DSA New Orleans 2020 Dec 5 Runoff

Voter Guide

Judge - Juvenile Court - Section A

The biggest question with this race is: who understands what kind of reform is needed? Both candidates acknowledge high rates of trauma in New Orleans children and point to getting at the “root causes” of how they end up in the juvenile system. Both say they plan to judge from a place of understanding, but what sets them apart?

Clint Smith talks a big game about having the “experience necessary to implement reforms,” but from what we can see of his platform, he’s a little tied up in semantics. He suggests implementing a different vocabulary- not incarceration, but “detention,” not jailers but “interventionist,” and not probation officers, but “change agents.” He wants to call the bad things by good names and hope for the best. The other parts of his platform seem lackluster. And while he’s shared that he wants to get to the “root causes,” he shies away from bluntly arguing that children should not be incarcerated. But that vagueness has garnered him endorsements from the Mayor, both local Democratic and Republican leadership, BOLD, COUP, IWO, and the rest of the alphabet soup of endorsements.

Kevin Guillory believes incarceration is “not making our city any safer, and it’s not making our people any better.” While some voters may not be able to see past the stigma of Guilorys work under Leon Cannizzaro, Guillory says he would leave the DA’s office with an intention to break the arrest-prosecute-incarcerate cycle. Where that cycle plays out most often for children, is in our schools. In response to our survey, Guillory committed to doing his part in severing the school-to-prison pipeline by, as he stated: “refusing to incarcerate the kids whose school-based misdemeanor cases do make it to my courtroom.”

Smith and Guillory’s differences come down to how they view the criminal legal system. Their responses to the Platform for Youth Justice survey sum it up well. Both candidates were asked there if they would support a shift in funding away from “traditional law enforcement” and into community-based safety strategies. Smith’s answer was more equivocally stated than Guillory’s. Smith said he would not necessarily be opposed to shifting budget dollars to social services but only if this was done through “working collaboratively with the police.” Guillory more bluntly states that we need “an up-front investment in community-oriented social and economic services as opposed to a back-end blank check for law enforcement, prosecution, and incarceration.”

Judge - Juvenile Court - Section F

If you believe that children are never beyond rehabilitation, then the best thing going for Ranord Darensburg is that he’s not Niki Roberts. This decision is not a hard one, but it probably won’t make you feel as good as you’d like it to.

Niki Roberts’s record as a juvenile prosecutor for the DA’s office is thoroughly blemished by sending children to the adult jail to await trial before they were ever proven guilty of anything. The #FlipTheBench campaign put it succinctly, “Cannizzaro's policies towards kids hurt so many people, but he couldn't have done it without Niki Roberts.” As you read in our breakdown of the Juvenile Court Section A runoff, being a part of the Cannizzaro administration doesn’t immediately write you off as a viable candidate. But how you act under an oppressive administration does. To show for her work, Roberts reeled in an endorsement from the local police union, the Fraternal Order of Police.

In our survey, Niki Roberts consistently conveyed that she was the mercy of the system, focusing on what she could not do and ignoring alternatives that have been highlighted by other candidates. See Roberts’s response to our survey (and for comparison, check out the previous candidate for section F, Tenee Felix’s response.)

We’re suspicious of the way Ranord Darensburg might use the discretion afforded to Juvenile Judges, based on his support for the court’s proposed policy of detaining juveniles for unarmed offenses, such as pulling car handles (attempted burglary). But he has done some good for the Juvenile Court rehabilitative programs such as finding funding for them and creating new ones to fill gaps. Additionally, Darensburg helped the court eliminate discretionary fees, including fees for probation supervision, public defenders, and medical exams. He also helped to eliminate cash bail for kids, unless there is “an established likelihood of failure to appear,” or if they might be a danger to themselves or others. Since the general election, Darensburg won endorsements from his previous contender Tenee Felix, from the Orleans Parish Republican Executive Committee (to go along with his endorsement from their democratic counterpart), and from Mayor Cantrell.