Court closures delay trial in Alton Sterling civil suit

19th Judicial District Courthouse

With all courts closed, the wrongful death lawsuit filed nearly three years ago on behalf of Alton Sterling’s children—which had been scheduled for an April 20 trial—likely won’t go to trial until next year.

“We’re still anticipating it’ll have to go to trial,” says attorney Michael Adams of the Decuir, Clark and Adams law firm, which is representing Sterling’s children. 

It’s been six months since the parish attorney’s office and Sterling’s family met with a mediator, who recommended an undisclosed settlement agreement between the two parties. Unable to agree on whether to accept the settlement, the Metro Council proceeded with plans to go to trial in the 19th Judicial District Court.

Since then, the court assigned a new judge to the case, who scheduled an April status conference with the parties. That meeting has been canceled, along with the rest of the courthouse’s April calendar. The parties are also waiting on a decision from the state Supreme Court regarding access to former BRPD officer Blane Salamoni’s psychological evaluation. The plaintiffs were previously granted access to the evaluation twice, first in the 19th JDC, then at the First Circuit Court of Appeals, and which Salamoni’s defense appealed both times. Attorney Steve Carleton, who represents Salamoni, couldn’t be reached for comment before this morning’s deadline.

To avoid a trial, Adams says he needs seven Metro Council members to commit to a settlement. He’s had conversations with nearly every member except for Jennifer Racca, who was appointed to fill Barbara Freiberg’s vacant seat in January. He says he doesn’t have the support of their legal counsel, with only six members telling him they’d resolve the suit with him “even in the range we were talking about.”

Adams declines to disclose that range, instead noting the suit calls for “all equitable relief that should be granted” and uses the mediator’s report as a starting point.

“The city-parish would probably say we’re being unreasonable with our number, and our position is they’re totally unreasonable with their number,” Adams says. “Hopefully, having a judge who will roll up their sleeves and get involved in this will get us to a point where we can put this behind us.”

Most Metro Council members deferred all comments regarding litigation to the parish attorney’s office, which, in an emailed statement to Daily Report, said the city-parish has always been open to the possibility of settling the case. 

“The mayor, the Metro Council, and the parish attorney’s office have, and will continue, to collaborate on possible solutions to this matter,” the statement reads, noting both parties agreed to postpone a deposition of Mayor Sharon Weston Broome. “Outside of the lack of accessibility to the courts, we are unaware at this time of any effect COVID-19 may have on how we handle this matter going forward.”

Next, the parties will have a status conference with the new district judge and receive a new scheduling order. With a settlement appearing increasingly unlikely, Adams is preparing for a trial by jury.

“We’ve never really dealt with systemic issues of race, policing and class in Baton Rouge, but this case has forced us to look at them,” Adams says. “Until we’re able to deal with them, we’re never going to be able to rebuild this city after this pandemic.”

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