Orleans Parish Races
- Judges - Civil District Court
- Judges - Criminal District Court
- District Attorney
- Judges - Juvenile District Court
- Judge - Municipal and Traffic Court
- School Board
- Neighborhood Security Districts
Judges - Civil District Court
Six year term; no term limits. This court handles civil and domestic litigation—domestic cases include abuse, divorces, child custody disputes, and disputes over succession and wills, etc, while civil cases are cases in which one party is suing another for damages. They may arise from many situations, including accidents, breaches of contract, and allegations of fraud. Typically junior (ie newly-elected) members of the bench are assigned the domestic cases, while the more plum large civil cases are assigned to the more senior judges.
Judge Civil District Court, Division E
The incumbent here, Omar Mason, won this seat in a special election in 2018. As the junior member of the court, he has spent his term handling the domestic (family court) docket. Before becoming a judge, Mason was a practicing civil attorney. If reelected he would rotate into the general civil litigation docket. Mason’s campaign carries endorsements from the Independent Women’s Organization, The Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO, and the criminal justice reform group, Voters Organized To Educate (sister organization to Voice Of The Experienced).
Mason’s challenger, Dianne Alexander is an attorney whose varied experience includes a stint with the City Law Department and the District Attorney’s office in the civil and child support division. She has also served on the Louisiana Supreme Court Committee on Bar Admissions.
The Times-Picayune notes that, although, Alexander and Mason were classmates at Loyola Law, Alexander says she decided to run against him anyway because she “heard frequent complaints about the speed of justice in his courtroom.” She does not say more about these complaints, who she heard them from, or whether or not it might even be reasonable to expect some disruption in the routine during this year’s unprecedented adjustment to COVID-19 protocols. About that, Mason tells the League of Women voters here that he has “instituted a staggered docket, so as to reduce the number of individuals present in the courtroom at any given time,” as well as conducted some hearings over Zoom.
Judge Civil District Court, Division F
The real story of this race begins back in 2018 when sanitation/private police/food and beverage/reality TV lifestyle grifter Sidney Torres tried to buy a nightclub. Torres thought he had out-bid rival real estate weasels Kishore “Mike” and Aaron Motwani for the building at 500 Frenchmen Street, home to the bar and music venue Vaso. But after the Motwanis partnered with the club owner to exercise a contractual option to buy the building back out from under him, Torres took them to court.
Unsurprisingly, the conflict between two of the city’s more powerful real estate fiefdoms over a high profile piece of property quickly became a sensational affair in the news. Torres publicly described the deal as a “snake move.” His lawyers also cited comments by the Motwanis that the dispute “will get bloody,” which Torres suggests may have been more of a physical than metaphorical threat. While awaiting a court date, Torres continued trying to evict the club from the property, at one point lodging a series of ATC complaints jeopardizing its liquor license. The fight never did actually become “bloody”, but Torres’s ego was obviously bruised when Judge Chris Bruno ruled against him in May of 2019. “This whole thing is basically not over,” he told the newspaper.
And, apparently, it still isn’t. This year Torres, along with his business associates and several LLCs registered to them have put over $36,000 into the campaign of Bruno’s opponent Jennifer Medley. Torres’s production company has also assisted in the creation of Medley’s television ads, one of which she was enjoined from airing due to its unfounded allegations.
None of this is to say Medley isn’t qualified to run for a judgeship. She has 18 years of civil and criminal law practice under her belt and was an ad hoc judge in Juvenile Court from 2014 to 2019. For his part, Bruno is the Chief Judge at Civil Court with 8 years on the civil docket and 4 on the domestic docket. He has substantial support among a wide range of civic and political organizations including the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO, the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee, BOLD, and the Independent Women’s Association. It seems he’s also made an enemy of one of the city’s most notorious real estate barons, which may be the most impressive qualification of any of these. Read Medley’s response to our survey.
Judge Civil District Court, Division G
Incumbent Robin Giarrusso has been a mainstay at Civil District Court for over 30 years. Because the Louisiana constitution bars judges from election after the age of 70, this would be her final term if reelected. Giarrusso’s notable endorsements come from the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO, Mayor Cantrell, BOLD, and COUP. She also scores an 86 percent favorable rating from among attorneys polled by the New Orleans Bar Association.
Giarrusso seems to have told Voters Organized To Educate that her campaign is not accepting donations and does not have a website. But neither of those things is true. In fact, her campaign has piled up over $165,000 in contributions, all during the late August-October filing period. The most likely explanation for this is, at the time of her interview with VOTE, she did not expect to have an actual opponent show up to run against her.
That surprise opponent, Schalyece Harrison jumped into this race shortly after having finished third in a primary election for First City Court in July. Harrison is a civil litigation and tax lawyer who has worked as an administrative hearing officer for the city of New Orleans and as a disciplinary hearing officer for the Sewerage & Water Board. Much like her campaign for First City Court, this effort appears to be self-financed. Harrison advocates for free legal representation in civil court, and said in our survey “No one should be jailed for suffering from a mental illness or drug addiction.” Read Harrison’s response to our survey.
Judge Civil District Court, Division I
Civil District Division I will be transitioning from a domestic only docket to a general civil docket, handling cases like car accidents, fraud, malpractice, contracts, etc. So to best serve the public, it is important that the elected judge have experience with Family Law, as well as other sections of the law. The Division I seat is vacant due to the incumbent, Judge Griffin leaving her seat to run for the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Michael J. Hall has 17 years experience practicing law, which includes serving as a judicial law clerk for the Civil District Court and working as a trial lawyer in cases spanning medical malpractice, personal injury, insurance, domestic, and general liability. He also worked as a mediator in Family Court for seven years.
Hall has dabbled in many kinds of law and his platform is “Experience Matters.” Hall said he would make sure self-represented plaintiffs or defendants were made aware of both the self-help desk and help offered from law school clinics, but those are standard answers. And in regards to concerns about courtroom efficiency, Hall pointed to ensuring he had proper staff with experience working in the court house.
He is also enthusiastic about bringing the court into the digital age, to increase efficiency. He argued that better employment of technology would allow court to be conducted outside of “normal court hours… to accommodate litigants and attorneys.” Technology is at the forefront of how he plans to keep people safe in visiting his court during coronavirus, but he seems to have a blind spot for those families both without a lawyer and without means to connect virtually. Further, he says that the court could schedule virtual meetings around litigants’ lunch breaks, so they don’t have to miss work. But that idea seems a little out of touch with the working class, seeing as not everyone has set lunch schedules (or they may not even get a lunch break); they may not have access to the internet at work, or be able to bring a device for virtually connecting to work. He also plans to institute extended courtroom hours 2 days a week,though they would only be available to those who could or wanted to attend court virtually.
Hall is endorsed by the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1650, support he no doubt earned from his time working as a general liability defense attorney for the Regional Transit Authority (RTA). He is also endorsed by Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Greater New Orleans, Alliance for Good Government, the New Orleans East Leadership organization, and Impact for a Better Louisiana. Read Hall’s response to our survey.
Elroy James has worked on both sides of tax law, overseen litigation and policy for the state’s Department of Revenue, served as a Tax Credit Attorney for the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO). James also worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) as their Louisiana Tax Controversy lawyer, while he was seemingly based in Houston.
PwC, as they like to be called, is a consulting firm of lawyers. Among their many services, corporations and other businesses can hire PwC to help them stay in line with local and federal tax codes. This of course seems to be done with the implication of helping the business get the most “bang for their buck,” as a recent panelist on PwC’s Tax Readiness Webcast Series stated. Within that series, PwC has also highlighted that “Increased transparency is exposing taxpayers (read: corporations) to more significant tax liabilities.” For Louisiana, James’s focus while at PwC, one of the biggest tax concerns for corporations is getting the most bang for their buck out of the state’s contentious Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP).
James has bragged about his experience defending fortune 500 companies, including Haliburton, as well as other large companies like Advanced Auto Parts and oil-money revived Blue Bell Creamery. In addition to corporate interests, or in conjunction with them, James currently sits on the Hospitality & Tourism Task Force, which is part of the state’s Economic Development Department and the Governor's Resilient Louisiana Commission. He is also the current president of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, Inc. and Co-Chairman of the Mayor's Mardi Gras Advisory Council.
James’s platform is vaguely, “[R]estoring faith in justice.” When asked by IWO how he might limit costs associated with the court, he suggested putting an emphasis on solving civil issues outside of the courtroom through use of the court’s mediators. He claimed he had “practiced all [his] life in the family law arena” since he was the product of a single mother,but really, his only family law experience comes from a short stint as law clerk for Civil District Court early in his career.
He is endorsed by Algiers PAC, BOLD, IDEA. And received a sizable donation from Advances Biomedics LLC, the contractor originally hired to handle Southern University’s medical marijuana business, despite their internal conflict and litigation. They’ve since been replaced, due to local pressure and continuing lawsuits. James also received a sizable donation from another member of local industry, Robert Boh, President of Boh Bros. Construction and King of Rex in 2019.
Lori Jupiter grew up in Minneapolis, but her family is from New Orleans. She brags that she’s never missed a Mardi Gras and graduated from Xavier. She’s well connected to the judiciary; her in-laws are Judge Steven Jupiter and the late Hon. Clare Jupiter. Jupiter got her start in legal aid, working on domestic law and tenant/landlord disputes at Southeast Louisiana Legal Services. Then, she spent 17 years clerking and working as a research attorney at the appellate court. Since then she’s been working as a Law Clerk for Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, Hon. Bernette Johnson. From this experience Jupiter says she doesn’t think she’ll see anything that she hasn’t seen before. And she’s a doula.
While working for the courts, Jupiter says that she has reviewed and assisted with cases that “have had a historical impact and changed legal jurisprudence,” pointing to her involvement with State v. Ramos, the infamous unanimous jury case. In State v. Ramos, a defendant (Ramos) argued that Louisiana’s Jim Crow law that allows non-unanimous juries to send defendants to prison, sometimes for life or even to death, was unconstitutional. But the appellate court, who Jupiter was assisting, rejected Ramos’s claim. And when Ramos appealed that decision to the Louisiana Supreme Court, where Lori was writing recommendations, the court denied Ramos a review. So, Ramos took the state of Louisiana to the US Supreme Court. Louisiana’s position was that non-unanimous juries are constitutional, and rested this argument on a weak interpretation of the 6th amendment, that requires jury unanimity in federal criminal trials, but maybe not state trials as Louisiana argued. But, it was a weak argument and the US Supreme Court struck down the use of non-unanimous juries nationwide (really only affecting Louisiana and Oregon) this year.
You might remember that Louisiana voted out future non-unanimous juries with a constitutional amendment before this case ran its course, but the US Supreme Court ruling goes further than our amendment because it expands the ruling and allows defendants that have not exhausted their appeal options to possibly be retried. And the Supreme Court agreed this year to explore the question of retroactivity that the ruling on State v. Ramos opens up. So, when Jupiter points to the State v. Ramos case, and implies that she has helped to bring about historic change while assisting with the appellate court and serving as Law Clerk at the Louisiana Supreme Court, it must be clarified that the courts of Louisiana did not allow for historic change on the unanimous jury case until the US Supreme Court forced them to do so.
Focusing on how she would run her courtroom if elected, she highlighted her calm temperament and the experience she’s gained at appellate and the state supreme court with looking at the law “through the eye of the judge.” Regarding self-representing litigants, which are common on the domestic docket, Jupiter ensured that her office will be well aware of the resources available and that they will share them with those litigants. She’s also spoken to courtroom efficiency, and says that she would make sure cases move along quickly by firstly setting trial dates for all cases on the docket, and then setting subsequent status meetings.
Jupiter also expressed concern for litigant comfort with potential virtual meetings, as we deal with Covid. She wants to ensure that whatever the means, everyone's needs are met. She also suggested creating courtroom hubs around the city, in places like libraries and law schools, where litigants could go to avoid the crowded court house.
She is endorsed by AFL-CIO and Community Organization of Urban Politics, and Council Member Kristen Gisleson Palmer sits on her campaign committee. As far as we know, Sheriff Gusman, who runs Orleans Parish Prison hasn’t formally endorsed Jupiter, but he has donated about $400 to her campaign. She also received a sizable sum ($2,500) from the campaign for Charles Henry, previous Republican chief of staff for the U.S. Rep Steve Scalise. Another substantial donation ($1,000) from Kjell Bergh, a large national democratic donor and player in the Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party.
DeWayne Williams is a New Orleans native with a background in Business Administration. He earned his law degree at Loyola and has since practiced law for 19 years including under DA Eddie Jordan. His trial experience covers many areas including civil rights/discrimination, personal, business, and commercial litigation, appellate advocacy, government and regulatory affairs, governmental and legal ethics, professional liability, commercial transactions, personal injury, and family law. He also comes from the same law firm as now Judge Omar Mason. Williams has practiced many times before the Louisiana State Supreme Court, and has been before the US Supreme Court twice.
Williams believes that judges have the responsibility to be accessible outside the court, helping educate the community on what the court does. In 2012, he was tasked by the Louisiana Supreme Court to be a member of the Committee on Bar Admissions as the Constitutional Law Bar Examiner. During that period, he helped to write the state bar exam. And from 2011 to 2016 he was the Chairman of Louisiana Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board, acting as an adjudicator for the hearings on lawyer malpractice. Williams has also clerked for Judge Piper Griffin, who held the seat he is currently running for.
Williams is also a single father, who is personally familiar with the stress that the domestic docket can have on parents and children. When asked how he might help self-represented litigants find equal justice despite their means, he pointed to offering continuing legal education (CLE) credit to attorneys in exchange for pro bono work. Regarding the general civil docket, he acknowledged that the docket will see more cases because tort reform has lowered the threshold for cases requiring juries from $50,000 to $10,000. He says it’s now even more critical to run an efficient court. And he points to implementing strategies employed at the federal level such as scheduling status conferences within a month of cases being filed at which a trial date would be set, and providing judgements on the same day rulings are made. He says far too often, at the state level, judges let attorneys set the pace of the docket. He would not abide by that tradition.
