NEW ORLEANS — In an about-face, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration has backed away from a legal challenge to the design of the 1,438-bed Orleans Parish Prison now under construction, saying the city was satisfied — at least for now — that the new lockup will be able to accommodate special-needs inmates, as required by law.
The New Orleans Advocate reports (http://bit.ly/1HB2kke) City Attorney Sharonda Williams told Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese on Thursday that the city decided to withdraw its objections after Sheriff Marlin Gusman presented a breakdown outlining where certain groups of inmates would be housed inside the $145 million facility.
The move marks an abrupt reversal for city leaders, who had contended the jail was not equipped to house certain inmate populations and who last month issued a stop-work order on construction.
"They have provided us a document that represents that the (new jail) has been designed to accommodate all of the special populations, and they have set forth a housing plan showing where the special populations will be housed in that facility," Williams said, referring to the Sheriff's Office.
While the Sheriff's Office was quick to claim vindication Thursday, Landrieu released a statement portraying the developments as a victory for taxpayers.
"I'm relieved that the sheriff has finally shared a plan to house all inmates at the new jail under construction, and that he has formally withdrawn his $84 million capital outlay request to build a third jail building," Landrieu said. "These new developments will help New Orleans save taxpayers money and run a safe and constitutional jail."
Blake Arcuri, an attorney for Gusman, said the Sheriff's Office withdrew its capital outlay request three weeks ago, an action he said was unrelated to Thursday's discussions. The sheriff, he added, remains committed to building a Phase III facility, a special needs jail building.
Arcuri said he believes the city withdrew its legal challenge at the last minute because it realized it would lose the case on its merits. The city last month filed a "petition for writ of mandamus" asking Reese to force Gusman's hand into complying with the city ordinance requiring that the jail be built to house all populations of inmates.
"We're not changing any designs" of the jail, Arcuri added. "We gave up nothing."
Philip Stelly, a sheriff's office spokesman, noted that Reese has yet to rule on a motion filed by Gusman's lawyers asking that city officials be held in contempt of court for interfering with the jail construction.
"The Sheriff's Office will continue to pursue recovery of financial losses incurred by contractors from the city of New Orleans," Gusman said in a statement.
Information from: The New Orleans Advocate, http://www.neworleansadvocate.com