The business world always slows down in advance of the Christmas holiday so yesterday I took advantage and headed to US District Court in New Orleans and a major pretrial hearing in the Heather Hilliard civil suit against Jefferson Parish. The hearing was attended by all the finest people but before I get to that the following is spreading like wildfire in the NOLA legal community:
The judge also raised concerns Wednesday that the sprawling jail litigation has become “overlawyered,” noting Gusman now has two private law firms handling the case, while Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration also has engaged two firms. The city remains actively involved in the litigation because state law requires it to pay for inmate care.
Williams, of the firm Gauthier, Houghtaling & Williams, has joined attorney Blake Arcuri and the Usry, Weeks & Matthews firm in providing legal services to the sheriff. The city, meanwhile, has relied on Harry Rosenberg, a former U.S. attorney who works for the firm Phelps Dunbar, and Ralph Capitelli, of Capitelli & Wicker, in addition to the advice of City Attorney Sharonda Williams.
The mounting legal fees are being doled out even as the city and the Sheriff’s Office continue to fight over how to spend limited resources on changes at the jail. “The taxpayers are paying for it at the end of the day,” Africk said.
It’s not clear why Gusman decided to hire a second law firm, though the sheriff has faced a torrent of litigation prompted by OPP’s violent conditions, even apart from the consent decree proceedings.
Spokespeople for Gusman and Landrieu did not respond to questions Wednesday about how much the Sheriff’s Office and city are paying the attorneys.
Its only money after all folks. Maybe Judge Africk remembered this:
Speaking of Harry Rosenberg, he was one of the finest people that attended the Heather Hilliard hearing so he had a full day there at the Federal Courthouse and appeared to be particularly juiced up for the day when I saw him yesterday morning. The Hilliard hearing, which turned into somewhat of a snoozer at times sets the stage for next month’s trial. The Parish is being capably represented by Tommy Anzelmo, an old legal salt that like me wears hearing aids. My only complaint is the courtroom acoustics in Judge Triche-Milazzo’s courtroom were bad and I had trouble hearing certain exchanges between the Attorneys and Judge Triche-Milazzo. Speaking of Attorneys Bobby Truitt is representing Ms Hilliard and we all know he does bang up work.
Now at this point I could be a very bad, wascally wabbit, but I won’t except to say that back sealing court documents rarely works. That said, it strongly appears the Consulting Group hired by the Parish to investigate the allegations of a hostile work environment evidently has no clue about the importance of basic record retention policies which makes you wonder how they could ever be hired to investigate the local dogcatcher, let alone hostile workplace allegations at a very large local government but it is what it is. However, a reasonable observer could also conclude the consultants could be taking a fall to cover for someone else as there is no denying evidence was spoilated in the case. Judge Triche-Milazzo spoke of a communication failure when she denied the related Heather Hilliard’s motion, which can be found right here on Slabbed. Because of the legal issues involved it is unclear whether we’ll ever get to the bottom of this.
The trial is set for next month and that is exactly where this case is going. There are whispers in Jefferson Parish political circles about there being very hard feelings involving Parish Prez Young and his former CAO Heather Hilliard which in turn impacts settlement possibilities. As for Ms Hilliard I visited briefly with her yesterday but there was not much she could tell me on the record. That said I came away with the impression that she is a determined litigant as well so the stage is set for trial. I’m personally hoping that mucho dirty laundry is aired next month as it is good for business here on Slabbed. Stay tuned.