Interestingly, Williams received a (small, $200) donation from Marco Moran. In a previous life, Marco Moran played a role in “$400 million compound pharmacy scheme based in Hattiesburg.” Williams has been endorsed by the New Orleans Coalition.
Judge Civil District Court, Domestic Section 1
Six year term; no term limits. Domestic Section 1 aka Civil District Court Division K, focuses solely on domestic issues such as divorce, domestic violence, and custody cases. Family courts are important for the public because of the sensitive legal issues they deal in, but also because of the non-legal, emotional work they assist with. Judges in family court must be familiar with all sorts of disciplines like psychology and social work, as well as many types of law. A family law case can be affected by mental health, substance abuse and addiction, child abuse, contracts, estate or even immigration law. Overall it is crucial to fill the domestic bench with someone who has a multifaceted understanding of legal and family matters.
Bernadette D’souza is the incumbent and has held the seat since the seat was created. In fact, she championed the legislation that created the seat within Civil Court to strictly hear only domestic issues. Before that, domestic cases were heard by all the Civil Court Judges on a rotating docket.
It seems as though her platform is synonymous with her experience. And from a technical standpoint Hon. D’souza seems to be extremely qualified. She has a background in psychology and has since spent many years teaching and practicing family law. Before taking her seat on the court for the first time, she spent around 18 years practicing Family, Housing, and Domestic Violence Law with the low cost legal clinic, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services. Among several other awards, she was presented with Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence Into Action Award, and has even been invited by Pope Francis to speak at the First Pan-American Judges Summit of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the Vatican. She currently serves on the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Faculty of the National Judicial Institute on Domestic Violence.
When asked how she would ensure compliance with child support, she highlighted her work with Total Community Action (TCA). Among other services, TCA provides opportunities for unemployed parents saddled with child support payments, to receive job training, help finding a job, and rental assistance. TCA also designed some of its programming around helping parents who were formerly incarcerated navigate employment. Bernadette was appointed to lead the center by Mayor Cantrell.
When campaigning for her seat in 2014, she claimed to have met her goals set for her first term by “increasing resources for self-represented litigants, implementing programs to manage the domestic docket in a fair and efficient manner, and using community-based resources to further assist families outside of the courtroom.”
Teatrece Harrison, D’souza’s competitor in 2014, believed the court was moving too slowly and that working parents were not treated fairly because they were asked to spend too much time in court and often sent to mediators that they may or may not have been able to afford.
Her campaign has mostly been funded by other lawyers around the city. She’s received endorsements from Sheriff Marlin Gusman, Mayor LaToya Cantrell, Criminal District Court Clerk Arthur Morrell, as well as several City Councilmembers, and several community organizations including Black Organization for Leadership Development (BOLD), Community Organization for Urban Politics (COUP), and the AFL-CIO. D’souza is also endorsed by Independent Women's Organization (IWO) who has also endorsed her competitor LaKeisha Jefferson.
LaKeisha Jefferson has nearly 19 years of experience representing clients with domestic cases, and has practiced before the Louisiana Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. She gained that experience in the Family Law unit at Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, serving as conflict counsel for the Orleans Indigent Defender Program, and working as a staff attorney at Project SAVE, a public interest law firm dedicated to assisting victims of domestic violence. In the past, she has also served as Assistant City Attorney for the City of New Orleans prosecuting domestic violence offenders, under three different mayors. Jefferson is also an alumna of Emerge Louisiana, a democratic candidate training program.
LaKeisha’s platform mostly focuses on individualizing solutions, as well as ensuring people spend as little time as possible in her courtroom. Two specific policies she plans to implement include scheduling time slots for both court hearings and pre trial meetings, that she ensures will take no longer than 30 minutes to hear.
When asked how she would ensure compliance with child support, LaKeisha said she’d planned to increase accountability by scheduling more frequent review hearings. She shares an endorsement from Independent Women's Organization (IWO) with the incumbent, and has also been endorsed by New Orleans East Leadership, a dignified organization committed to the economic, social and educational advancement of New Orleans East.
Judges - Criminal District Court
“We are constantly walking on eggshells trying to comply with the multitude of federal lawsuits filed against us." -Judge Karen Herman, June 2020. Twelve judges elected to six-year terms handle all of the felony cases and some of the misdemeanors in Orleans Parish. An elected magistrate and appointed commissioners handle initial bail-setting and some misdemeanor cases.
Judge Criminal District Court, Section A
Incumbent Laurie White started her career as a prosecutor in New Orleans and Baton Rouge before moving to civil work and criminal defense. Commendably, she assisted in freeing from wrongful incarceration both Calvin Duncan, architect of the victorious legal challenge to nonunanimous Jim Crow juries, and Norris Henderson, founder of formerly incarcerated persons group VOTE and campaign director of the Unanimous Jury Coalition. She remains active with Duncan’s First 72+ re-entry program, and her work on and off the bench has earned her Henderson’s VOTE endorsement.
In response to what she characterized as her colleagues’ “lock everybody up and throw away the key” attitude, White co-founded the Re-entry Court Workforce Development Program, which takes young people convicted of nonviolent offenses and imprisons them at Angola State Penitentiary for two years if they graduate, ten to life if they don’t. They’re paired with life-sentenced mentors who get paid between 50 and 75 cents an hour to teach GED classes and skilled trades. Though White says few participants are kicked out and made to serve the extended sentences, the Loyola Maroon reports that half of the participants don’t graduate. For the lifers, it’s a welcome opportunity to show that ”society was wrong when they threw them away,” but we’re still stuck at why any of these young people and reformed lifers are at a plantation-turned-prison at all.
White’s campaign offers voters three examples of when she stood up to the DA’s misrepresentations and fake subpoenas. In 2014, when she thought that a shooting victim intended to leave town to avoid testifying, she had him arrested. When she found out prosecutors had invented the victim’s evasiveness, she released him. Then in 2017, when a complaining witness was absent from an NOPD officer’s domestic violence trial, White granted the prosecutor’s request to have the officer’s coworkers arrest that complainant. When the state still couldn’t track down the complainant -- who as it turns out had been issued a fake subpoena -- she denied them a 12th continuance and the state dropped the case. In a different 2017 case, the DA’s daughter asked White to arrest an absent witness, but misrepresented that the witness had received a real subpoena--it was fake. White refused to order the arrest.
In a courthouse full of personalities, White’s still stands out. The Louisiana Supreme Court rebuked her for what it called, “reality-show behavior,” including referring to DA Cannizzaro and one of his assistants as ”Satan” and “Lucifer” (White denies the allegation). When she was campaigning for a different judgeship in 2016, she skipped court for 23 days out of 42. Though she has switched party affiliation several times, those decisions seem to align more with trying to gain favor for federal judgeships than changing ideology.
Dennis Moore has been a capital defense attorney for ten years, along with a prior stint at the Orleans Indigent Defender Program. He also has civil legal experience and non-legal experience in software engineering, which inspires his reform angle: update the technology at a courthouse known for using software resembling the 1983 movie WarGames. Specifics include an electronic filing system and an online court calendar to ring in the year 2021 in Orleans Parish, USA.
Moore says that this DA’s office routinely hides evidence, a problem he intends to remedy by reporting violators to the state bar’s disciplinary board. He favors free ankle monitoring and pretrial services instead of money bail, though he’s only said that in reference to non-violent charges. For sentencing, he pledges to explore alternatives to incarceration and would adopt the federal practice of pre-sentencing investigation reports for each defendant. He would also expand existing drug court programs and White’s re-entry program. For someone who has campaigned multiple times for judge, however, these pledges remain light on analysis and details.
Judge Criminal District Court, Section D
Two prosecutors-turned-defense-attorneys vie for the seat held by Paul Bonin, who’s being sued for threatening to jail defendants unless they rented ankle monitors from his former law partner and campaign donor. He also jailed a defendant for failing to hire a private attorney while goading him, “Do you want to act cute with me padnah?”
Graham Bosworth is part of this year’s #FlipTheBench slate of public defenders campaigning for judge. He calls money bail “financial punishment,” noting that most people make their court appearances whether or not they’ve paid bail, and “all too often simply enter a guilty plea to get out of prison.” Instead, he will release anyone whom the prosecution doesn’t establish as a danger to society. He believes that trial taxing is “anathema to due process,” will prioritize the protection of constitutional rights over judicial incentives to just move cases quickly, and believes that jail should always be a judge’s last resort. He’s gone on record against the DA’s practice of adding charges to force defendants to pay increased bonds, and he has long criticized the extortive power of the habitual offender law to force guilty pleas regardless of a client’s innocence. He understands that mass incarceration is driven by money bail, habitual offender laws, responsive verdicts, mandatory minimums, and judges’ desire for “efficiency,'' all of which conspire to strongarm defendants into pleading guilty to avoid suffering the most severe consequences.
Bosworth represents people in private practice, as well in public defense work in Jefferson Parish, appellate, and federal courts. He temporarily served as the judge of this section in 2016. He started his legal career in the Orleans DA’s office, which included opposing Robert Jones’s request to have his conviction thrown out. Bosworth successfully argued that the claim was untimely, explaining in 2015, "Policy such as it was -- and it wasn't necessarily the (formal) policy -- was to address cases as efficiently as possible. And [Jones’s argument] was procedurally barred." He’s since condemned a “win at all costs” approach to prosecution, and says that prosecutors who commit misconduct should be sanctioned. Judges should enforce prosecutors’ duty to disclose evidence in a timely manner by denying the evidence at trial, granting a mistrial, or holding prosecutors in contempt. To overturn wrongful convictions, Bosworth presented us with a detailed plan that would seriously consider requests (often written by petitioners with scarce resources and for that reason usually discarded), appoint experienced pro bono attorneys, and basically override technical disqualifiers if there are constitutional errors that need to be corrected.
Bosworth is co-chair of the Louisiana Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Committee, former co-chair of its Subcommittee on Incarceration Reduction, and has been a team leader with the Louisiana Sentencing Commission. He’s earned the support of VOTE, NOLA Defenders for Equal Justice, 10,000 Votes, Justice PAC, Forum for Equality, the Independent Women’s Organization’s split endorsement, the New Orleans Coalition, and the Alliance for Good Government, as well as a donation from developer and criminal justice reform supporter Pres Kabacoff. Read Bosworth’s response to our survey.
Kimya Holmes is an attorney at the Capital Defense Project of Southeast Louisiana, which has never had a client receive the death penalty. She’s campaigning as a centrist candidate, noting that she has practiced “from all angles as a prosecutor, criminal and capital defense attorney, and ad hoc judge,” who sees the judge’s role as “referee.” Holmes recounts her first experience with the criminal legal system as a victim of a violent carjacking and kidnapping as her motivation to become a prosecutor. She says she’s “never believed that justice was just a conviction,” but she advertises her favorable conviction rate as a prosecutor.
Holmes sees no need for radical reforms to the money bail system other than some ”tweaking,” She intends to rely on pre-sentence investigation reports prepared by law enforcement to try to get a more holistic picture of the people she sentences. She uses the tough-on-crime talking point of prioritizing violent crimes, and in her main video spot, says, “Those who need to be in jail will be, but those who deserve a second chance will get one.”
In the community, she’s the founder of the Krewe of Themis, comprising those who left the Krewe of Nyx to protest founder and former NOPD officer and fired-Delgado police chief Julie Lea’s posting an “All Lives Matter” meme in response to this summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations. She’s also a member of the Martinet Legal Society, which combats racial injustice in the legal system. Holmes is backed by BOLD, OPDEC, the New Orleans Coalition, UTNO, a split IWO endorsement, retired Judge Frank Marullo, and Sheriff Marlin Gusman.
Judge Criminal District Court, Section E
As the chief of the Orleans Public Defenders, Derwyn Bunton is running as part of the seven-candidate #FlipTheBench slate to end mass incarceration, end money bail, and fix our racist justice system.
After earning his law degree, Bunton began working at the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, which reduced the juvenile prison population from 2,000 to 350 through lawsuits and the 2003 Juvenile Justice Reform Act. After Hurricane Katrina, he took over the Orleans Public Defenders at a time when the office had deep financial struggles and a severe staffing shortage. By 2015, the National Legal Aid and Defenders Association named OPD as one of the premier public defender offices in the country. When asked which of his reforms he is most proud of, Bunton spoke of the funding parity ordinance that City Council passed in August to tie OPD’s funding with the DA’s.
Bunton’s goal is clear: end the unjust user-pay system that funds the courts off of poor defendants’ bail, fines, and fees. He strongly believes that judges can reduce the number of people coming through the court system by refusing to sign unnecessary warrants and holding prosecutors accountable for misconduct. Both of these issues disproportionately harm Black and brown communities, keeping existing prison pipelines wide-open. Bunton has stated, “one out of three people a day are kept in jail [in the city of New Orleans] simply because they can’t afford to pay.”
Under Bunton’s leadership, OPD has received the Frederick Douglass Human Rights Award from the Southern Center for Human Rights and has been recognized by the Innocence Project of New Orleans. He currently serves as President of the Board for the Fair Fight Initiative, a nonprofit that is working to end mass incarceration through litigation and community advocacy. Bunton is endorsed by the Independent Women’s Organization, 10,000 Votes, and Voters Organized to Educate. In a recent interview with the New Orleans Safety and Justice Challenge Community Advisory Group, he said, “I want to remain experimental. I want to remain innovative and be in the room for some of these changes in our criminal legal system.” Read Bunton’s response to our survey.
