Two candidates who competed for one of the two judicial seats available on East Baton Rouge Parish’s Juvenile Court six years ago are once again battling for the same spot, a bench that has been occupied by the same judge since it was created in the mid-1990s.
Judge Pamela Taylor Johnson is asking voters to consider her two decades of experience on the bench as a primary reason to re-elect her. Her challenger, Gail Adkins Grover, contends that the Juvenile Court needs change, and that she’s just the woman to make it happen.
Johnson, who has served as the parish’s Section 2B judge since being elected to the position in 1994, defeated Grover in 2008 with 66 percent of the votes cast in the district. In the interim, Grover served as the parish’s director of juvenile services before beginning her current position as Mayor-President Kip Holden’s assistant chief administrative officer — two jobs she said have broadened her perspective on the juvenile system.
The election is set for Nov. 4, while early voting for the primary starts Oct. 21 and ends Oct. 28.
The district comprises much of the western half of the parish opposite the Section 1A district, in which Judge Kathleen Stewart Richey has served since the court’s creation in 1990. Richey this election faces two lawyers who are first-time public office candidates: Adam J. Haney and Dedrick A. Moore.
For the most part, Johnson and Grover, both Democrats, highlight similar issues in their campaigns: parenting, mental health and substance abuse. But the candidates emphasize the issues somewhat differently.
Grover, 51, said her key goal if elected is to address parental engagement both inside and outside the courtroom. In addition, the former prosecutor has aspirations to re-create a juvenile drug court, while also visiting the possibility of establishing a Saturday court and a juvenile mental health court, she said.
For any of those ideas to come to fruition, additional resources likely would be necessary in a juvenile system that both current judges described as underfunded.
Grover said it’s easy to blame money shortages as a barrier to progress. And she acknowledged some suggested changes, such as her priority of improving the efficiency of the court’s case load, would be more costly than others. Even so, she maintains that she would exhaust all options to find the necessary resources.
“I would circle every table that I could,” Grover said, “because it makes sense.”
Johnson, however, knows firsthand the frustrations of dealing with limited resources. She championed a juvenile drug court and partner treatment center in the early 2000s that were ultimately shut down, at least partly because of funding issues. Johnson later was reprimanded by the state’s Supreme Court for failing to conduct hearings for some juveniles who would be affected by the closure of the treatment center.
These days, the parish needs a drug court as much as ever, said Johnson, 59, because substance abuse affects so many families and children in the area. Addressing the issue is one of Johnson’s campaign platforms, in addition to building support for community mental health treatment, positive parenting programs and safe homes and environments.
Johnson, a Southern University Law Center alumna and Magnolia, Mississippi, native, said all kids need discipline. But children and parents with substance abuse addictions or mental health issues need specialized attention — treatment they may not be getting now — which is something Johnson said she wants to change.
Coming up with the resources to do so will take some creativity, she said.
Juvenile courts see many different types of cases in addition to delinquency — the legal term for juvenile crime. They also adjudicate adoption, juvenile marriage, abortion, neglect, abuse and other matters — little-known duties both candidates said play an important role in molding young lives.
“We all have sense enough to know when we can’t do it anymore,” Johnson said. “But I’m not at that point.”
Grover, a graduate of the LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center and Washington, D.C., native, said structure and accountability — two life tenets she solidified during her years as a nuclear weapons maintenance specialist in the U.S. Army — are key to setting young people on the right path.
If elected, “I’ll be fair, I’ll be just, and I’ll be consistent,” Grover said.
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