Finger Pointing In Federal Court Over Prison Consent Decree

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Monday afternoon, Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman defended his management of the department in front of a federal judge as an attorney for the city peppered him with questions.

The city, S.O., and federal government are in court regarding the consent decree for the parish jail.  New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has said the city cannot afford the consent decree for the jail and another for the NOPD.

Gusman is hoping to convince the judge that he needs the consent decree and the money which comes with it, which estimate in the $15 million to $18 million range.

Harry Rosenberg, who once served as U.S. Attorney in New Orleans, is now representing the city.  He displayed sheet after sheet of numbers related to the sheriff’s office and asked Gusman to defend the spending.

One line of questioning focused on a post-Katrina loan from the federal government for about $17 million.  Rosenberg asked Gusman why he used $16 million of S.O. money to payoff the loan in January of this year.  Rosenberg asked if the sheriff simply wanted to get rid of any money the department had as the consent decree talks approached.

Gusman said he paid off the load early to avoid interest.  He defended the move to WGNO News outside of court.  He also said many of the questions appeared to focus on money that the department received for other than every-day operations which is outside of the focus of the consent decree.

“It was a savings in interest.  Those monies were restricted and not available to be used in any way to pay for any operations at the jail.  So I really thought that was a red herring,” Gusman said.

The judge will hear more testimony this week and then again in July before deciding if the sheriff’s office has proven how much money it should receive for it consent decree.