On the other side of the ticket is prosecutor Rhonda Goode-Douglas. Goode-Douglas has twenty years of prosecutorial experience. She was a prosecutor in Chicago for six years before returning to New Orleans to clerk at the Louisiana Supreme Court. Goode-Douglas then served with the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office for 12 years, conducting numerous jury and bench trials. Next, she was a prosecutor in Jefferson Parish for nearly three years. Then in the following three years she held a variety of job titles, including: trial attorney for Allstate, assistant chief counsel for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and attorney at Blue Williams, LLP. She has a long list of establishment endorsements including Rep. Royce Duplessis, Rep. Aimee Freeman, and Sheriff Marlin Gusman. Her organizational endorsements include the Independent Women’s Organization, Alliance for Good Government, the AFL-CIO, and Forum for Equality.
Judge Criminal District Court, Section G
The winner in the Section G race replaces Judge Byron C. Williams, who was removed from the bench for allegedly groping a staff member; touching a lawyer without her permission; complimenting that lawyer’s style of dress, attractiveness, and size; using a drug court session to recount the story of how he forced a participant to give birth in jail because he wouldn’t release her; pointing out that mother as a still-incarcerated drug court participant; comparing that mother’s physical appearance to the aforementioned lawyer’s; identifying the newborn’s father in the courtroom; telling a random passerby that she looks like she needs drug court; and when she took offense, saying he was “being real,” and “that’s life, we have to help each other out.”
Nandi Campbell is a #FlipTheBench candidate pledging practical solutions to long-standing problems at Criminal District Court. She plans to stagger cases throughout the day so working people can schedule their time in advance. She wants to reduce the jail’s size and the number of judges (to reduce the court’s budget), and end the user-pay funding system. Her default position for nonviolent charges will be to release the accused - a position she supports with research showing no correlation between a money bail system and public safety. She will review all other bonds so people won’t be sitting in jail waiting for the DA to decide whether they’re even going to charge the case. She attributes Louisiana’s high incarceration rate to the criminalization of addiction, mental health, and poverty; the school-to-prison pipeline; oppressive sentencing laws; and the district attorney's win-at-all-costs culture. In a direct shot at her ex-prosecutor opponent, she believes that a DA’s office with a culture of overvaluing trials and win rates will convict the innocent, fail to hold the guilty accountable, and incentivize prosecutors to plant evidence. To remedy decades of this win-at-all-costs attitude, she will review the sentences of anyone previously sentenced by a judge in her courtroom.
These positions are informed by Campbell’s years as a highly-respected criminal defense attorney in both private practice and with the Orleans Public Defenders. She’s handled major cases like the retrial of Innocence Project New Orleans exoneree Jerome Morgan, whose original murder trial took only a single day in then-judge Leon Cannizzaro’s courtroom. She also handled New Orleans Saint Darren Sharper’s rape case, and had charges thrown out against the lone deputy whom the sheriff and DA tried to scapegoat for the in-jail suicide of 15-year-old Jaquin Thomas. She believably tells us that she’s willing to take bail companies’ money if they want to give it to her, but that it won’t change her commitment to releasing people by default. She also outlines a detailed timeline with hard deadlines for the state to turn over their evidence, as well as associated sanctions if they don’t. Her approach to prosecutorial misconduct will be to first ask the head DA to file a disciplinary complaint, and if they don’t, to file it herself and add the head DA’s refusal to maintain the integrity of their own office.
She enters the race with the endorsements of DA candidate Jason Williams, formerly incarcerated persons group Voters Organized to Educate, 10,000 Votes, NOLA Defenders for Equal Justice, Karen Carter Peterson, and Royce Duplessis. Read Campbell’s response to our survey.
“Evidence tends to suggest” Lionel “Lon” Burns planted evidence in a rape trial. While prosecuting a case where napkins had been used in a series of rapes, Burns allegedly “found” napkins in the defendant’s seized pants that had not been discovered by any police or attorneys during two previous trials. When Burns and then-prosecutor-now-DA-candidate Keva Landrum surprised the court with the napkins during the next day’s testimony, then-judge-now-DA-candidate Arthur Hunter stopped the trial and sentenced Burns to six months in jail for planting the evidence. The Supreme Court ultimately spared Burns by hypothesizing some other mystery person could have planted the evidence, but that wasn’t the end of Burns’s troubles. He was also suspended for faking an illness and sending an unlicensed paralegal to court in his place in 2013.
Burns, now a defense attorney, is banking his candidacy on a curiously untimely pro-incarceration pitch. He reasons that because most of his clients plead guilty, defense attorneys like Campbell shouldn’t act like they’re “representing all these ‘innocent’ people who are coming to court.” He can tell you exactly how many trials he prosecuted and exactly what percentage he won, though courthouse insiders say Orleans DAs like to count responsive verdicts and nonunanimous Jim Crow verdicts as wins. Abandoning any pretense of a presumption of innocence, he brags that with Lon Burns as judge, murderers and rapists will not be let out of jail. He goes so far as to guarantee that no person charged with any violent offense will be allowed to sign themselves out of jail -- even though the law already prevents this from happening. He would consider, on a case-by-case basis, release without bond for first-time, non-violent people, who have significant community contacts, and do not steal from the elderly. He supports the bail system as it is today, crediting bail bondsmen with getting people to court. He thinks defendants who make bail shouldn’t ask Judge Lon Burns to give them a public defender. Finally, he thinks defendants’ fines and fees should pay for the courts they “take advantage of.” Evidence tends to suggest Burns is a disgrace to the practice of law and would be an embarrassment on the bench.
Judge Criminal District Court, Section K
At 4:20 p.m. on qualifying’s final day, longtime defense attorney C. Gary Wainwright announced his candidacy via Facebook: ”It’s about time!!! 4:20! WAINWRIGHT 4 JUDGE.” Known for prominently displaying “END THE DRUG WAR” paraphernalia, Wainwright declares that when he’s a judge, he will take all the drug cases and “basically throw them into the garbage.” He says that as a longtime member of the Drug Policy Alliance, he brought drug courts to Louisiana, and while he supports the harm reducing benefits of drug courts, veterans’ courts, and mental health courts, he ultimately doesn’t think these services should be housed within the criminal punishment system. He identifies the drug war as a product of systemic racism in American policing, and during one forum, jaw-droppingly tried to claim, “Several years ago, I wrote an outline for a book. And I named the book The New Jim Crow. And that outline and the book title were given to a law professor named Michelle Alexander.” We did not reach out to Alexander for comment.
Wainwright believes that no one should be in jail solely because they’re poor, but pre-trial detention or supervised release may be necessary for people he determines to be dangerous by their criminal records. He says he’s opposed bail bonds for 30 years, and believes any bail money should go back to the defendant at the end of the case - in the current system, the money usually stays with a bonding company. He calls the prosecutors' routine practice of re-indicting defendants on more serious charges to jack up their bail “unfair and illegal.” He thinks it’s “insane” to make an indigent person pay court costs.
Wainwright was suspended in 2012 for “mishandling client funds, failing to refund clients' fees, practicing law while ineligible, and failing to communicate with clients,” which he attributes to PTSD suffered after Katrina. Read Wainwright’s response to our survey.
Despite claims of experience in “both criminal and civil district courts in multiple parishes,” Stephanie Bridges’s admissions that “most of her trials have been judge trials [and she has] never settled a criminal case,” indicate that she likely has very little criminal legal experience -- felony trials are jury trials by default, and though almost every criminal cases pleads, none of them ever “settles.”
Bridges lists herself as President of The New Orleans Council for Community and Justice, and as a zealous advocate for youth justice for over 30 years. The organization’s website says it does trainings and workshops to fight bias, bigotry, and racism. Her campaign hasn’t made clear what relationship her work has to criminal courts, but her relatively vapid pitch for judgeship nevertheless has the support of Karen Carter Peterson and Kristin Palmer. One novel campaign idea is to hold a Saturday court session once a month. Bridges personally filed for bankruptcy after going into debt to cover what she says were her nonprofit’s expenses, but Gentilly Messenger reports that those debts came from Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and Victoria’s Secret.
Marcus DeLarge is a frequent litigator at the criminal courthouse with John T. Fuller & Associates as well as in his independent practice at DeLarge Law, LLC. His now-disqualified opponent Diedre Kelly, who had DeLarge’s law partners John Fuller and Kevin Kelly on her campaign team, has endorsed DeLarge alongside Forum for Equality, OPDEC, IDEA, and the Independent Women’s Organization. He briefly worked at the Orleans District Attorney’s office, his brother is an NOPD lieutenant, and much of the rest of his family has been in public service in New Orleans. Prior to his defense practice, he was a teacher, coach, and athletic director at his alma mater, St. Augustine.
DeLarge indicates that changes need to be made to the bail system, but he hasn’t gone beyond the moderate stance that more people on nonviolent offenses should be released.
Judge Criminal District Court, Section L
Angel Harris, one of the seven reform-minded public defenders this election, is mounting a rare challenge of a well-funded incumbent in her first political campaign. When asked why she passed up open seats to run for Section L, Harris explained that her “entire campaign platform is based on reimagining the criminal court system,” and that the only way to do that is to “challenge the status quo.” She highlights excessive bail as causing greater damage to poor defendants and communities of color, and indicated that she will not use money bail except when required by law.
Harris is currently Senior Legal Counsel at The Justice Collaborative, a criminal justice reform organization focused on holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she began her legal career as a public defender in Orleans and Calcasieu parishes, before shifting to post-conviction capital defense practice and then policy work. She moved to the ACLU and then the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where she focused on capital defense, juvenile life without parole, felon disenfranchisement, and policing and education reform. She has published articles or provided policy expertise on the disproportionately white juries deciding police brutality cases, racist police practices, and the death penalty’s racial disparities.
She co-founded the Black Womxn Lawyers Collective, an intersectional training program for legal professionals who serve women and children of color. She’s also a proponent of implicit bias training, and has led trainings for both judges and for defense attorneys. She is also a member of the local AfroFuturist Krewe. Her experience and platform won the support of formerly-incarcerated persons group Voters Organized to Educate, and reform groups Real Justice PAC, #FlipTheBench, and NOLA Defenders for Equal Justice.
While many candidates facing more-progressive-than-expected opposition have shifted their campaign rhetoric left, incumbent Franz Zibilich hasn’t taken the bait. He proudly advertises winning the Metropolitan Crime Commission’s most efficient judge each of the last four years, which means that in a courthouse where 93% of the cases end in guilty pleas, he ends cases faster than any other judge. He does so by telling defendants that plea offers should get worse the longer a case goes on -- a creative twist on the traditional trial tax. Zibilich says that he releases a “huge percentage of these defendants on their own recognizance when eligible by law,” but he also believes that, “[F]or the most part, the current bail system works,” so long as he has discretion over it. Though bail often gets paid by an otherwise indigent defendant’s relatives or boss, he frequently used the fact of a client’s bond as the sole reason to deny them a public defender.
Before taking the bench, Zibilich was the attorney of choice for police officers charged with criminal offenses, including Danziger bridge cop Robert Faulcon and Lawrence Schilling, who beat a 64-year old Black man on video after Katrina. Zibilich was a New Orleans city attorney for 24 years until he ran for District Attorney in 2002. He carries endorsements from BOLD, New Orleans East Leadership, Independent Democratic Electors Association, Forum for Equality, the Police Association of New Orleans cop union, and the conservative Regular Democratic Organization that enacted poll taxes and other Jim Crow laws in post-Reconstruction New Orleans and last year backed Ralph Abraham, Billy Nungesser, and Jeff Landry. Read Harris’ response to our survey.
Magistrate Judge, Criminal District Court
Traditionally, a magistrate judge sets ransom - politely known as bail - on newly-arrested people who are still legally innocent of the allegations against them. Poor people usually sit in jail until they plead guilty. Rich people always pay the ransom and sleep at home. Juana Marine-Lombard, having done this job once before from 2010-2016, fits into the traditional role of the ransom-setting magistrate judge. Steve Singer, fortunately, does not.
Bail decisions can be life and death matters. The Orleans jail has killed over 50 people since Katrina, including Dennis Edwards, who couldn’t afford $4500 bail for allegedly stealing parts from an AC unit. The number would be higher, but the sheriff has a practice of releasing gravely ill people from custody so that their deaths won’t be counted against the jail. Ninety percent of the people currently in the Orleans jail are Black, and almost none of them have been convicted of any crime. While there, they lose jobs, housing, access to medication and support, and their families lose a main source of income.
When those families do scrape enough money together, the court extracts wealth from New Orleans’s Black families more often and at greater cost than it does white families. Furthermore, incumbent magistrate Harry Cantrell, father-in-law to Mayor Latoya Cantrell, has been repeatedly sued and admonished for his unconstitutional practices of ignoring people’s ability to pay when setting bail, refusing to set bail below an arbitrary minimum of $2500, and for the conflict of interest inherent in taking a cut of each bail bond he sets.
Singer’s explicit goal is to drive this bail-bond industry out of business. He’ll do that by releasing people when he can, and setting bail at one dollar when legally obligated to. Only people deemed too dangerous for release at a court hearing would be detained without bail. The plan fits the research: people released without a bail obligation return to court at the same rates as people who paid to get out.
Singer carries the endorsements of formerly incarcerated persons group Voters Organized to Educate and reform groups Justice PAC, 10,000 Votes, #FlipTheBench, and the NOLA Defenders for Equal Justice. His professional experience comprises 30 years as a public defender and 10 years as a Loyola Law professor. He was a founding member of the post-Katrina Orleans Public Defenders office, where his duties repeatedly put him in antagonistic judges’ crosshairs for contempt hearings. Earlier this year, he freed a capital murder client after demonstrating that a lab analyst mixed up a DNA sample from the client’s washing machine with a sample from the murder weapon.
