A judge of nearly 15 years in the 19th Judicial District Court this fall faces his first challenger since he was initially elected more than a decade ago, competing for his seat on the bench with a veteran public defender.
Judge Todd Hernandez and Colette Greggs, an attorney who represented Baton Rouge’s indigent defendants over the last eight years, both want to claim the District A seat. Voters will determine the outcome at the Nov. 4 election.
Hernandez pointed to his years of experience as well as his passion for his daily work to explain why he was running again.
“I pledged then to be a fair and firm judge,” Hernandez said, reflecting back to when he first ran in 2001. “I feel that I have a record now that affirms that I’ve maintained my pledge and kept my promises.”
Greggs didn’t criticize Hernandez or discuss his performance as a district court judge, adding that she doesn’t consider the election a direct competition.
“Being in court every day, you see the problems that our community is facing,” Greggs said. “And being the type of person that I am, and wanting to help and try and make things better for everybody, that’s the reason why (I’m running).”
Hernandez served as a criminal judge from 2001-08, before becoming chief judge for one year. Since then, he has presided over civil cases. Before he became a judge, Hernandez handled a range of criminal and civil cases as a Zachary attorney for Myles, Cook, Day & Hernandez.
Among the difficult cases he said he was proud of handling is the first-degree murder trial for Anthony Bell, which was upheld by the Louisiana Supreme Court. Bell was sentenced to death after he was convicted of the 2006 killing of four in-laws in a church before killing his wife in a nearby parking lot. Bell’s lawyers argued earlier this year that Bell was not mentally competent when he represented himself.
Hernandez stressed the most important tenet of his job was applying the law in an impartial way. He added he is passionate about his work, no matter how much the courtroom may resemble a routine.
“Every day I grab the doorknob and go in that courtroom I remind myself that there are people out there (for whom) this isn’t just another day,” he said. “And I’m going to make that important day the best it can be.”
Though Hernandez currently is one of the judges who only hears civil cases, if Greggs won the seat, she likely would have a criminal docket. That’s because newly elected judges at the 19th JDC typically start off as criminal judges. When there is a vacancy in a civil court division, seniority dictates which criminal court judge takes the vacant seat.
Greggs said she would work to understand what led someone to commit a crime, because people may commit crimes for a variety of reasons and some first-time offenders need help more than they need harsh sentencing. She added she’s concerned about how few of her clients had completed high school or obtained a GED. If elected, she would stress looking for alternatives to educate a first-time offender before handing down prison time or putting somebody on probation.
“If they don’t have the tools to be productive citizens in society, are we setting them up to fail by putting them on probation?” Greggs said. “We have to educate people so they can be productive citizens.”
But, she added, “In Louisiana, the law is the law. Certain crimes require certain sentences.”
Greggs is the daughter of legendary Southern University Band Director Isaac Greggs, who passed away earlier this year.
Before Greggs graduated from law school at Southern University in 2006, she worked for years as an accountant for the Louisiana Leadership Institute, Westinghouse Electric Corporation and the Central Intelligence Agency. She spent a year as an accountant with the CIA in the Washington, D.C., area, which she said taught her to be “a stickler for details.” She also has been a claims specialist for State Farm Insurance.
Hernandez has the backing of the Republican Party, the Baton Rouge Union of Police, the police chiefs of Baker and Zachary and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. Greggs is endorsed by the Democratic Party and Service Employees of the International Union.