This is particularly true for all of the medical records that have been requested, as some medical records kept by the Sheriff’s Office are not pertinent to this action or members of the putative class.

Defendants further note that for the past several weeks that have been actively involved in
inspections, meetings, and negotiations with the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division in an attempt to reach a possible Consent Decree. Substantial time and resources have been expended on this endeavor.

Dr. Gore, the Medical Director of the Orleans Parish Prison, in his recent deposition, when questioned by opposing counsel on whether or not he could produce certain records, stated that he believed he could easily do so on an expedited basis. However, Dr. Gore upon returning to the medical department, has informed counsel that he mis-spoke and that the retrievable of these documents are much more time consuming than he imagined. See Exhibit “A”, Dr. Gore’s Affidavit.

Additionally, within the past several weeks the Sheriff, due to budget constraints, has ordered all personnel to take one unpaid furlough day per week. This has drastically reduced the available personnel hours needed to locate and copy the requested documents.

In response to Plaintiffs’ request to allow law students to enter the jail and to roam, search and copy whatever they deem responsive is both naive and unreasonable for numerous reasons, most notably security and the privacy rights of the inmates and employees.

In sum, Defendants are taking this matter quite seriously, as they have always done in the past, and due to the reasons given above, request that Plaintiffs’ Motion be denied.

Download it: Gusman710.pdf

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