Prior to the establishment of the Orleans Public Defenders, poor defendants were served by a judge-friendly patronage system of part-time attorneys called the Orleans Indigent Defender Program. Juana Marine-Lombard was one of those patronage attorneys. Despite this criminal defense experience and an additional two years at the Capital Defense Project of Southeast Louisiana, Lombard’s campaign betrays her disdain for the presumption of innocence, repeatedly labeling those entering her court as “offenders.” Ultimately, she believes the money bail system can be salvaged by adding supervision, drug treatment, and mental health services. In a city that runs on donations and kickbacks from the bail-bond industry, Lombard’s pro-bail candidacy carries endorsements from anti-consent-decree Mayor Latoya Cantrell (“You’re worried about criminals catching coronavirus? Tell them to stop breaking the damn law”), the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee, the AFL-CIO, the Independent Women’s Organization, the Alliance for Good Government, the Forum for Equality, and her former boss Governor John Bel Edwards.
As Gov. Edwards’s head of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, Lombard created a Human Trafficking Task Force to raid Bourbon Street strip clubs and declared that “prostitution in and of itself is sex trafficking.” One dancer called the raids “the most degrading experience of my adult life,” as NOPD used personal cell phones to snap half-naked photos of the dancers while laughing off their protests: "You lost your right to decency when you became a stripper." The “anti-trafficking” raids were a joint venture of law enforcement and the continuing federal grant-chasing efforts of Covenant House youth shelter, whose disgraced founder, incidentally, paid his teenage residents for sex. In the end, the raids uncovered no evidence of trafficking, but a dancer described them as a “threat to our livelihood and survival,” that would take away their jobs and push them further into marginalized labor.
This election is the story of people like Robert Jones. Following a 2-day sham trial, Mr. Jones was wrongfully convicted of a robbery, kidnap, rape, and a manslaughter he didn’t commit. The Orleans district attorney - the literal textbook case of prosecutors who hide evidence - never disclosed that police apprehended another man who matched the attacker’s description, owned the car used in the crimes, lived near the location, and who had the victim’s stolen jewelry in his possession as well as the gun used in the crimes. Every prosecutor from Harry Connick to Eddie Jordan to Keva Landrum to Leon Cannizzaro continued covering it up by hiding even more evidence and trying to intimidate Mr. Jones to give up challenging his conviction, in exchange for his freedom. But he never backed down. Mr. Jones was finally exonerated after 23 years, and he now works at the Orleans Public Defenders - where seven of this year’s reform candidates have ties - and he’s suing the DA’s office for deliberately hiding exculpatory evidence in dozens of known cases since the 1970s.
This election is our opportunity at some small redemption for the past and ongoing sins of our criminal legal system. Mr. Jones’s ordeal represents a fraction of the suffering and injustice caused by an oppressive police force, corrupt district attorneys, and a court system obsessed with revenue and efficiency. For the entire history of this settler-colonial legal system, we’ve inflicted violence upon Black people, indigenous people, and people of color, queer and gender-nonconforming people, women, neurodivergent people, people with disabilities, and people who are poor. New Orleans in particular has locked the greatest share of our people in cages, and in that disgrace, our state has outpaced the nation, and our nation has outpaced the world.
Through twelve sadistic years in office, outgoing District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and his lackeys:
- jailed domestic violence and sexual assault survivors to coerce their testimony (including jailing a child sex trafficking victim for more than 100 days, causing her to lose custody of her child),
- trained staff that recanting witnesses are “traitors” and they need to “get the last laugh” (including threatening decades in prison against a man whose original testimony was coerced by police and mocking an uncooperative teenage survivor of molestation),
- reflexively threatened Draconian repeat offender sentencing (that Louisiana’s Chief Justice called the “modern manifestation” of post-Reconstruction laws “designed to re-enslave African Americans”),
- pursued maximum sentences for everyone who risked a trial (including men who stole $31 worth of candy and $15 from a police bait car and men who had half an ounce of marijuana and a nickel bag of marijuana),
- sent out illegal fake subpoenas,
- circumvented judges by dismissing and immediately refiling any cases they were unprepared for,
- pursued questionable cases as political favors to powerful friends,
- frivolously prosecuted public defenders for doing their jobs,
- coerced guilty pleas from Innocence Project New Orleans clients to avoid paying wrongful incarceration costs,
- rubber-stamped nearly every case NOPD brought to them,
- transferred nearly every juvenile he could to adult court,
- eavesdropped on attorney-client jail calls, and
- argued that people accused of shoplifting, trespass, and drug possession should stay in a COVID-wracked jail because they “failed to provide any medical documentation [they were] at risk of contracting Coronavirus in the Orleans Justice Center.”
It’s no surprise that every candidate with any sense is clearing the world’s lowest bar by branding themselves a post-Cannizzaro reformer.
Even Cannizzaro, however, likes to say he “has worked tirelessly to reform New Orleans’ [sic] criminal justice system.” Unfortunately, advertised reforms sometimes just co-opt the terminology without dismantling the injustices. For example, Cannizzaro’s so-called “Restorative Justice Unit” was just a single case where his prosecutor daughter “threatened the state’s key witness with prosecution and offered him a new attorney for his pending charges in exchange for his testimony” against a 15-year-old who accidentally shot his 16-year-old friend during an attempted robbery. Additionally, many “reforms” often widen the net of the criminal legal system and compound its abuses. DAs have turned diversion programs into enrichment schemes to funnel money from the court system straight to the DA’s office. Cannizzaro’s diversion program screens applicants via a Criminal Thinking Scale that labels people “criminal” based on their level of agreement with prompts like: “The real reason you are locked up is because of your race”; “Prosecutors often tell witnesses to lie in court”; and “It is unfair that you are locked-up when bankers, lawyers, and politicians get away with their crimes. Laws are just a way to keep poor people down.” Drug treatment facilities like Baton Rouge-based Cenikor lease their patients to dangerous and unpaid labor moving boxes in Wal-Mart warehouses, building oil platforms for Shell, and working at Exxon oil refineries. Finally, candidates may promise attractive reforms like drug treatment and drug courts, but the majority of treatment facilities don’t offer trusted and effective medications like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone that reduce mortality by half, and drug courts overuse drugs like Vivitrol because drug manufacturers market their product directly to the judges.
While all three major candidates promise reform, a closer look at their platforms reveals which campaign promises are meaningful and which are hollow rhetoric.
Keva Landrum is campaigning hard on being the only candidate with the prosecutorial experience to reform the district attorney’s office. That prosecutorial experience began under Harry Connick, Sr., subject of the New York Times editorial “How many constitutional violations will it take before the New Orleans district attorney’s office is held to account for the culture of negligence and outright dishonesty that has pervaded it for decades?” In 2000, she was preparing a rape prosecution alongside Section G candidate Lon Burns when Burns “found” incriminating napkins in the defendant’s seized pants. Though Judge Arthur Hunter sentenced Burns to six months in jail for planting evidence, Landrum has repeatedly emphasized during this campaign that she has “never been in any way disciplined for [her] cases.” When Eddie Jordan’s 2007 resignation made her the first woman DA in Louisiana, she reformed the office by charging small amounts of marijuana as felonies. She remained in charge when her assistants intentionally withheld an internal memo that supported Robert Jones’s innocence, and then when asked why she was unable to prioritize the exoneration of an innocent man, she deflected, "I had a lot of things to do to keep the office afloat.” When asked this month if she had ever skipped the basic prosecutorial task of getting a real subpoena signed by a real judge, and instead, sent an illegal fake subpoena not signed by a judge, she answered, “I dealt with thousands of cases, so I don’t know if I sent a fake subpoena.” As a judge, Landrum issued 14 arrest warrants for reluctant witnesses, several of which were connected to fake subpoenas.
Landrum couples her dismal track record with uninspiring lack of vision on major issues. When prompted to denounce the death penalty, she pitches a recent revelation borne not of moral clarity but of political polling: “The citizens of New Orleans have made it extremely clear that they do not want the death penalty. I recognize that the death penalty has proven to be too costly to pursue, it does not heal for victims and their families, and also it is not deterrent for crime.” The citizens of New Orleans have also made it extremely clear that they do not want reluctant witnesses to be threatened, intimidated, or jailed. On this issue, however, Landrum doesn’t share the community’s outrage and forebodingly suggests that those “who aren’t ready yet, we might have to walk them through that process.” She will use the habitual offender law largely responsible for the state’s astronomical incarceration rate “as a shield to protect the community from violent offenders.” Finally, she simply lacks the moral fortitude to promise not to cooperate with ICE.
Instead, Landrum’s recurrent campaign pitches have been to be tough on violent crime and to connect other defendants to jobs, education, and rehabilitation. This theory of criminal justice blames our mass system of punishments and prisons on individual failures, rather than an economic system that purposely locks some people out, a means-tested "safety net" that catches almost no one, a complete denial of the effects of trauma, and a legal system designed to enforce and support this social order. And for all her talk of connecting people to services, there’s no evidence that she ever did any of this during her past 12 years on the bench. She now says she’ll grant new trials for people convicted by non-unanimous juries, but like every other judge in the courthouse, she never once granted an oft-filed legal motion demanding that the jury’s verdict be unanimous. On releasing people who are innocent until proven guilty of a nonviolent allegation, she commits to “the release of nonviolent offenders.” A sample of cases from Landrum’s Section E docket, however, shows that she didn’t always release people with nonviolent charges, and she almost never granted motions to reduce bail. Landrum promises open file discovery to get defendants all of the evidence in their case, but her survey response that “We will not force or coerce anyone to accept a plea until they have all the evidence to make a rational decision in consultation with their attorney,” is unnerving.
Landrum’s accountability promises have been short on specifics. She invites a yearly review of her office’s performance but concedes no mechanism for correction or sanction. On addressing racism in policing, Landrum offers to “sit down with police to address fairness and racial bias,” which is perhaps the least meaningful remedy one could propose to the problems of American policing, but one that matches her courthouse reputation of rarely finding fault in police investigations. On prosecutors, she pledges to report bad ones, but there’s no record she ever reprimanded any one of Cannizzaro’s prosecutors. Lastly, she commits to a conviction integrity unit and to review previous sentences, but those commitments don’t distinguish her from the field.
Landrum’s idea of “reform” resembles Cannizzaro’s more than it does ours. Former Cannizzaro campaign donors Frank DeSalvo and Joe Georgusis have given ample money to Landrum. Jimmie Woods, who exploits Black workers by refusing to give City Waste Union $15 an hour and PPE during a global pandemic, gave to both Landrum and Jason Williams. Landrum and her campaign chair Karen Carter Peterson have secured endorsements from Councilmember Jay Banks and his BOLD coalition, the AFL-CIO, and Mayor Latoya Cantrell, who tried to appoint as Homeland Security director the guy who looked the other way when his officers murdered Katrina evacuees on the Danziger Bridge, wants to end the federal consent decree over NOPD, and defended jailing people during this pandemic by saying, “You’re worried about criminals catching coronavirus? Tell them to stop breaking the damn law.” Read Landrum’s response to our survey.
Arthur Hunter’s 23-year record on the bench provides promising but also mixed evidence to back up his pledges to end mass incarceration, decriminalize marijuana, expand mental health options, prevent police brutality, target crimes of violence, and get rid of the win-at-all-costs attitude that has caused so many miscarriages of justice in Orleans Parish. With the court system in shambles after Katrina, he almost released defendants when they were being indefinitely detained without lawyers. In 2017, he made a similar move when the public defenders again lacked adequate funding to provide lawyers, but again stopped short of following through with the releases. He approached groundbreaking reform by welcoming a hearing on the unconstitutionality of the nonunanimous Jim Crow jury law, but he stopped short of striking it down. He struck down New Orleans’s unconsitutional anti-begging law, and did the same with the state’s crimes against nature statute that was a pretext to harass mostly Black people and transgender people. Hunter also ruled against Louisiana’s racist “Driving While Mexican” law that let police stop drivers whom they suspected were in the country without papers, but counter to his claim that he struck it down, it seems credit for that decision belongs to Judge Calvin Johnson. Before there was a state law allowing jurors to hear from an expert about the unreliable nature of eyewitness testimony, Hunter allowed that information to be introduced at a trial. After reversing Catina Curley’s 2007 murder conviction, Hunter found her not guilty with ample testimony about her battered woman syndrome. When Robert Jones’s conviction was vacated, Hunter reduced the bond to an amount Jones’s family could pay to get him out until the DA dropped the case. He also ordered the state to compensate Innocence Project New Orleans exoneree Kia Stewart for his 10 years of wrongful incarceration. However, he did the opposite for Julio Rauno’s compensation. Hunter sentenced Section G candidate Lon Burns to six months in jail for planting evidence in a prosecution, though that ruling was reversed on appeal.
His campaign language emphasizes redemption and rehabilitation, and for the past ten years, he’s run the Veterans Treatment Court to provide case management services for veterans convicted of nonviolent offenses. He co-founded the Angola Re-entry Court Workforce Development Program, which takes young people convicted of nonviolent offenses and sends them to a plantation-turned-prison to be mentored by reformed lifers who earn just 50 to 75 cents an hour to teach them GED and trades. This track record has earned Hunter the endorsement of the Norris Henderson-founded Voters Organized to Educate PAC of formerly incarcerated Louisianans, as well as the Independent Women’s Organization, Working Families Party, Forum for Equality, New Orleans Firefighters Local 632, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1560, Teamsters Local 270, and the New Orleans Coalition.
