New Orleans jail director wants protection from lawsuits
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The head of the troubled New Orleans jail has asked a federal judge for protection from lawsuits.
Compliance Director Darnley Hodge Sr. requested Friday that U.S. District Judge Lance Africk declare he’s acting as an officer of the court and thus cannot be sued, The New Orleans Advocate reported. Africk oversees the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office 2013 consent decree with the federal government.
Hodge was appointed to lead the jail’s operations in February and has already been sued twice. He took over from Gary Maynard, who resigned following a negative report from federal monitors, and was sued six times.
The compliance director is in charge of the decree-mandated reforms, and essentially runs the jail in lieu of sidelined Sheriff Marlin Gusman. Hodge’s attorneys argue that he’s acting as a court-ordered receiver since he was appointed by Africk, and is thus shielded from civil litigation.
Hodge says litigation “distracts” him from reforms, but plaintiffs’ attorneys say shielding him would eliminate a way to hold leadership accountable for problems at the jail.
“It’s just a deeply held American value that you get to have your day in court against the person you say wronged you,” said attorney Kevin Vogeltanz, who represents a former sheriff’s captain suing Hodge for wrongful termination.
Vogeltanz argued in a legal brief submitted Friday that the 2016 court order stripping Gusman of operational control vested him with the power to pick the compliance director, who is thus not shielded from lawsuits. But Hodge’s filing said his position only answers to the judge, despite Gusman having a say in his appointment.
Africk has yet to rule on Hodge’s motion, and has set an Aug. 14 deadline for interested parties to register opposition.
Information from: The New Orleans Advocate, http://www.neworleansadvocate.com