March 15, 2019

Federal Lawsuit Seeks Order Prohibiting New Orleans Magistrate from Jailing People Simply Because They Can’t Pay Bail

NEW ORLEANS – Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Magistrate Harry E. Cantrell has continued to conduct bail hearings that violate arrestees’ constitutional rights, despite a federal court order setting out the constitutional minimums he must follow, according to a motion for injunctive relief filed in federal court on Friday.

The motion was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, in the class action lawsuit Caliste v. Cantrell. The class members are represented by attorneys from the MacArthur Justice Center and the Civil Rights Corps.

The defendant, Magistrate Cantrell, presides over First Appearance hearings following a person’s arrest, where he decides whether a person can be released before trial and what conditions, including money bail, might be required for release. The plaintiffs’ complaint, which was filed in June 2017, alleged that Magistrate Cantrell violated their constitutional rights by routinely setting money bail without considering whether a person could pay that amount of money or nonfinancial alternative conditions of release.

Last August, the federal court ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor and ordered that Magistrate Cantrell’s bail hearings would be unconstitutional unless he:

  • Inquires into an arrestee’s ability to pay when considering a money bail;
  • Considers alternatives to money bail and makes findings supported by evidence that money bail is necessary;
  • Ensures that arrestees are represented by counsel.

According to Friday’s motion for an injunction against Magistrate Cantrell, he has not changed his practices to abide by the federal court’s prior ruling. Citing transcripts of recent hearings, the motion argues that Magistrate Cantrell fails to follow the three prongs outlined above.

“Magistrate Cantrell’s practices result in people who are presumed innocent spending a lot of time in jail just because they can’t pay bail, not because they are a danger to our community or unlikely to show up to court,” said Eric Foley, attorney at the MacArthur Justice Center. “Magistrate Cantrell persists in the same unconstitutional practices that caused our plaintiffs to bring their lawsuit in the first place, even though he claimed to have accepted the federal court’s decision and changed his practices.”

“Magistrate Judge Cantrell and the other Criminal District Court Judges continue to flagrantly violate the constitutional rights of the poorest people in New Orleans,” said Alec Karakatsanis of the Civil Rights Corps. “No human being should be put in a cage by Judge Cantrell, or anyone else, solely because she is poor. The ruling in this case will end that practice in New Orleans.”