On the major policy topics, Hunter first distinguishes himself from the field with a ghastly inability to swear off the death penalty, albeit for cases like white supremacist mass murderer Dylann Roof. This flaw matters greatly in the parish with the nation’s highest wrongful conviction rate, where a former prosecutor kept on his desk a model electric chair with the photos of five Black men he’d sent to death row (“two have since had their sentences commuted to life, one won at a retrial, and two have been exonerated”). Similarly alarming is his willingness to use the Draconian habitual offender statute for what he calls the most serious cases, expecting from us a Charlie-Brown-kicking-the-football-level faith that politicians who use racist laws won’t produce racist outcomes. He admits that in rare circumstances, he may transfer children accused of crimes to be prosecuted as adults despite the research showing their brains aren’t fully developed until age 25 or later. Hunter seems to think that as a former officer himself, NOPD will heed his instruction to abide by the constitution (a terrifying unintentional admission of law enforcement’s disdain for civilians), though he will also publicize a “do not call” list of officers who have withheld evidence or lied under oath, and has vowed to prosecute officers when criminal charges are warranted.
Hunter will organize his office into a number of units that address different facets of the criminal court system. What he refers to as a heavy screening unit will feature an on-call prosecutor to make faster decisions about whether to decline cases or to pursue them and quickly turn over discovery. He anticipates making charging decisions within 48 hours and accepting fewer cases than his predecessor. A special crimes/drug interdiction unit will pursue what he calls major drug gangs, though NOPD comically identifies New Orleans “gangs” as having "Not very good hierarchy, structure and leadership. But very loosely organized but really that's the most dangerous kind of gang." A special victims unit will address domestic violence, hate crimes, sexual assault, and human trafficking, and a crisis stabilization unit will address mental health issues. In the realms of restorative justice and diversion, Hunter proposes a program for 18- to 25-year-olds with a more holistic approach incorporating families, social workers, schools, and psychologists. Like other candidates, he has agreed not to prosecute sex work, but that doesn’t account for the fact that modern prosecution targets sex workers under the guise of combatting human trafficking.
Hunter says he will not cooperate with ICE, he will not seek to impose money bail on nonviolent charges, he will review existing habitual offender sentences and juvenile life without parole sentences, and he will consent to new trials for those convicted by nonunanimous Jim Crow juries, though, like Landrum, he did not grant defendants’ motions for unanimous juries as a judge. He says he will not threaten or jail victims who are unwilling to testify, though he did approve those requests as a judge. Additionally, his campaign features a commitment not to prosecute misdemeanor marijuana possession, but that misleads voters for two reasons: it’s the city attorney and not the DA who usually prosecutes these charges, and police care much less about seizing marijuana than they care about using it as a pretext to search people and their cars. Read Hunter’s response to our survey.
Morris Reed does not want this job.
Current City Council President Jason Williams sees himself in coalition with progressive district attorneys like Philadelphia’s Larry Krasner, Chicago’s Kim Foxx, and San Francisco’s Chesa Boudin, who would coordinate to move states to abandon the death penalty and habitual offender sentencing laws. He ties his DA run to ongoing efforts to take down racist monuments, describing the current legal system as our biggest monument to Jim Crow. He opposes funding the court system off poor people’s bail money and fines as “a clear form of money injustice,” he attacks debtors’ prisons, and he talks about addiction and mental illness as medical problems not treatable through incarceration. He is the only candidate to adopt the People’s DA Coalition’s policy platform in its entirety.
Williams has frequently criticized Leon Cannizzaro for using fake subpoenas, transferring children to adult court, jailing witnesses, and accepting an absurd 90% of the cases NOPD brought. He also proposed funding legal representation for immigrants facing deportation, and fought to end arrests for marijuana. As chair of the council’s Criminal Justice Committee, Williams sponsored reforms like directing NOPD issue summonses instead of making arrests for certain offenses, ordering prompt disclosure of bodyworn camera footage to defense attorneys, matching what the city gives the DA with what it gives public defenders, and adopting Eye on Suirveillance’s proposals banning facial recognition, automatic license plate readers, cell-site simulators, and characteristic tracking systems. He also created a number of electronic dashboards for the public to track jail population, bond information, consent decree data, and racial disparities in New Orleans’s criminal punishment system. This summer, he supported Jay Banks’s proposal to ban tear gas use in New Orleans.
A criminal defense lawyer by trade, Williams’s portfolio includes representing Innocence Project New Orleans clients George Toca and Greg Bright. He defended the recanting witnesses who cleared exoneree Jerome Morgan when Cannizzaro threatened them with perjury charges. Since 2009, he’s been a board member at Innocence Project New Orleans. Rather than wasting his DA office’s money to fight against compensating the wrongfully convicted, Williams pledged to quickly compensate them through settlements.
During this campaign, Williams has sworn off contributions from bail companies and police unions. On the other hand, he has taken money from charter school promoter Leslie Jacobs and real estate developers Pres Kabacoff and Aaron Motwani. Like Landrum, Williams also received money from garbage capitalist Jimmie Woods despite criticizing him for using work-release inmates as scabs for essential workers. These people set off alarms for us, and the developer money is troubling in light of studies documenting that law enforcement overpolices gentrifying areas to support real estate interests, such as in the police murder of Breonna Taylor, though Jacobs and Kabacoff have been involved in progressive criminal justice reform efforts. Also worrisome is Williams’s desire to combat car burglaries by returning to NOPD’s task force style of “predictive policing” that he himself criticized as a councilmember. The task forces were discontinued when federal monitors reported that they “routinely stop people on a questionable legal basis, engage in unsafe practices, keep shoddy records and operate with inadequate supervision.” These violations included French Quarter officers caught on video fabricating reasons for an illegal arrest, and another group of officers initiating an illegal car chase that killed two teenagers and a preschool teacher. Like Hunter and Landrum, his contribution to ending the racist drug war stops after decriminalizing minor marijuana possession, despite his campaign speech observations that drugs are effectively already decriminalized in Tulane student housing. Like both, he agrees not to prosecute sex workers, but goes further with his intentions to decriminalize sex work at the legislature.
The significance of his federal tax fraud case is still up in the air, but at an October 2 hearing, an “extremely concerned” judge told the prosecutors, “Don’t try and approach me as if there’s a halo over your head. Don’t try and put sugar on a cesspool of water,” after prosecutors admitted to sending federal agents to Williams’s co-defendant’s home that morning. The case is still set for a late October hearing to consider an unlikely dismissal, followed by a trial date in January. Cannizzaro denies instigating a vindictive prosecution against his political foe Williams, but in the city’s last mayoral election, Cannizzaro announced an anonymous criminal complaint against Latoya Cantrell while he backed her opponent Desiree Charbonnet. Cantrell was cleared of those charges.
Unsurprisingly, Williams stresses a need for culture change at the DA’s office, and proposes firing current prosecutors, reporting misconduct to the state bar association, starting a civil rights division, keeping a list of police who have lied and are no longer fit to testify in court, and investing heavily in implicit bias training. On policy, he makes a firm commitment to never jail sexual assault or domestic violence survivors. He adopts the Innocence Project’s research that eyewitness testimony is often unreliable, and will instead place more weight in DNA, fingerprints, and video footage. He says he’ll decline cases resulting from mental health crises, favoring the city’s existing Assisted Outpatient Treatment program for individuals with severe mental illness. Like other candidates, he will review existing excessive sentences, consent to new trials for nonunanimous Jim Crow convictions, and will support parole eligibility for juveniles who were sentenced to life in prison. Williams says he will return to the conviction integrity unit he helped arrange between the DA and the Innocence Project New Orleans before Cannizzaro abandoned it. To eliminate New Orleans’s infamous “DA time” of people sitting in jail for months while the DA makes their charging decision, he pledges to accept or reject cases within 5 days. Like his opponents, he commits not to transfer juveniles to the adult jail, but unlike his opponents, when asked whether he will treat kids like kids by refusing to prosecute them as adults, he refreshingly just says, “Yes.” Read Williams’s response to our survey.
Eight year terms, no term limit.
The juvenile criminal system in New Orleans is broken. Each year, nearly every child wrung through the juvenile courts is Black. And many who are charged with non-violent crimes are needlessly detained while they await trials. Other children who are arrested are sent to adult prison, before they even see a judge. On top of instilling these kids with the belief that they are beyond rehabilitation, sending children to adult prison puts them at risk even before ever being found guilty. This practice remains a problem, despite two ordinances passed by City Council to enforce the rule that all children, even those charged with adult crimes, are required to be housed in the Juvenile Justice Center. One loophole allows judges to override the rule, which they tend to do if asked by the DA's office. We know that the Orleans Juvenile Justice system hurts the children of New Orleans, and during the height of the pandemic we’ve seen that hurt in new ways.
It is also clear that Orleans Parish Juvenile Courts (OPJC) are not currently meeting the needs of New Orleans’ children and families. As Ubuntu Village clearly outlined in their 2018 report on parents' experience with OPJC, the courts are lacking in communication with parents, in respect for families, and in effective rehabilitative programs. On a regular basis, parents are expected to spend 3-5 hours waiting at OPJC everytime they are asked to report to the court, they are given little insight into the processes their children are tied up in, and they are dragged through long and recurring court dates that require taking time off from work and can even make plea deals look attractive. On top of that, the court’s rehabilitative programs are most often only available after trial, and even then, the programs are inconsistent, short term, and ineffective.
But these candidates are in good luck, because if they are listening and are smart, Ubuntu Village has made it easy for them to incorporate solutions into their platforms. Their solutions include including parent input and creating a parent advocate position within the court to help parents understand the courts processes and what services are available to them. Ubuntu Village also suggests doing away with the general 9am reporting time that all families are given, and to reduce wait time by giving parents, children, defenders, and the DA scheduled appointments. And finally, make better rehabilitative programs available and make sure parents know about them.
Judge Juvenile Court, Section A
It’s unclear whether the section A seat will actually be available. A law passed under Mayor Landrieu’s administration in 2014 planned to trim down Orleans Parish Juvenile Court (OPJC) due to claims that there were too many seats on the bench compared to the caseload seen by the court. Since there are multiple judgeships within OPJC, the law states that the next seat made vacant by “death, resignation, retirement, disqualification from exercising any judicial function pursuant to order of the Louisiana Supreme Court, or removal during the term of office” will be eliminated. The OPJC Section A seat is vacant because the incumbent, Judge Gray, no longer meets the qualifications to run again, due to age limits on Louisiana Judgeships.
Mitch Landrieu has recently commented on this, arguing that Judge Gray’s aging out qualifies as a trigger for the seat to be eliminated. When he was still Mayor, Landrieu argued that Judge Lagarde’s retirement from the Section E seat of OPJC should have triggered elimination, but he was not successful in removing the seat.
If the Section A seat were to be eliminated, the money that would pay for the judge’s salary would be redirected to juvenile services.
Kevin Guillory is a prosecutor who has worked in the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office for more than a decade. Guillory got his start with the DA’s office, working as a Trial Supervisor, and left after six years to briefly work in the private sector as a defense attorney. He’s now back at the DA’s office, and for the last seven years he’s worked as a Major Offense Trial Attorney prosecuting life-sentence and death row cases. His work on those cases earned him the 2016 Excellence in Law Enforcement award from the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a conservative court watchdog. Most notably, the Commission publishes a routine ranking of court Judges, based solely on how quickly they close cases. As a result, the Commission, whether it realizes it or not, actively suppresses justice because it incentivises judges to rush through cases. The President of the Commission has also been quoted, in reference to the DA election, “reform isn’t always a good thing.”
While prosecuting for the DA, Guillory worked across Criminal, Magistrate, and Juvenile Court. And he says he used his position as a prosecutor to affect change, that he treated everyone with dignity and respect, and that his goal was to use the law honestly and fairly.
Guillory’s platform is centered around three main points, in which he acknowledges that the children of New Orleans are in need of more than simply probation or incarceration, because it’s “not making our city any safer, and it’s not making our people any better.” First, he would look at children individually, and identify the trauma that has led them to the court. Guillory believes that Juvenile Court is not a court for punishment and that no child is beyond rehabilitation.
Secondly, he admits that the court hasn’t always been respectful of parents’ time. So he’s verbally promised to make the court more efficient and points to strictly enforcing the time limitations included in procedural codes. But he also says we need to stop detaining youth accused of non-violent offenses. By keeping kids facing non-violent charges out of pre-trial detention, they will spend less time tied up in court.
And lastly, he not only wants to evaluate the rehabilitative services currently in place and get rid of the ones that don’t work, but also to build new services that factor in insight that community groups have to share.
This isn’t the first time Guillory has run for Judge. In 2014 he ran for Criminal Court, but withdrew early when his father suffered a heart attack. In 2016, he ran for Criminal Court again, but lost to Paul Bonin. When Guillory ran in 2016 he received a hefty donation from progressive candidate Nandi Campbell. Another generous donation to his 2016 run came from Freedom First LLC, an Orlando based company that ”Sourc[es] hard to get firearms or firearms related parts.” Read Guillory’s response to our survey.
Clint Smith has a background in history and earned his law degree from Tulane. He’s father to poet and Atlantic staff writer Clint Smith. This isn’t the first time he’s run for judge, and if he wins it won’t be the first time he’ll be serving as judge either. Throughout his career, he served as pro temp (temporary) Judge in Municipal Traffic Court as well as be assigned judge for certain projects (ad hoc) in Juvenile Court. He also served as administrative law judge for the Aviation Board, as appointed by former Mayor Marc Morial.
Beyond his experience, Smith acknowledges that New Orleans’s children face higher rates of trauma. He’s shared that he wants to get to the “root causes,” but shies away from bluntly arguing that children should not be incarcerated. However, his platform does argue for a paradigm shift. What he means is, he’d want to start using a different vocabulary- not incarceration, but “detention,” and not “jailers” but “interventionist.” As powerful as words can be, calling probation officers “change agents,” won’t actually change anything.
