Federal judge threatens Gusman with a time-out

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman
Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman

Newly re-elected Sheriff Marlin Gusman has, at times, seemed to brush aside the seemingly endless onslaught of federal lawsuits he’s faced over the abysmal conditions at Orleans Parish Prison. But now a federal magistrate judge has threatened him with a unique penalty if Gusman continues to miss deadlines for providing court-ordered discovery to inmates seeking compensation for hardships they faced inside the violent lockup: the time-out chair.

This week, an increasingly frustrated U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Shushan wrote a scathing order warning Gusman that she would no longer tolerate his attorneys’ inability to comply with her deadlines in a civil case brought by Terry Smith, a schizophrenic man who was seriously injured during a stint at OPP. And she came up with a punishment familiar to any parent dealing with a stubborn toddler.

“Monetary sanctions will not serve any purpose,” Shushan wrote. “If Sheriff Gusman ignores the undersigned’s discovery orders and his responsibilities to respond to reasonable inquiries from counsel for plaintiffs a third time, Sheriff Gusman will be required to appear in an assigned courtroom in the Hale Boggs (federal courthouse building) where he will remain for one hour without access to cell phone or other mobile device or anything else to assist him to pass the time.”

“No other person will be permitted in the courtroom during this time,” the judge added. “Each time thereafter that similar conduct occurs, Sheriff Gusman will be required to appear in an assigned courtroom on the same terms and conditions. The time will be doubled on each occasion in an arithmetic progression.”

Shushan’s exasperation was fueled by Gusman’s sluggishness to meet deadlines in another civil proceeding, a lawsuit filed by an inmate forced to perform oral sex on Dejaun Thomas, a former Sheriff’s Office deputy who was sentenced to five years in prison for sexual battery and sexual malfeasance in prison. Shushan already had cautioned Gusman — in bold-face type — in that case, saying he and his attorneys “will not be given a second chance” to meet deadlines.

“This is tantamount to a time-out in the corner while wearing a “Dunce” cap,” Miranda Tait, an attorney with the Advocacy Center, which represents Smith, said in a statement. “While we would have preferred the sheriff be ordered to spend some time on the tiers of his own prison, we appreciate Judge Shushan’s attempt to force the sheriff to pay attention to the cases of those people injured at OPP.”

Blake Arcuri, an attorney for Gusman, said the sheriff did “not mean to delay or hinder these proceedings in any way” and made “a good faith attempt to provide all the requested information which was available.” In the Smith case, Arcuri said, Gusman and sheriff’s officials “worked diligently on gathering the information ... much of which was extremely voluminous and seeks information pertaining to a time period spanning an entire year.”