Judge Criminal District Court, Section ICriminal District Court handles most criminal cases in Orleans Parish. Thirteen elected judges serve six-year terms. They control how often people come to court, when and how evidence gets turned over, and when to grant and deny continuances, as well as some control over bail and sentencing.
Last spring’s runoff featured Leon Roché (D) against now-Judge Simone Levine, two candidates with criminal justice reform track records, backers, and platforms. Roché is a former public defender of thirteen years who understands that in the criminal legal system, “accused” and “victim” can often be overlapping categories. During the spring campaign, he participated in a town hall Q&A with our chapter and spoke about prioritizing alternatives to incarceration, advocating for low cash bail or bond conditions that allow an accused person to continue school or work, and preventing wrongful convictions. He has a healthy skepticism of cases built upon the testimony of a single eyewitness, the reliability of facial recognition and shotspotter technologies, and the veracity of police officer testimony. He is endorsed by the grassroots organization VOTE, which is run by and dedicated to furthering the rights of formerly incarcerated people; Working Families Party; the national trade union center AFL-CIO; the Orleans Parish Democrats; local electeds Troy Carter and Matthew Willard; and the public defenders of NOLA Defenders for Equal Justice.
His opponent Melanie Talia (D) is a former prosecutor under Harry Connick—perhaps the single most notorious District Attorney in our city's long history of cruel, callous, and demented prosecutors—and the current CEO of the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation. The Foundation has funneled about 30 million dollars to NOPD recruitment, training, equipment, and supplemental pay, as well as compiled the SafeCam NOLA database of private surveillance cameras for NOPD use. Recently, a local civil rights attorney has called on the Louisiana Ethics Administration to launch an inquiry into the legitimacy of her September campaign finance report after she claimed that no money was raised or spent in the last two months despite visible signs of campaigning around town.
District Attorney Jason Williams continues to shift to the right, transferring juveniles to adult court, demanding even higher bonds, and imposing harsher sentences using the habitual offender statute. As a result, the city now has a local pretrial jail population reaching its legal maximum. Talia will compound that with Gwen’s Law hearings for every domestic violence case. Constitutionally, people arrested are entitled to a bail hearing within 48 hours. Gwen’s Law, like other emotionally-charged legislative overreactions to tragedies, forces people to sit in jail up to five days for a bail hearing and even then may not be offered bail at all. This guilty-until-proven-innocent carceral approach is in line with her walked-back call to lock up 9-10% of the city’s population, whom she blames for most of the city’s violence (she has since adjusted that percentage to a still-egregious 1%). This position is nothing short of genocidal. Accordingly, Talia is endorsed by the police union and the Greater New Orleans Republicans, both of whom support expanded capacities for state violence. Melanie Talia should never have the judicial powers of this bench, or any other for that matter. Our chapter unanimously recommends voting against Melanie Talia and keeping her far, far away from the bench.