Smith says he’d rely on the court’s Risk Assessment Instrument (RAI) to reduce pre-trial detention, but didn’t mention using his discretion to limit the pre-trial detention of children who have yet to be found guilty of a crime. Additionally, while he’s promised to evaluate the current diversion programs, he hasn’t implied that he’ll implement new ones if old ones are proven ineffective. In regards to the community’s concern for courtroom efficiency, Smith promises to be prepared, but doesn’t mention any other strategies he might implement to ensure families’ experience with the court doesn’t drag on.
When he ran for Municipal and Traffic Court Judge in 2013, he received a hefty donation from the Jim Donelon Campaign Fund. Jim Donelon is the Louisiana Insurance Commissioner, and won his campaign with financial backing from insurance companies. The Louisiana Insurance Commissioner is a statewide constitutional office that regulates the insurance industry in Louisiana. So the money Jim collected from insurance companies while running to hold them accountable, found its way into Clint’s 2013 campaign fund. Clint also received a small donation ($250) from Capital Strategies, “a wealth preservation-focused insurance firm serving ultra-high-net-worth families and their companies,” and Marigny Bywater Redevelopment Group LLC ($500). This year he again received donations from Marigny Bywater Redevelopment Group LLC, and from doctors, lawyers, education professionals and high-level executives including D'Juan Hernandez former charter school CEO known for his irresponsible school credit card spending.
This year he has support from the Orleans Democratic Executive Committee, AFL-CIO, BOLD, COUP, Algiers PAC, and State Rep. Royce Duplessis.
Marie Williams is a frequent candidate for judgeships, having run at least six times before. In 2014, she was involved in a bizarre “sting” operation orchestrated by a WDSU TV reporter against Frank Marullo. Her campaign video for this election features her removing a book from her shelf, opening it, then staring at you in silence for 30 mesmerizing seconds. She does not read the book.
Williams has significant legal aid experience, and spent a lot of her time representing children and families. She’s worked with Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA) and the Pro Bono Project. She’s also volunteered to work with Teen Court, a Juvenile Court program that lets kids play court and that claims to use “positive peer pressure” to teach kids about the law.
Williams acknowledges the racial disparity in juvenile arrests, that virtually all the kids arrested are Black. She says she would pressure the DA and NOPD from the bench, pushing them to find ways to change that. When talking about judges’ discretion, WIlliams offered examples of how she would use her discretion to choose between sending children to juvenile prison or adult prison. She has expressed support for rehabilitative programs, but hasn’t committed to reviewing the services currently in place or expressed interested in implementing new services.
As a juvenile judge it is important to be able to communicate the reasons behind your rulings in a way that children can understand. We’re not sure if Marie Williams is up for that. Often, it's hard to follow her line of thought and really understand points she is trying to make.
Judge Juvenile Court, Section F
Ranord Darensburg has a background in both psychology and social work. . In the 90’s, he worked as a public defender in New Orleans, mostly focusing on Juvenile Child Support. Later, he served as Traffic Referee, assisting the judge by deciding traffic violation cases in the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court (OPJC). At one point, he was appointed Judge Pro Temporae of OPJC.
He continues to work within OPJC, as the Judicial Administrator. He touts that while serving as admin, he has “secured over $3.5M dollars in funding through grants and contracts to provide evidenced-based programs and services to court involved youth and families.” He says his grant writing experience has also afforded him insight into how to overhaul the Juvenile Court. Additionally, Darensburg helped the court become the first in the South to officially 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. He is deeply knowledgeable about the court and understands the need to help parents and community members understand what happens in the court. Darensburg also acknowledges that something needs to be done about court efficiency, and his plan to address it focuses on no-nonsense continuances and repercussions for unnecessary delays. He also acknowledges that Juvenile Court is a place to help kids, and argues that “we need to reduce the criminalization of youth in the city.”
But we’re worried about what he deems as solutions. Last year, while serving as judicial admin, Darensburg defended an increase in the court’s ability to detain juveniles for unarmed offenses, such as pulling car handles (attempted burglary). The new policy would hold all children “that pose a risk to public safety” in custody until they could see a judge. Normally the court relies on their Risk Assessment Instrument (RAI) to determine if a child should be detained, but the term “risk to public safety” is not used in RAI evaluation. Plus, Juvenile Judges already have the ability to use their discretion to detain juveniles, even if it disagrees with what the court’s RAI determines, so the expansion of the court’s ability to detain children has been questioned by community members.
Darensburg is endorsed by Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee, Independent Women's Organization (IWO), Alliance for Good Government, the AFL-CIO, and the New Orleans East Leadership.
Teneé Felix has worked at the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights for over a decade. In 2017, Felix was the recipient of the Louisiana State Bar Association’s Children’s Law Award. She is a part of the #FlipTheBench slate that includes seven public defenders running for judgeships, was put on the “Justice Ballot” by Voters Organized to Educate, and is endorsed by Independent Women's Organization, New Orleans Coalition, and the national Real Justice PAC.
Felix often summarizes her platform as “treating kids like kids,” and her website states a few specific approaches she plans to take if elected. She plans to hold kids accountable “in developmentally appropriate ways - fairly and humanely, in ways they can understand.” Unlike the other candidates, Felix is consistently adamant about making incarceration for kids the “rare exception.” She has said that the purpose of the juvenile justice system is “rehabilitation, not punishment,” and supports the Policing Alternatives for Youth (PAY) ordinance, which allows police to issue warnings or summons to youth for misdemeanor charges instead of arresting them. “If a child comes before me who should have received a warning but did not,” She writes in her response to our survey. “I will use the tools available to me to dismiss their case as quickly as possible…” In a case warranting incarceration, she ensured that those children would be detained for the shortest period of time possible. Teneé also promised that she would not send a child to a jail she had not visited herself, and that she would demand transparency from the New Orleans Juvenile Detention center and the Office of Juvenile Justice.
When asked what current policy she would change if elected, she highlighted how many children are tried in court for low offenses like trespassing or getting in a fight at school. She highlighted the DA’s repeated refusal to utilize “Informal Adjustment Procedures” as outlined in the Juvenile Criminal Code. Informal adjustment procedures allow for low offenses to be left off of kid’s records and addressed through an informal meeting between the DA, public defender, victim, and offender. But that can only take place if the DA agrees. She promised to sit down with other Juvenile Court judges, the DA, and public defenders to figure out how they could better enact informal adjustment procedures, and how she might be able to implement more opportunities for restorative justice.
And while she supports offering kids within the criminal justice system productive and rehabilitative services, she acknowledges that “Kids shouldn't need to be court involved” to receive services that help them grow. Read Felix’s response to our survey.
Nikishia “Niki” Roberts has, for the last 18 years, she worked as an assistant DA mostly as the Chief of the Juvenile Division. And while she enjoyed her time supervising juvenile delinquency and child neglect cases, she has said, "A Juvenile Court judge has the opportunity to steer that kid right and it's a very powerful position… As a prosecutor, I do not have the ability to shape a kid's life like I would as a judge." We are unclear whether it would be a good idea to give Roberts more say over children’s lives.
Roberts’s platform is informed by her experience as a teenage mother. She says that experience serves to remind her that “children make mistakes,” something she thinks is very important for a Juvenile Court Judge to understand. But as a prosecutor for the DA’s office, that didn’t seem to keep her from sending children to the adult jail to await trial, before they were ever proven guilty of anything. Children don’t belong in jail, let alone adult prisons, and that’s because there are serious consequences for doing so. “Housing minors in adult settings leads to alarming rates of sexual and physical abuse and higher rates of suicide,” as pointed out by the Director of the Center on Youth Justice for the Vera Institue. 15 year old Jaquin Thomas faced those exact consequences after Roberts and DA Cannizzaro decided to try him as an adult. Jaquin had yet to be tried for a crime, when he was physically abused while detained in the adult jail. A month later, Jaquin comitted suicide.
Roberts has also promised to treat every child that enters her courtroom as an “unique individual” and she also emphasizes the need for judges to listen to what parents know about their children’s needs. However, Roberts is careful to always hedge these promises with what she claims are limitations of the position. While she promises to hold detention facilities accountable, she says they “are outside of direct judicial authority.” And when speaking on alternative measures to incarceration, Roberts tends to lead with the cases in which she thinks incarceration is necessary, such as violent crimes.
Roberts is in favor of technical schools as an alternative to traditional education and as a rehabilitative service, as well as providing kids a safe place to do homework at, after school, and mentoring for children on probation. While she thinks additional diversion programs should be developed, she has not questioned the effectiveness of the current programs. What is concerning about Nikki’s platform is her defense of the current state of the Juvenile Justice System. Answering questions in our survey about school-based arrests, the PAY ordinance, and restorative justice, Roberts focused on what she couldn’t say or do, and didn’t provide us with much in the way of personal beliefs, what powers she could use in those situations, or how the larger system could do to support and expand good policies.
She ran for Juvenile Court one other time in 2014, and looking at her donations, it seems like she had a lot of support. The bulk of her 2014 campaign money came as routine, large donations from Children’s Plus Inc. (children’s book supply company based in Illinois) and a handful of local lawyers.
This year she has endorsements from Independent Democratic Electors Association, COUP, City Council members including Kristen Gisleson Palmer, Joe Giarrusso, and Jared Brosett, as well as from other local officials like Rep. Matthew Willard, Rep. Jason Hughes, and Rep. Stephanie Hilferty. Read Roberts’s response to our survey.
Judge - Municipal and Traffic Court
Judge Municipal and Traffic Court Division A
There are 737,169 open cases in Municipal Court - twice the number of people living in New Orleans. Most are for quality of life offenses, and some are for offenses long-ago declared unconstitutional. There are 55,249 outstanding warrants, which is one for every seven New Orleanians. Cops still arrest people on these ancient warrants, including a 28-year-old jailed for a truancy case that should have been closed when he presented the court with his diploma ten years ago. It’s the extractive model you see in every American community that builds brand new jails and police stations with fines and fees churned from their poorest residents. Excessive court and police fines were some of the grievances from the Ferguson uprising after the police murder of Michael Brown.
Incumbent Paul Sens has profited handsomely from this system. For 24 years, the self-described “law and order guy” has built a courthouse family dynasty by hiring 18 children, cousins, nieces, nephews, and in-laws to rake in millions of taxpayer dollars. He hired Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s wife to do drug counseling at the same time Gusman hired Sens’s wife to appraise foreclosed properties. Gusman gave Sens’s family a construction contract to build a jail for Sens to send people. Sens’s brother got a five-year prison sentence for rigging bids and taking kickbacks while working for Gusman.
Courtwatch observed unrepresented defendants plead guilty in 48% of 109 municipal court sessions they tracked. Chief Judge Sens’s courtroom is no exception. He says he wants to reform the court, but a year after the city gave him the go-ahead to clear out old warrants, the number of warrants has risen. His campaign literature falsely claims credit for perhaps the lone good press about Municipal Court: a warrants-, fines-, and fees-cleansing program that was actually started by Judge Sean Early in partnership with the Orleans Public Defenders. Instead, courthouse personnel tell us he hosts a “homeless court” program that cycles people with quality of life infractions through a Kafkaesque maze of monthly check-ins while his unlicensed niece plays social worker.
Sens is endorsed by the Police Association of New Orleans, the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee, BOLD, the AFL-CIO, and Mayor Latoya Cantrell. He served on the Orleans Parish School Board, at the city attorney’s office, and at the state attorney general’s office before taking the bench. He helped set up the Family Justice Center, which serves survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. Cross-allegations of abuse between Sens and his ex-wife made their way to the courts, but were dismissed. After 24 years of lining his family’s pockets, Sens says, “City Council should step up to fully fund our court so we can rely less on fines and fees, which unfairly burden our citizens.”
Challenger Meg Garvey is a founding member of the Orleans Public Defenders who started her career in the post-Katrina shitstorm that required her to track down Orleans Parish Prison detainees scattered in jails throughout the state. She was previously at the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, where she successfully lobbied to raise the age for adult prosecutions from 17 to 18. A frequent presenter at state and city legislatures, she introduced and testified in support of a measure to bring funding parity between OPD and the DA, increase access to NOPD bodycam footage, and order NOPD to issue summonses rather than make arrests. Her previous advocacy brought social workers onto juvenile defense teams, created a state task force to protect those in youth prisons from sexual harassment and assault, defeated conservative attempts to roll back the state’s 2017 Justice Reinvestment reform package that for one shining moment dropped us to the second most incarcerated state in the US, and lobbied the state legislature to end the qualified immunity that shield cops from accountability. Her advocacy in Magistrate Court led to a lawsuit against Magistrate Harry Cantrell because he routinely ignored people’s ability to pay when setting bail.
For Garvey, “This campaign is a referendum on Paul Sens.” She plans to hire licensed social workers in her courtroom. She’ll have a public hiring process to seek credentialed employees, stating, “I believe that hiring outside one’s immediate family and social circle allows for a better pool of applicants.” She calls fines and fees “a terrible revenue source.” She believes she has an ethical obligation to file complaints against officers who violate people’s rights - a practice heretofore unheard of at Tulane and Broad. For her progressive roots and policies, she carries the endorsements of justice reform groups Voters Organized to Educate, 10,000 Votes, #flipthebenchnola, Justice PAC, and NOLA Defenders for Equal Justice.
The Orleans Parish School Board is a local elected council that ostensibly governs and holds accountable public schools in Orleans Parish. Board members are elected to four year terms (limited to three consecutive terms.) However, Act 91 of the Louisiana Legislature passed in 2016 severely limits the board’s ability to oversee the operation of New Orleans’s mostly charter school system. A key passage from that law states,
“The local school board shall not impede the operational autonomy of a charter school under its jurisdiction in the areas of school programming, instruction, curriculum, materials and tests, yearly school calendars and daily schedules, hiring and firing of personnel, employee performance management and evaluation, terms and conditions of employment, teacher or administrator certification, salaries and benefits, retirement, collective bargaining, budgeting, purchasing, procurement, and contracting for services other than capital repairs and facilities construction.”
