Since she was first elected in 1992, state District Judge Bonnie Jackson said she has enjoyed being unopposed each of the three times she came up for re-election, but that ends Nov. 4 when she faces two opponents on the ballot.
Lawyers Nina S. Hunter, 34, and Tiffany Foxworth, 40, both of whom have private practices in the Glen Oaks area, are challenging the 61-year-old Jackson for her seat on the Division K bench in the 19th Judicial District.
“They have a right to run, and I have a right to run back,” Jackson said.
Early voting for the Nov. 4 election begins Oct. 21.
Jackson worked for 14 years in the parish Public Defender’s Office before being elected in 1992 and touts the experience she’s gained over her career as the difference between herself and her challengers.
“I have been on the bench 22 years and as my (campaign) sign says, ‘I’m respected, I’m fair and I’m proven,’ and I think that’s my reputation. People know the product, people know what they’re getting and I think my record speaks for itself,” Jackson said, adding with the exception of new technological crimes, “There is no case I have presided over as a judge that I had not litigated as an attorney.”
She pointed to her handling of the high-profile murder cases of Sean Vincent Gillis and Trucko Stampley among her 10 first-degree murder trials as evidence of her qualifications.
“You don’t throw out experience for someone who wants to do on-the-job training,” she said.
Jackson said she is looking forward to getting out in the community, reintroducing herself to older voters and introducing herself to young voters who may not have even been born when she was first elected.
“I’m a very hands-on candidate. I actually enjoy campaigning. I like talking to people, I like meeting people,” Jackson said.
Hunter, a political newcomer, worked as a lawyer for the state Department of Revenue for more than eight years, but left in January to pursue a private practice to help her further the childhood dream of becoming a judge.
“It’s been one of those things that literally has been in my heart since I was a child,” she said. “Before I went to law school or knew anything about the law, it’s been there.”
Hunter also teaches writing and ethics classes for University of Phoenix and taught tax and litigation classes as an adjunct professor at Southern Law Center in fall 2012.
She said she wants to implement community programs aimed toward preserving the family unit in the community, similar to the Black Family Initiative started by her father, the Rev. Donald Hunter, and to help people straighten out their lives before they end up in front of a criminal court judge.
“By the time that individual is standing before a judge, it’s too late,” Hunter said. “It’s like you’re catching a train that’s already taken off.”
The pillars of her campaign are violence prevention, establishing better treatment options for mental and addictive disorders and helping offenders get an education to better prepare them for re-entry into the community.
Foxworth is a veteran lawyer who spent more than eight years working at Ron Johnson’s law firm before leaving about six months ago to open her own practice.
Coincidentally, Foxworth and Hunter were classmates at Southern University.
Foxworth said she feels her work as a defense attorney in the district will help her in the election because she is a known quantity to area residents.
“I think that based on the general climate I have received from people who live in the district, they are ready for a change,” Foxworth said. “They would like a judge to not only pass judgment over them, but is also comfortable enough to come to the community they live in.”
Foxworth’s campaign platforms are to remain active throughout the community, uphold Christian principles and maintain a strict adherence to the law when handing down tough decisions, safeguard citizens from violent and repeat offenders, and push for tougher laws for pedophiles and child predators.
Foxworth previously and unsuccessfully challenged Baton Rouge City Court Judge Suzan Ponder in 2012 and former Metro Councilman Mike Walker in 2008. She also lost in a run-off to state Rep. Ted James in 2011 for the then newly created 101st District legislative seat.
She is also a 13-year U.S. Army veteran and registered nurse.
Foxworth said one reason she is challenging Jackson is because of a comment the judge made to her when she was a young lawyer.
“(Jackson) said, ‘I heard you were a registered nurse. You should have stayed one, because you would have made more money,’ ” Foxworth said. “I found that to be highly offensive. I’ve never been one to put money over helping people.”
Jackson denied having the conversation, saying she never spoke to Foxworth outside the courtroom or in her office about anything other than a case on which Foxworth was working.
“It’s hard to respond to something that’s patently false,” Jackson said.
Jackson’s two challengers said they would be interested in trying a split docket if elected.
A split docket means that judges handle both civil and criminal cases. At the 19th Judicial District Courthouse, civil cases are randomly assigned to seven of the court’s 15 judges, while criminal cases are allotted to the other eight jurists.
Hunter said she would like to run a split civil and criminal docket, saying that is the best way she could impact the community. Foxworth was also open to working a split docket if other judges agreed to it.
Jackson slammed that notion.
“The demands of the criminal docket are such that it is impossible to blend a criminal docket and a civil docket,” Jackson said. “It’s been tried on the bench before and ultimately, the judges who tried it realize it doesn’t work.”
Division K encompasses part of the downtown and midcity areas of Baton Rouge and is generally bordered by Thomas, Blount and Mickens roads in the north, Airline Highway and Foster Drive to the east, Gourrier Avenue and Government Street in the south and the Mississippi River to the west.