City sued after allegedly failing to produce public records concerning murder

By Elizabeth Fitzsousa | Feb 19, 2014

Ronal Serpas

NEW ORLEANS – It took nearly a year and a half and a lawsuit in order to get the city of New Orleans to respond a local woman seeking public records related to a 1992 homicide case.

Tabitha Nelson filed suit against Superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department Ronal Serpas and the City of New Orleans in the Orleans Parish Civil District Court on Dec. 4, 2013.

Nelson claims she had been trying to obtain public records since July 15, 2012 and had not received them nor a response. Nelson claims she was attempting to obtain public records held by the police department concerning the homicide of Arnold Morris. The homicide, which occurred March 29, 1992, led to the arrest and conviction of George Cooks and Ernest Allen. After sending three letters through certified mail and verifying their reception, but receiving no response, Nelson mailed a new letter to Serpas requesting he provide her with the price for her to obtain copies of certain designated public records of the New Orleans Police Department pursuant to Louisiana Public Records law.

Nelson’s fourth letter was received Sept. 27, 2013 but as of the date of filing, Nelson had received no response. According to La. R.S. 44:32 public records or an explanation of delay must be produced within 3 days.

Four and a half months after Nelson’s first letter and two full months after the most recent letter she claims Serpas produced no records nor an explanation as to why not. The suit alleges that the failure to make records available was both arbitrary and capricious.

The suit requested a writ of mandamus issue, directing Ronal Serpas III and the City of New Orleans to make available for plaintiffs' review all records pertaining to criminal litigation finally adjudicated to Nelson.

In addition the Nelson was suing for all damages, costs of this proceeding, attorney’s fees, and penalties and that the court fix a reasonable fee for any copies of the public records which Petitioner may request.

Nelson is represented by New Orleans area attorney Brett J. Prendergast.

The case is assigned to Division J Judge Paula A. Brown.

On Dec. 4, 2013 Judge Brown ordered that Ronal Serpas and the City of New Orleans be ordered to appear to show cause why the records should not be released to the petitioner and why they should not be ordered to pay all damages, costs of this proceeding, attorney’s fees, and penalties as provided on the Dec. 17, 2013.

On Dec. 16, 2013 Brett J. Prendergast faxed Judge Brown and provided a courtesy copy to assistant city attorney Isaka Williams  stating that Nelson and the parties mentioned were trying to amicably resolve the production of the subject records and requested that the hearing be continued without date.

Case no. 2013-11300.

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