By Rob Masson | WVUE | June 13, 2022
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – A courthouse shutdown, implemented by newly-elected Orleans Parish Sheriff Susan Hutson, caught many off guard Monday morning.
Criminal court judges said they were shocked on Sunday when they learned of Hutson’s decision to pull deputies from courthouse security to work at the jail amid a staffing shortage.
The move forces Criminal District Court judges to postpone trials and reschedule any hearings that cannot be held virtually for at least the first three days of the week and up to two weeks, according to sources familiar with the declaration.
“I understand the new sheriff is trying to make things better. There’s a new sheriff in town, but it’s not a good start,” attorney Glen Woods said as he, along with potential jurors and defendants, was turned away at the criminal courthouse doors.
“Who is going to reimburse me or help me put gas in my car?” Harold Soloman, a potential juror, questioned.
Woods says the trial he was supposed to start Monday will not move forward.
Dozens of other cases are also in limbo. Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams said in a statement that seven jury trials were set to begin this week.
Williams says survivors and witnesses were notified of the closure and his office will try and move cases forward virtually where possible.
The Metropolitan Crime Commission says with trials on hold, the jail population will swell and the city should consider hiring private security or bringing in outside help, like the National Guard.
“There are 200 people waiting to be tried for murder. There was one trial set to start today. It was a 701, meaning under the speedy trial act, if he’s not tried today, that individual can be released without benefit of bail,” Rafael Goyeneche says.
Hutson’s unprecedented decision to pull security from the courthouse came on the heels of two inmate deaths; one fatally stabbed Friday in a jailhouse brawl and another who jumped to his death on Sunday.
Goyeneche says Friday’s homicide was the first one at the jail in eight years.
“[Hutson] should request assistance from the national guard to provide some direct supervision in the jail,” Goyeneche says. “A stopgap measure.”
“The safety and well-being of the inmates under our care at the Orleans Justice Center remain a top public safety priority,” said Mayor LaToya Cantrell in an emailed statement. “We look forward to Sheriff Hutson devising a long-term solution that addresses the unacceptable violence within the facility, as well as developing a comprehensive approach focusing on mental health issues.”
In a city considered one of the most violent in the country, the wheels of justice have slowed, completely in some cases.
“It’s just out of control,” Woods said. “I feel the same way about the city. It’s out of control.”
The sheriff has not returned Fox 8′s repeated requests for comment, but issued a statement and offered interviews with other news outlets in New Orleans.
Hutson, who unseated longtime Sheriff Marlin Gusman in a runoff election last December, has been steward of the parish jail for just six weeks.
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