June 14, 2019

Federal Judge Enters Consent Judgment Prohibiting New Orleans Magistrate from Jailing People Simply Because They Can’t Pay Bail

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA— The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana approved the entry of a consent judgment in Caliste v. Cantrell, a class action lawsuit challenging the pretrial detention practices of Orleans Parish District Court Magistrate Harry E. Cantrell.

In March of this year, attorneys with the MacArthur Justice Center and the Civil Rights Corps representing the plaintiff class members moved United States District Court Judge Fallon for an injunction to enforce Judge Fallon’s August 2018 declaratory judgment that the State judge’s practices violated the Constitution. Plaintiffs submitted proof that Magistrate Cantrell ignored the Federal judgment. As multiple bail-hearing transcripts demonstrated, Magistrate Cantrell—just as he had before issuance of the August 2018 Order—made no inquiry into arrestees’ ability to pay a secured money bail, did not consider alternatives to money bail, and did not make the necessary factual findings to detain a person on an unaffordable bail.

After lengthy negotiation, the parties reached agreement on the consent judgment entered by the court on June 13, 2019. The judgment lays out a protocol that Magistrate Cantrell must follow in every bail hearing to ensure that people will not be detained in violation of their constitutional rights. Among the requirements in every bail hearing that the Magistrate must follow: consider release on recognizance and nonfinancial conditions of release, conduct an inquiry into an arrestee’s ability to afford money bail, and, if an unaffordable bail amount in set, make findings supported by clear and convincing evidence that the arrestee’s detention is necessary to guard against flight from prosecution or ensure community safety.

“This consent judgment is a victory for our clients and for the city of New Orleans as a whole,” said Eric Foley, attorney at the MacArthur Justice Center. “First, no innocent person’s freedom should be deprived unless it’s absolutely necessary. Our clients are pretrial arrestees who are presumed innocent. They should never be held in jail just because they can’t afford to pay an arbitrary amount of money. Second, the social costs of unnecessary pretrial detention are staggering, as noted by the Vera Institute’s 2017 study of the true costs of bail in New Orleans, Past Due: Examining the Costs and Consequences of Charging for Justice in New Orleans, and its recently released plan for changing the court’s reliance on secured money bail, Paid in Full. These costs fall disproportionately on poor people and people of color. Our community will see the ultimate benefit of the changes in pretrial detention practices that are mandated by this consent judgment.”

A copy of the judgment and more information about the lawsuit is available on the MacArthur Justice Center’s website.