Inspector General finds suggestions for jail funding within sheriff’s office

Inspector general releases new report

It’s “Gusman’s Got Loot” — the sequel.

New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux released a short follow-up Friday to a June 6 analysis that found Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s office is “adequately funded.”

And yet again, he premiered it on the eve of a federal court hearing aimed at sorting out who must pay for New Orleans jail — the sheriff or the city — and how much extra will be needed for a raft of measures to fix the maligned operation.

Quatrevaux’s four-page appendage lays out a legal case for Gusman to pony up for jail improvements from revenues on both the criminal and the civil side of his operation, including several million dollars a year from civil process service, foreclosure sales and other sources.

Under state law, the city is on the hook for inmate care, currently paying more than $30 million a year in the per diem inmate tab and various sheriff’s personnel costs.

Quatrevaux argues that two state statutes “explicitly permit the Sheriff to use excess civil fines and fees to fund the operation of the office.”

It’s obvious that’s what should happen, Quatrevaux argued, given that the Legislature approved the 2010 merger of the civil and criminal sheriff’s offices as a cost-saver.

“If the sheriff’s revenues, whether from the civil or criminal division, cannot be used to fund the costs of the consolidated Office and save taxpayer dollars, then what was the purpose of the consolidation?” the report asked. “And, what should the public monies generated by the performance of civil operations be used for if not to fulfill the mission of the Sheriff’s Office?”

The argument echoes lawyers for Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration, who are aiming to convince U.S. District Lance Africk that Gusman has money lying around to bring the jail up to constitutional snuff if he doesn’t blow it first on nonessential duties and gear.

But Gusman has argued that Landrieu is shirking his responsibility to fund a decent jail, though he also has refused to admit the jail he runs has unconstitutional conditions. Gusman, who agreed to the jail improvements December, has said bluntly that he did it to shake loose more money from the city.

Some Gusman supporters, and the sheriff himself, have groused over the timing of Quatrevaux’s earlier jail report, which one of his inspectors, Sarah Fontenelle, acknowledged on the witness stand was timed for last month’s court hearing over the money.

The Inspector General’s Office was created as an independent, though city-funded, watchdog over fraud and abuse in a variety of public agencies.

“It is quite apparent that the city — the employer of the Inspector General — is a major party of interest in the litigation and is directing the scope and timing of the inspector general’s activities,” Gusman said in a statement last month.

Quatrevaux, apparently, was undeterred by that barb. Lawyers for all of the parties are expected back in Africk’s courtroom Monday.

Clerk of court closes evidence room

In his latest move to juggle what he calls an illegal manpower shortage — and jab another sore thumb at the city — Orleans Parish Criminal Court Clerk Arthur Morrell said he will shut down the court’s evidence room three days a week beginning Monday.

Morrell warned that it could cause trouble for upcoming trials and other court hearings if prosecutors don’t plan ahead.

“Then they got a problem,” Morrell said.

Only police will have access to the basement evidence room all week, while prosecutors, defense attorneys and others can only use it on Tuesdays and Thursday for about the next month, Morrell said.

The reason: He must train evidence clerks for courtroom duty, where Morrell said he’s running low.

“If I have another one leave, I’m really up the creek,” said Morrell, who claims he’s 14 bodies short. “I have no choice.”

In the past, Morrell has balked at suggestions that he cross-train his staff. His argument: The jobs are too different, and anyway, the city is obligated under state law to fund the 90-plus positions in his office.

Morrell has waged a running fight with the city’s chief administrative officer, Andy Kopplin, over the issue, and he’s has gotten nowhere with the City Council.

Kopplin has argued that Morrell keeps busting his budget and needs to tighten his fiscal belt.

Last month, they squared off at a council budget hearing, a day after Morrell left Criminal District Court Judge Laurie White fuming with a news release saying he was shutting down her courtroom for lack of clerks.

Morrell backed down, blaming the kerfuffle on a publicist’s gaffe. He appears to be taking a more diplomatic approach this time.

“The district attorney has spoken to Arthur Morrell about this,” said Christopher Bowman, spokesman for Orleans Parish DA Leon Cannizzaro. “He has agreed to work with us so it won’t disrupt the functioning of the criminal district court.”

St. Tammany’s use of block grant in question

St. Tammany’s involvement in the Community Development Block Grant program drew intense questioning at Thursday’s Parish Council meeting, with Brandy Morris, who lives outside Mandeville, and Sara Wood, of Mandeville, raising concerns that the program could hurt property values and would invite the heavy hand of the federal government.

St. Tammany Chief Operating Officer Gina Campo said that St. Tammany has received CBDG grants, which are administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, without federal interference.

Money has not been used for public housing, parish officials said, but has been used to fund Volunteers of America and other faith-based groups that have repaired the homes of poor and elderly residents, to pay for transportation vouchers so the developmentally disabled can visit the doctor and to fund a dental clinic at the Covington Food Bank, among other similar programs, officials said. St. Tammany has received about $5.4 million since it first participated in 2008.

“Community Block Development Grant funds are exactly what it says,” Councilman T.J. Smith said. “To compare property values to needs for the health, safety and welfare of the community is a continuation of what we’ve been having on the federal level.”

Wood responded that mistrust of CBDG has been earned.

“To question the federal government is my job and to question you all is my job as a citizen,” she said.

When council Chairman Jerry Binder asked how many more questions she had, she responded, “I would hope that you all would ask these questions.”

Brister jumped to the council’s defense, saying that members are informed about what the parish is doing.

“They’re your federal dollars,” she said. “Would you like them to go to Wisconsin?”

Attorney to run in special election to fill JP seat

Anne Thompson, a 59-year-old Mandeville lawyer, announced that she’s running in the special election Oct. 19 to fill the 4th Ward Justice of the Peace seat left vacant when long-time JP Marie Morgan Taylor died in March.

Two JPs serve the 4th Ward, which includes Mandeville and the surrounding areas.

Thompson, who has practiced law for 32 years, works for Witt-O’Brien Associates. She formerly worked as an assistant district attorney in St. Tammany, Jefferson and Orleans parishes and also worked for the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services.

In 2008, the Louisiana Supreme Court appointed her Justice of the Peace pro tempore to fill an unexpired term.

Thompson is a graduate of the University of New Orleans and the Loyola University School of Law.

“Having previously served as a Justice of the Peace pro tempore, I can bring a level of experience to this position that will help me serve the residents of the 4th Ward,” Thompson said in a prepared statement. “In my 32 years of practice, I’ve served in numerous ways, including representing abused children in court proceedings, prosecuting criminals, representing government agencies and as a sole practitioner of law. My breadth of experience will enable me to quickly and efficiently manage the duties of the job.”

Compiled by John Simerman and Sara Pagones.