In effect, Act 91 subverts democratic control of public education and places it in the hands of private non-profits and corporate entities. The OPSB appoints a superintendent who takes the lead in working out charters (or contracts) with non-profit companies that run nearly all of the city’s public schools. The companies that run charter schools also have their own boards which are not publicly elected. Because the OPSB interprets Act 91 to mean that it has no real authority, the Superintendent serves as much at the pleasure of the charter organizations as he does the Board.
In practice, the New Orleans “experiment” with charter schools has been a disaster for the city’s working classes. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, over 7,000 New Orleans teachers were summarily fired by the district. This act alone instantly dissolved OPSB’s relationship with the teachers’ union (United Teachers Of New Orleans) and dealt a hammer blow to a significant part of the city’s Black middle class. In place of that, the charter regime imposes an exploitative and baffling system of precarious working conditions. While teachers have managed to re-organize themselves in some places, the majority of charter networks remain non-union.
The decentralization creates other problems as well. Parents are confused by an opaque admissions and selection process. Students have been victims of inconsistent and unusually harsh disciplinary practices. And the schools frequently fail to accomodate students with special needs. Each of these problems is exacerbated by a chronic lack of transparency among the many disparate charter governing boards who often operate without regard to the open meetings processes required of public bodies.
Nevertheless, the charter reforms of the past decade and a half continue to be championed by the city’s ruling classes and held up as a national example by pro-charter lobbying groups with deep corporate pockets. As a result there are candidates in each of the races below who have received significant funding not only from wealthy local activists like Leslie Jacobs but also from national PACs such as Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).
Member of School Board District 1
Lower Ninth Ward, East New Orleans (map)
John A. Brown Sr. is the incumbent in District 1, having held the position since 2015. He’s a native New Orleanian and a retired OPSB educator of 30 years. Early in his career he worked as a NORD coach, though he retired after working many years as a principal at a number of different New Orleans Public Schools. It’s important to note that Brown worked as a principal and teacher prior to Hurricane Katrina and the charter school takeover of New Orleans public schools. In 2015 he was appointed to OPSB and elected later that year by the voters. Under Brown’s watch, New Orleans became the first major American school district in the country without traditional public schools. During his last campaign he accepted financial contributions from the New York-based pro charter school PAC Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), he also accepted $2,000 from Pro Charter and Anti Teachers Union group Stand for Children. In 2015 his campaign received a loan from former New Orleans City Councilmember James Gray, who is aligned with Rep. Cedric Richmond’s political machine. He also accepted donations from Blair Boutte’s Bail Bonds (see brief comment on local machine politics). Unlike his opponent, Brown did not participate in the Step Up for Action Candidate Forum, which has been pushing candidates to support a charter school moratorium and a performance audit of the charter school system, among other policies in support of more traditional public schools.
Brown has been endorsed by the local teachers union United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO) and the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO.
Dr. Patrice Sentino boasts a 25 year career of working with children and families as a licensed clinical social worker, mental health provider, researcher, and educator. After Hurricane Katrina, Sentino worked with Orleans Parish Schools on counseling, trauma informed care, and held workshops for faculty.
During the Step Up for Action Candidate Forum, Sentino stated she would be in favor of a performance audit of the school system from 2005 to present. She also stated that she believes we should do a performance audit prior to considering a charter school moratorium. Her statements appear to align her more on the side of traditional public schools, unlike nearly all OPSB incumbents, who favor the pro-charter agenda. She also stated at the candidate forum that “I believe returning schools to a direct run board is a good idea.” After many years of the privatization of our public schools, Dr. Sentino seems to be among the wave of those who are thoughtfully questioning the neoliberal strategy of the New Orleans charter school system. Dr. Sentino has been endorsed by the Independent Women’s Organization (IWO).
Member of School Board District 2
Upper 9th Ward, 8th Ward, Gentilly, and part of New Orleans East (map)
Ethan Ashley is the 31-year-old incumbent of District 2, and has been an elected member of OPSB since 2017. Under Ashley’s watch, New Orleans became the first major American school district in the country without traditional public schools. In an interview with pro-charter organization LA Charter Schools in Action, Ashley stated he “supports the expansion of charter schools. Think[s] the chartering apparatus allows us to innovate. I am definitely there to make sure (charter schools) exist.” In 2014, Ashley authored a letter to the editor arguing that the “charter story of growth and academic gains in New Orleans has been monumental.” He worked for several years for a pro-charter and pro-voucher organization, the Black Alliance for Educational Options.
Last year Ashley ran and lost a race for LA State House District 97, potentially due to the fact that he had to defend his support of charter schools as a member of OPSB. During his failed campaign for State Representative, Ashley received donations from former Republican LA State Representative Julie Stokes, $2,500 from pro charter philanthropist Leslie Jacobs, and $2,500 from LABI, which is the business lobbyist group responsible for killing minimum wage increases and basic labor protection bills, and passing corporate tax cuts at the LA State Legislature. Ashley received a shared endorsement from the Independent Women’s Organization (IWO) with his opponent Dr. Chanel Payne. Ashley has no classroom or teaching experience.
Asya M. Howlette is a former Teach For America math teacher and currently serves as 7th-8th Grade Assistant Principal and Director of STEM at Thurgood Marshall. During a Step Up for Action Candidate Forum, Howlette stated she does not have an issue with charter schools. She says the problem is not charters, but leaders of the schools. She said she believes charters are run poorly in New Orleans because they excluded many native New Orleans teachers. As previously noted, Howlette herself is in fact a non-native New Orleanian leading a charter school. Also, at the Step Up Candidate Forum, Howlette noted that she is not in favor of a performance audit of charter schools or of a charter school moratorium.
Dr. Eric Jones formerly served as a volunteer board member at Mary D. Coghill Charter and resigned “following scrutiny over reimbursements he received and a directive he issued to teachers not to give students F’s.” Another board member at Coghill described Jones as “running amok” in the school. He formerly served as the Director of External Partnerships at Teach for America, which is one of the national organizations responsible for the privatization of our public school system. Teach for America also has a long history of union busting and is based upon a neocolonial model of bringing largely young, affluent, white, and inexperienced teachers from Ivy League schools to largely low income schools that primarily serve African American students. Jones is also an elected member of the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee.
Dr. Aldine Lockett has served as the Dean of Students at Patrick Taylor Science and Technology Academy in Jefferson Parish for the past 3 years. He’s previously served as an Academic Dean at the Jefferson Parish Public School System and principal at Francis W. Gregory Elementary School in Gentilly. His Facebook states “OPSB now is a rubber stamp. They oversee a system of individual charters, but they aren’t immersed with these organizations to make sure that they are working beyond test scores and school performance scores to justify their existence.”While Dr. Lockett’s criticism of the current OPSB is merited, and he has a good amount of experience in the classroom, it does seem strange to elect someone who teaches in the Jefferson Parish school system and who claims on their social media that they will continue to work in Jefferson Parish schools if they are elected to the Orleans Parish School Board.
Dr. Chanel M. Payne appears to be the most formidable candidate posing a threat to the District 2 incumbent school board member Ethan Ashley. Unlike Mr. Ashley, Dr. Chanel Payne is a native New Orleanian and actually grew up in School Board District 2 . Dr. Payne is in favor of a moratorium on charter schools and is in favor of a performance audit of the charter program since Katrina. She stated that she believes that “schools don’t belong to Charter Management Organizations. I believe that our schools belong to our schools, our students, and our teachers.” She is in favor of schools directly run by the school board. She clarified that she is not anti-charter, but also not anti-traditional school either. On her social media she has stated that when a school is failing, OPSB should provide ongoing intensive support, reduce class sizes for teachers, create additional training and support for teachers, and hire additional highly-skilled teachers and leaders who are a cultural fit for those schools. This is in stark contrast to OPSB’s current policy with failing schools, which is to close the school, revoke the charter, and greatly disrupt the lives of parents, teachers, and students. Unlike the incumbent, she has also worked as an educator, with more than 15 years of experience spanning Early Childhood, K-12, Higher Ed, and Education Consulting. She’s been endorsed by the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO, BOLD, and the teachers union UTNO.
Member of School Board District 3
Lakeview, parts of Mid-City and Gentilly (map)
Philip C. "Phil" Brickman is one of the few candidates running as a Republican in Orleans Parish. He is a practicing attorney in civil litigation specializing in marine, energy and commercial law and helped represent BP after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, arguably the worst environmental disaster in US history. He’s a native New Orleanian living in Lakeview and a parent of an OPSB student. He’s running on a platform to continue the policies of education austerity, continuing the decentralized school board, and the expansion of charter schools. He’s a member of the board for Temple Sinai. He has been endorsed by District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, Republican State Representative Stephanie Hilferty, former Republican City Councilmembers Scott Shea and Jay Batt, and the Orleans Parish Republican Executive Committee.
Olin Parker most recently served as Executive Director of Charter and Nonpublic Schools for the past 4 years where he helped manage the state voucher program, among others related to charter school compliance. Vouchers are a way of taking public funds and allowing parents and students to use public vouchers to pay for private schools, effectively using public tax money to enrich private and religious institutions, a policy favored by the Republican Party and corporate Democrats. Furthermore, Parker previously served for 6 years with Teach for America. After 2 years of teaching via TFA in Baton Rouge, Mr. Parker, like many other TFA teachers, leveraged their “teaching experience” to get an Ivy League advanced degree at the Harvard Kennedy School. He has served as a board member at the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization, is a parent of three children attending public schools in New Orleans, and is an active member of the Parent-Teacher Association. His wife is a school principal at a local KIPP school. At a Step Up for Action forum, he stated he is in favor of a performance audit of charter schools from 2005-present, though he is not in favor of a charter school moratorium.
He stated his three priorities are:
- Opportunity for every child, expanded access to mental health, early college opportunities
- an A rated school in every neighborhood
- a racial equity planning program in schools
He stated he is not running for school board just to later run for other elected office. He has been endorsed by many groups including the Independent Women’s Association, BOLD, IDEA, Forum for Equality, AFL-CIO, former US Senator Mary Landrieu. and the teachers union UTNO.
Member of School Board District 4
Algiers, Algiers Point, Marigny/Bywater (map)
Incumbent Leslie Ellison’s seat on the board is clearly in trouble and she knows it. Which is why her first move at the close of qualifying was to challenge both of her opponents’ candidacies in court based on technicalities. Ellison’s attempts to disqualify her competition failed, eventually. But not until after several weeks of distracting legal wrangling. What has she been trying to run and hide from?
Well, to begin with, this appears to be the year that Ellison’s explicit homophobia may finally result in political consequences. In 2012, while she was still the head of a charter school board, she testified to the state legislature that the state cannot prohibit charter schools from discriminating against LGBTQ students on the curious grounds that such a policy would violate the schools’ “religious freedom.” A year later, as a member of OBSP, Ellison spoke against an anti-bullying policy because it listed gender and sexual orientation among the traits that often make students targets.That argument meandered into questions about the separation of church and state about which Ellison snapped, “there is no such thing.”
But why have Ellison’s despicable hostilities only recently become a political problem? Big Easy Magazine points to a groundswell of opposition beginning around the time of her eligibility for the board presidency. But the same article also notes that even this year Ellison received 41 percent support of the OPDEC endorsement vote. While it is tempting to see these developments merely as a case of Ellison receiving a long-overdue comeuppance, likely her corporate, pro-charter backers are simply moving their support to a less problematic standard bearer.
Jancarlo “J.C.” Romero is currently Chief of Staff at the Einstein Charter network. His campaign has gathered the support of a large number prominent New Orleans political insiders, organizations, and media apparently galvanized for the move against Ellison. His website features testimonials from several well-known names including Councilmembers Helena Moreno and Kristin Gisleson Palmer, each of whom stress “inclusion” and “equity” in their statements. But it is previous District 4 OPSB member Lourdes Moran’s endorsement that leaves little doubt that this is primarily about distancing from the incumbent “(Ellison) is not about children or improving public education but rather it’s about self interest and her next political position,” says Moran.
Closer scrutiny of Romero’s backers, however, reveals several of the same anti-labor “reformist” actors who have been behind the disastrous policies of the charter era. Among these are former board members Seth Bloom and Sarah Usdin, as well as investment banker and 2020’s King of Carnival Storey Charbonnet. Romero was asked about these influences during an interview on WBOK’s NOLA Ed for liberation show in October. But his response merely reaffirmed his “moderate” stance on privatization. “I really want to stress that being in the middle of the road helps me have that independent voice.” Independent of whom? That part is deliberately left vague.
Meanwhile Winston “Boom” Whitten makes his position and allegiances substantially more clear. A professional teacher, Whitten is endorsed by the United Teachers of New Orleans, the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO, and by State Senator Joseph Bouie, who has led efforts in the legislature to restore control of public schools to the elected boards. Whitten has said in forums and interviews that there is no need for multiple networks in what should be a unified school district. Whitten is endorsed by the “Erase the Board” anti-charter coalition and by the community activist group Step Up for Action.
Member of School Board District 5
Uptown, Irish Channel, Central City, Garden District, Broadmoor (map)
This seat was vacated earlier this year by Ben Kleban, who had to leave the state for family related reasons. In June, the board voted to appoint Grisela Jackson to serve out the remainder of Kleban’s term. Jackson is now running to be elected to the seat in earnest.
