2009 Press Releases

6.9.2009: ACLU of Louisiana Sues over Access to Counsel

Today the ACLU Foundation of Louisiana filed suit against Jefferson Parish officials because a prisoner in Jefferson Parish Correctional Center has been denied access to a lawyer. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, seeks a temporary restraining order requiring Jefferson Parish to allow prisoner Torrey Brown the right to a confidential meeting with attorneys in order to discuss a possible claim against the prison for his treatment while there.

Torrey Brown has been a Jefferson Parish prisoner since at least March 1, 2009. On March 14, 2009 a family member contacted the ACLU because Mr. Brown had been beaten by Jefferson Parish Correctional Center staff. Mr. Brown's relative expressed concern for his safety, and in response to those concerns, ACLU Legal Director Katie Schwartzmann went to the jail to see him. "When I saw him that Saturday, Torrey had surgical staples in his head, and his nose appeared to be broken." said Schwartzmann. "I only met with him very briefly, and confirmed that we would speak in more detail at a later date."

Mr. Brown later again asked the ACLU for help, but when ACLU lawyer Barry Gerharz went to see him, he was told that prison policy allowed only criminal defense lawyers to have private meetings with inmates. In other words, an inmate who wants a lawyer to complain about how he's treated in prison cannot do so in private. After several requests for a private meeting, Gerharz has still not been able to meet with Mr. Brown without being overheard. Gerharz said: "we've gone there, we've written letters, and they keep telling us the same thing: no confidential visit. Imagine if you were in jail, would you want the prison guards to overhear you talk to the ACLU?" Mr. Brown, who has continued to ask the ACLU for help, has complained to prison officials that his correspondence with his lawyers has been opened, and that he has experienced retaliation for his complaints.

"The right to a private meeting with a lawyer is fundamental to our First Amendment freedom of speech and right to petition the government," said ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman. "The law is clear that prisoners like anyone else must be able to consult their attorneys in private. A confidential visit with a lawyer is an essential part of our judicial system." Esman continued: "We hope that the District Court will recognize that Torrey Brown is entitled to consult a lawyer to ascertain whether his rights have been violated and what, if any, his remedies might be."

The lawsuit, Brown v. Normand et al,, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Defendants are Sheriff Newell Normand, Deputy Chief Sue Ellen Penouilh, Legal Advisor Tim Valenti, and Major H. Levin. Lawyers for Torrey Brown are Ronald Wilson, Katie Schwartzmann, and Barry Gerharz.

To view court documents