Attorneys for Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman reached a settlement with lawyers for the Orleans Public Defenders (OPD) on May 3 to resolve a lawsuit in Civil District Court. The suit alleged unconstitutional restrictions to attorney-client meetings at Orleans Parish Prison (OPP).
The OPD suit, filed in October 2011, claims the sheriff's office has failed to honor attorney visiting hours, makes attorneys wait hours before seeing their clients, and doesn't provide places for attorneys and clients to hold private "contact visits" — at a desk in the same room, rather than on a telephone behind glass.
In late March, OPD moved for a preliminary injunction demanding immediate changes, saying that "not only have visitation conditions not improved, attorneys say they have actually worsened" since the March 1 opening of OPP's Temporary Detention Center. OPD claims there are no uniform visiting hours at the temporary center and attorneys are forced to speak to their clients through a video system that anyone inside the facility, including guards, can view easily.
A group of professors from the Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice at Loyola University was added as plaintiffs March 30.
Under the settlement, which was finalized and signed by Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese, Gusman will set aside 10 hours for weekday attorney visits: three hours in the morning, four in the afternoon and three in the evening. Attorneys will get four hours' visit time on weekends and court holidays. Wait times for meetings — which OPD's lawsuit claims are now as long as two hours — will be reduced to 30 minutes, and the sheriff's office will make arrangements for contact visit spaces, provided attorneys give several hours notice.
Reese said he will hold a status conference within 30 days of implementation to make sure both sides are in compliance.
After the agreement, Gusman's office issued a statement saying, "We believe that these parameters will allow the Sheriff's Office to be more efficient in its service to attorneys and inmates. The Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office has always provided and continues to provide confidential attorney-client consultations at its facilities." — Charles Maldonado