Court tosses jury award in Katrina jail lawsuit

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A federal appeals court on Monday threw out a jury's award of more than $650,000 to two Ohio tourists who were arrested in New Orleans on public drunkenness charges two days before Hurricane Katrina's landfall and jailed for more than a month after the storm.

A three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman didn't falsely imprison Robie Waganfeald and Paul Kunkel Jr., both of Toledo.

The men's lawyers argued during an October 2010 trial that they were entitled by law to be released within 48 hours unless probable cause was found to keep them in custody. But the 5th Circuit judges concluded the 48-hour rule was suspended because of the 2005 storm.

"The undisputed evidence in this case compels the conclusion that Hurricane Katrina was a bona fide emergency within the meaning of the emergency exception to the 48-hour rule," Judge Jacques Wiener wrote. "Indeed, if Katrina was not an emergency, it is difficult to imagine any set of facts that would fit that description."

Gusman said the court ruling's "speaks eloquently."

"Our priority throughout the days and weeks surrounding Hurricane Katrina was the safe transfer of more than 6,000 inmates in an unprecedented movement that had never been attempted in the history of Orleans Parish or the state of Louisiana," Gusman said in a statement. "All of those inmates arrived at their destinations without a single fatality or serious injury."

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