She is Co-owner of Young Engineering Co., which is a prominent New Orleans based naval shipbuilding support company. She has deep political ties through her involvement with the Historic Second Baptist Church where her husband, the Rev. Bryant Jackson is pastor. “I am a product of the church. I bring the church with me everywhere because I am the church,” she says. Her son Jedidiah Jackson was a candidate for Jefferson Parish Council last year.
Jackson was also an early adopter of the New Orleans charter school movement. She founded one of the first post-Katrina charter schools at Crocker Elementary in 2008. When that school, known as Crocker Arts and Technology, was closed by the Recovery School District in 2013, Jackson became a board member at New Orleans College Prep, which took over the charter for Crocker. Her financial donors include real estate developer Marcel Wisznia and charter school advocate Stephen Rosenthal.
When asked at a Step Up forum about the possibility of returning the schools to direct governance, Jackson sounded receptive but also hedged saying “as long as the schools are good, I’m not opposed” to either system. Similarly she responded to a question about collective bargaining by saying only that “there is a place” for unions to advocate for teachers.
The most well-funded candidate here is policy aide to Councilman Giarrusso, Katie Baudoin. An array of current and former office holders including former city councilmember Stacy Head, state legislators Stephanie Hilferty, Mandie Landry, and Matt Willard have given money to her campaign. Much of that we can chalk up to personal and professional connections that come with the territory for a political insider like Baudoin. But other of her contributions are more troubling.
For example, BESE member and hardline anti-teacher Republican Jim Garvey gave her $1000. Influential fundraiser and charter school advocate Leslie Jacobs gave her $1000. Most telling, national corporate funded pro-charter lobbying PAC Democrats For Education Reform (DFER) gave $2500. During the Step Up forum, Baudoin tap danced around the question of whether or not schools could be run directly by OPSB. The district “should be able” to do that, she said, but only in a limited capacity such as when they have to take over for a failing charter. When asked a question about equity, Baudoin curiously called for “more private investment” in and “more private ownership” of the public schools. It wasn’t immediately clear what she meant by that, but we can’t help but wonder if her donors are speaking through her there. Read Badoin’s response to our survey.
Antoinette Williams is a recent college graduate and instructional intern at Inspire NOLA Charter Schools. She plays up her youth at forums and interviews, saying she is uniquely qualified to “empathize with the learning needs and personal experiences” of students. One example of this came up during the Step Up forum, when Williams said a police presence in schools is “distracting and uncomfortable” for students. She says she would prefer to have teachers and administrators trained in de-escalation.
Endorsed by the United Teachers of New Orleans and the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO, Williams says she is “the teachers’ choice.” During the Step Up forum, she described the temp-like conditions of charter school employment as “terrifying” to teachers. She also says she is all for direct run schools, but tempers that by adding that having both charters and direct run schools “provides choice.” Maybe that sounds inconsistent. But in the current reality of an almost all-charter district, introducing the “choice” of a direct-run alternative would be the start of a welcome change.
Member of School Board District 6
Black Pearl, Uptown, Carrollton, Hollygrove, Gert Town (map)
Erica Martinez has worked in mental health and education non-profits for 15 years and is a foster mother with a child in the New Orleans school system. She currently works for College Beyond, a local non-profit that helps students enter and complete college through coaching and support. Martinez's platform is focused first on the mental and emotional health of children in school. She points out in a campaign video that children in New Orleans have PTSD at four times the average rate, and on her site she calls for “restorative, culturally aware and trauma-sensitive policies to provide resources for the social and emotional health of our students.” She has said that social-emotional learning is as important as English or math classes, and the school board needs to incentivize schools to provide support. She contends that addressing these needs will improve teacher retention and grades district-wide. The other two things she emphasizes in her campaign are the need for equal access to education for all students, and for schools to build more partnerships and with people and organizations in their community.
At a candidate forum hosted by Step Up Louisiana, the three candidates for district 6 were asked if they would favor an audit of charter schools and moratorium on new charters while the audit was being conducted. Martinez said she was for an audit of Orleans parish charter schools, but was hesitant to stop charter expansion. She clarified in her response to our survey that she would support a moratorium on for-profit charter schools, but doesn’t see it as necessary for non-profit charters. Read Martinez’ response to our survey.
Carlos Zervigon is a teacher and sculptor with an impressive amount of experience in directing education. He has six kids who have all gone through the New Orleans school system. He was on the board of the Audubon and Benjamin Franklin charter schools and co-founded the Creative Glass Institute, a glassblowing studio that rents studio space and provides classes. Zervigon comes from a family of activists, including his grandmother, Rosa Keller, who worked to desegregate New Orleans’s schools and libraries, and his uncle Carlos, a public school teacher who worked with the Congress of Racial Equality in 1960s New Orleans. Zervignon’s campaign looks to be the most heavily financially supported by New Orleans institutions, receiving contributions from Felicity Church, former councilmember Susan Guidry and the Landrieu family, particularly former senator Mary Landrieu. Zervigon was elected Democratic party committees at the state and parish levels this year.
Zervigon has pledged to fight for quality and equality in education, and to partner with the community (including business, civic and nonprofit sectors) to improve education. He is promising to make sure families' voices are heard, to hold school administration to high standards, to keep the school system in good financial health, and to protect cultural and arts education. In a candidate forum hosted by Step Up Louisiana, Zervigon said his commitment to fighting for equity as a school board member also extends to fighting for a living wage, fair housing, against banking discrimination, and for a better criminal punishment system. In the debate, he responded to a question about teacher retention by declaring teachers weren't supported enough by charter schools or the non-charter school system in New Orleans, and that we needed to incentivize New Orleans natives to stay in town and become teachers. He also mentioned he was proud of having a union at Benjamin Franklin and holds it up as a model of success. In the Step Up debate, Zervigon voiced opposition to police officers in schools, support for an audit of charter schools, and if necessary, a moratorium on new charters. Referencing the state educational board’s takeover of the Orleans school system post-Katrina, Zervigon said: “Schools should be created by communities, schools should be offered to communities, schools should never be imposed on communities. That’s some of the mistakes we’ve made in the past.”
David Alvarez is the director and co-founder of the community coalition La Voz de la Comunidad and the president of Evaluation Insights LLC. He is active in the Carrollton Riverbend and Carrollton United neighborhood groups. He has four children who have attended or currently attend New Orleans schools. Alvarez has the largest and most detailed plan for the office of school board. He is the candidate in this district's race most willing to publicly critique charter schools, pointing out for instance that before Katrina the city's schools were run by one superintendent who earned $100,000 a year, and now the system has 20+ charter school CEOs who make that and more. He also has called for a higher rate of actual New Orleans residents to the school board. Alvarez has the endorsement of United Teachers of New Orleans, and in the Step Up debate, he vocalized the need for collective bargaining for teachers, and for mandatory student and teacher representation on school boards. His platform includes nods to environmentalism and police defunding, and he has said he is in favor of universal free internet for school families Alvarez has been the most vocal about racial inequality in education in this race, noting at one point on his campaign site:
“...[W]e must seize this opportunity to name the racist undercurrents that fueled our system's decentralization (firing 7000 mostly Black teachers and diverting half a billion dollars from a Black-led central school office to a mostly majority white cadre of charter groups) and move to establish policies that work towards undoing the damage that was done to our Black residents. When you prioritize community-based metrics such as building accessibility, community anchor agency partnerships over the state's obtuse and and functionally racist school grading system, you will begin to walk towards a more just educational system for our children, our families and our unique culture here in New Orleans.”
Alvarez’s solutions to grade inflation in our schools was to increase data collection and transparency, but also to “de-incentivize grading in general. Grading is born from the business world and although it has its merits it is misguided to import business frameworks into schooling to the degree we currently utilize them.” He is in favor of a charter school audit and a moratorium on charter schools. He echoed his opponents' views on police in schools, pointing out that money would be better spent on a social worker. In addition to his UTNO endorsement, he has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO of greater New Orleans and Impact For a Better Louisiana. Read Alvarez’ response to our survey.
Member of School Board District 7
Treme, Mid-City, French quarter, CBD, Algiers (map)
The incumbent in this race is Democrat Nolan Marshall Jr. First elected to the School Board in 2012 and reelected in 2016, Marshall also served as president of the board from 2014-15. His election was viewed as a stabilizing force for the board, though he often locked horns with fellow board member Ira Thomas before Thomas resigned in 2015 amid bribery charges. Both accused each other of corruption. During his presidency, he oversaw some of the major policy changes resulting in our current centralized school enrollment lottery system and usage of OneApp. These policies were created with the intention of making the city’s top-ranked schools accessible to more students by altering the rules for geographic enrollment numbers and specialized entry requirements. Reactions to these changes have been mixed, with families who have gotten into their top choice schools obviously having more favorable impressions. For the last three years, however, a quarter of students did not get placed in any of the potential twelve schools they selected and rates of students who receive no placement at all have increased.
More recently, Marshall proposed and passed a resolution which urged schools to allow their teachers and staff more opportunities to work from home during COVID. This resolution included language about not retaliating against workers who raise safety concerns during the pandemic which is a good sign. Although the language was criticised for not being strong enough. Marshall noted that, “Having a daughter that is a third-generation teacher in one of our schools and I being of the age that is particularly at risk may have made me more sensitive to these issues.”
In debates, he has said student equality comes from school administrators setting the right standards, understanding the outcomes we want for our children, and strategically planning to get there. He thinks we should change laws around schooling in New Orleans laws so that a higher percentage of kids in school go to school in their neighborhood, which would keep kids closer to home and cut down on transportation costs. He has said in the past that he supports reducing the number of elected seats on the school board, and replacing them with appointees from the governor and mayor.
Marshall has received massive amounts of non profit and PAC money for this race, often from controversial sources such as Stand for Children Louisiana, the Arnold Foundation, Democrats for Education Reform, and former presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg.
Jamar Wilson (D) has taught for more than a decade and is currently the Dean of Student Support at KIPP Leadership Primary, aka Charles J. Colton. Wilson moved to New Orleans in 2015 and previously worked as an instructional coach at the ReNew Cultural Arts Academy supporting math and science teachers. On the campaign trail, he has advocated for more direct-run schools (meaning traditional, school board managed non-charter schools) and more diversity in the educational focus of our charter schools. Wilson says the school board has been approving the same type of charter over and over, which defeats the purpose, and that all parents should have both direct-run schools and charter schools as options for their children. He is in favor of a moratorium on new charter schools as part of an audit of the charter system, and he thinks the school board should mandate that charter organizations have entirely Orleans Parish residents on their boards.
Wilson would increase Pre-K education by streamlining the enrollment process, adding Pre-K services to the board’s Master Building Plan, and funding Pre-K students at the same rate as older grades. Asked in our survey about tactical expulsion in schools, he advocated for restorative practices (something he has already pushed the board to incorporate into their policies), and an expulsion process that moves through a panel of educators, including someone whose practice has a mental health/trauma informed background. He also pointed out the school system needs to help smaller schools get the technology they need during the COVID pandemic, and supports free universal internet for families of students.
Wilson has been very successful in his fundraising for the race and highlighted having over 200 individual donors. He has also received sizable donations from the Democrats for Education Reform PAC, the Leadership for Educational Equity organization, and businessman Arthur Rock. Read Wilson’s response to our survey.
Kayonna K. Armstrong has been a parent advocate with Step Up Louisiana and is a member of the New Orleans Coalition and the Independent Women’s Organization of New Orleans. She is an intern at BAR None, a non-profit that provides “seven elements of service to currently and formerly incarcerated African Americans... therapeutic healing, education, entrepreneurship, arts, homes, community-driven justice, and partnership.” She is running on a platform of greater local control of the Orleans Parish school system, arguing that school governance needs to better represent the city by electing New Orleans natives and becoming more transparent and accessible. Armstrong says she wants to strengthen and support teacher unions and get rid of OneApp. She is critical of the system of charter schools we currently have, saying in a debate: “I'm a strong advocate of direct-run schools. The decentralized system we're currently under is not effective.” She points to the number of charters closing topping the number of school expansions, and says charters have used “intuition-based assessments,” when they need better reporting and better data.
To fight grade inflation, Armstrong voiced her support of state Senator Joe Bouie, Jr.'s Senate Bill 509 which would place a moratorium on new charter schools while the state conducted an audit of the Orleans Parish charter system. She said grade inflation would be less of a problem if Orleans Parish got rid of at-will employment in schools, because whistleblowers would be better protected and teacher retention would go up. The largest contributions to Armstrong’s campaign have come from state rep Mathew Willard and an in-kind donation of studio/production time from Erase the Board’s Armtrice Cowart. Read Armstrong’s response to our survey.
Neighborhood Security Districts
This year, if you live in the Lake Willow, Lakeshore, Lake Vista, or North Kenilworth neighborhoods, you’ll be voting whether or not to reauthorize your neighborhood’s “security district.” New Orleans has several security districts that authorize either use of a private security firm or NOPD officers “putting in on-duty overtime,” to do special patrols around your neighborhood.
Security districts “reinforce inequality, are ineffective against violent crime, and sidestep desperately needed debates around public safety and criminal justice reform.” And we should all know by now that more police, public or private, do not make our communities safer. Some neighborhoods even line the pockets of the chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, also known as the owner of New Orleans Private Patrol Service, Inc. While none of the proposed neighborhood security districts in this election contract with New Orleans Private Patrol Service, if authorized, someone will still profit off collective fear and misdirected solutions.
We do have an alternative. The question of reauthorizing funding for the Broadmoor Improvement Association (BIA) is also on the ballot. Instead of sending property tax or local millage money toward guns and boots, the BIA uses neighborhood money to fund a foodbank, a variety of community classes at the Arts & Wellness Center, as well as SNAP assistance and sliding-scale counseling. There are dangers in funneling public money to private businesses through a neighborhood committee, but BIA has at least begun to get at the root of what makes safer communities. Spoiler: it’s not cops.