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Federal judge selects consent-decree monitor

15th July 2013   ·   0 Comments

After several months of postponements and at least one court-mandated delay, a federal judge in New Orleans on July 5 named a federal monitor to oversee the implementation of the NOPD consent decree, which is designed to completely overhaul the embattled police department.

In a court ruling, U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan chose the Washington, DC-based law firm of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton to serve as the consent decree’s federal monitor, siding with the finalist for the post supported by members of a 10-member panel representing the U.S. Department of Justice. The other five members of the panel, City of New Orleans officials, had thrown their support behind Chicago-based Hilliard Heintze.

After several months of putting off a final selection that culminated in a failure by the panel to make a selection, the responsibility of choosing a federal monitor for the NOPD reforms fell to Judge Morgan.

The two firms were among 12 who were vying for the lucrative post.

Community-based and civil rights organizations in New Orleans denounced Hilliard Heintze because of several local partners with ties to the Landrieu administration, the Rev. Charles J. Southall III and Tulane University criminologist Dr. Peter Scharf.

CNO officials told Judge Morgan that the Landrieu administration was not provided information about Sheppard Mullin’s local partners and that the City of New Orleans needed more time to vet the Washington, DC-based firm.

Sheppard Mullin’s bid will cost the City of New Orleans at least $7.9 million. Hilliard Heintze submitted a $7 million bid.

In her ruling, Judge Morgan said that attorney Jonathan Aronie, “[t]he head of the Sheppard Mullin team, has experience with performing this kind of task, having served as Deputy Monitor of the Metropolitan Police Department in Wash­ington, D.C., under a memorandum agreement with the United States.”

City of New Orleans Attorney Sharonda Williams issued a statement on July 5 that said, “We’re hopeful Sheppard Mullin will study the reforms the City has put in place over the last three years and adjust their fees since they were the higher-priced proposal. Our intent is to continue to develop a fair and cost-effective deal for the taxpayers.”

Judge Susie Morgan said that Sheppard Mullin’s legal expertise made it better suited to serve as NOPD consent-decree monitor than Hilliard Heintze, whose primary partner is former Chicago Police Superintendent Terry Hilliard. “The Monitor is … primarily responsible for reviewing the policies that the City and NOPD draw up to ensure that they comport with the requirements of the Consent Decree and constitutional policing —precisely the kind of advisory role that lawyers are accustomed to playing,” she wrote.

Morgan also pointed out that Sheppard Mullin appeared to receive more support from community leaders and residents during a series of public meetings held over the past few months to discuss the suitability of the firms vying for the contract and said that the “streamlined nature of the Sheppard Mullin team will help ensure that each team member is intimately familiar with the Consent Decree.”

Although New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu signed the NOPD consent decree last summer and U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan approved it in January 2013, very little progress has been made in implementing NOPD reforms over the past 12 months.

After initially lauding the NOPD consent decree as a positive step in overhauling the NOPD, Landrieu subsequently sought to vacate the consent decree, arguing that the process was tainted by the involvement of two of former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s top prosecutors, Sal Perricone and Jan Mann, who resigned after their involvement in an online posting scandal was made public. Landrieu has also argued that the City of New Orleans cannot afford the cost of the NOPD consent decree and that the consent decree is no longer needed since the NOPD has already began to take steps to reform itself.

The Landrieu administration is still waiting for its efforts to do away with the NOPD consent decree to be heard by a federal appeals court.

Former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial told WDSU News anchor Norman Robinson during a recent interview that there should be a moratorium on legal challenges to the federal-approved consent decrees in order to allow both the NOPD and Orleans Parish Prison consent decree to finally be implemented.

The Rev. Raymond Brown, a community activist and president of National Action Now, told The Louisiana Weekly that he is pleased with the selection of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter and Hampton as the NOPD consent-decree monitor. “U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan did the right thing by not supporting Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s hand-picked NOPD content-decree monitor,” Brown said. “The monitor must be independent of Mayor Landrieu and police chief Ronal Serpas. As a matter of fact Mayor Landrieu fought against the consent decree.

A number of Black leaders and residents who were irked by what some called the mayor’s “hijacking” of the Essence Festival and his suggestion that he is the only person capable of ending the scourge of violence in New Orleans.

“We are part of the blame for letting him get away with that,” Assata Alexander, a 9th Ward resident, told The Louisiana Weekly. “We can’t say that we didn’t know he was going to do it because he’s done it so many other times.

“We should have been out there at the Convention Center waiting for him and loudly voicing our disapproval of the games he continues to play with the lives of Black people,” she added. “He’s getting away with it because we’re letting him get away with it. Dr. Frances Cress Welsing used to say all the time that when the fool learns how to play the game, the game is over. It’s time for us to check Mitch Landrieu and let him know that the political chicanery must end and the game is over, point blank.”

“Mayor Landrieu should have talked about his anti-consent decree position when he spoke before 5,000 Black Essence Fest fans in the Morial Convention Center but he chose not to do so,” Brown told The Louisiana Weekly. “Why? The Mayor hid his true self while doing the biggest Black show in America. I want to know why Mayor Landrieu did not use the phrase ‘culture of violence’ in front of thousands of Black visitors in New Orleans for the Essence Festival. I think that Mayor Landrieu was playing politics with the lives of Black people.”

Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a New Orleans businessman and former congressional candidate, agreed with Brown’s assessment of the mayor’s Essence appearance. “It was all one big theatrical performance, a dog-and-pony show” he told The Louisiana Weekly. “He’s putting his background in theater to good use. One minute he’s shedding tears for young Black murder victims and the next minute he’s doing the wobble at his Essence party. One day he’s applauding the NOPD consent decree and the next day he’s using every trick in his bag to undermine efforts by the U.S. Department of Justice to completely overhaul the corrupt and abusive New Orleans Police Department.

“Why does he care so much about young Black murder victims but so little about Black residents murdered by the city’s trigger-happy police force?” Ramessu Merriamen Aha added. “Why didn’t he talk at Essence about the cops who murdered Henry Glover, Ronald Madison, James Brissette, Adolph Grimes III and other innocent people in New Orleans?” Why didn’t he shed any tears at Essence over the NOPD murders of Justin Sipp and Wendell Allen and the racial profiling of Sidney Newman and Ferdinand Hunt in the French Quarter after a Mardi Gras parade this year? Why? Because he really doesn’t care about the plight of Black people in this majority-Black city. He’s just using the issue of Black-on-Black violence to hoodwink gullible Black folks into believing he’s some kind of white savior sent here to show poor Black people how to live.

“It’s time we stop allowing him to manipulate the media and spread misinformation and confusion among Black voters,” Aha added. “If we need a blueprint or inspiration, we need look no further than Jackson, Miss., which recently elected a Black mayor who had demonstrated his commitment to securing justice, democracy and equity for all members of that community. We desperately need a mayor like that.”

In other consent decree-related news, it was reported last week that Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman is looking for a manager for Orleans Parish Prison, one of the changes set forth by the federally mandated Orleans Parish Prison consent decree.

The mayor has repeatedly blamed the embattled prison’s shortcomings on mismanagement by Sheriff Gusman while the sheriff has said OPP has been severely underfunded for many years by City Hall.

Additional reporting by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.

This article originally published in the July 15, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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