New Orleans asks for another delay in picking police monitor

New Orleans officials and the Justice Department can’t agree on who the city’s police monitor should be, and while the city wants more time, the Justice Department is opposing any further delays.

City officials requested an additional two-week delay in the selection of a court monitor in a filing in U.S. District Court Judge Susie Morgan’s court Friday afternoon. Morgan previously granted a delay that gave the city and Justice Department until Tuesday night to make their selection. Failing that, each side will make a written argument to Morgan, who will move forward with making the choice on her own.

The city and the Justice Department made a joint request for the previous delay, citing a need to gain more time to review the proposals of finalists Hillard Heintze and Sheppard Mullin.

But in a filing Monday, the Justice Department said that it opposed the city’s request for a delay. The filing said that efforts to talk to the city administration and come to a compromise had not been successful and that the judge should make the choice.

The city said, in its request, that both sides are still gathering information on the firms and had received new information about the cost of each proposal Friday. Previously the city had argued that Hillard Heintze was a better choice than Sheppard Mullin because Hillard Heintze’s proposal was at least $900,000 cheaper. The city’s request said officials are making “ongoing, good faith efforts to reach an agreement.”

The city’s request was blasted by Community United for Change, which has been a frequent critic of Hillard Heintze and the city’s handling of the monitor selection process in general. Several of the group’s organizers labeled the city’s latest request part of a strategy to “delay and circumvent” police reforms in a court filing sent Sunday.

“It has become imperative that the federal courts take charge and put a stop to the delays and assault on public safety by the city of New Orleans,” said the letter, which also referenced the Mother’s Day shooting of 19 people.

The group also wrote that the city’s negotiations cannot be in good faith because Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office is still trying to have the entire consent decree voided through the federal court system.

According to a court filing, that request is still pending and has been outstanding for more than 45 days.

In fact, one applicant for the monitor position who was not chosen as a finalist claimed that the delays are linked to the fact that the city and Justice Department ignored more qualified candidates to select Sheppard Mullin and Hillard Heintze as finalists.

Adam Safir, the president of Vigilant Resources International of New York, wrote that his firm was excluded from consideration because it was not familiar to the federal officials and was never questioned in detail on plans for monitoring adherence to the consent decree.

He pointed to misstatements by the selection committee members as proof that all proposals were not treated equally or fairly and noted that his team had already formed a partnership with a local law firm and the Urban League of New Orleans. Safir urged Morgan to take a more prominent role in making the final selection.

“I sincerely believe that we would do a better job than the other candidates. What I would never wish for is a selection process that reflects poorly on the parties and court,” Safir wrote.

In addition to the issue of a delay, Morgan has also been presented a rash of testimonials affirming the qualifications of Terry Hillard, the former police superintendent of Chicago and a chief member of the Hillard Heintze team.

Although the Hillard Heintze firm has been supported by New Orleans officials, it has come under attack from many local advocates for the local partners it chose and for Hillard’s response to a torture scandal involving Chicago police officers.

Hillard was criticized by local attorney Mary Howell for not being proactive and aggressive enough in a response to that scandal.

Although the torture occurred prior to Hillard’s tenure as superintendent, he did promote at least one officer accused of participating in the incidents, according to media reports.

However, testimonials from other police chiefs, politicians and community leaders called Hillard an outstanding man of high character and integrity. Supporters of Hillard from the Philadelphia Police Department, Chicago City Council, Archdiocese of Chicago and the Chicago Mayor’s Office all expressed support of Hillard.

His partner in the company, Arnette Heintze, said that it was Hillard who pushed through a series of internal changes designed to rebuild the integrity of the Chicago Police Department and at no point was he involved in a “cover-up” of the police torture.

“Terry Hillard is nationally recognized for his leadership, initiative and accomplishments in advancing innovations and best practices in constitutional policing and law enforcement practices that support civil rights and civil liberties on many fronts integral to a successful transformation of the New Orleans Police Department’s culture and operations,” Heintze wrote.