NEW ORLEANS — Four candidates are running for an open seat on the bench at Orleans Parish Juvenile Court, with the majority of the contenders promising to fight for better funding and to reach out to at-risk youth early in life in an effort to stop crime before it happens.
Running for the Section E seat are George “Gino” Gates IV, Doug Hammel, Yolanda King and Cynthia Samuel.
Early voting for the special election, called after former Deputy Chief Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier won election to Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, began Saturday. Election day is April 6.
Hammel, 40, a former prosecutor in Jefferson Parish, has managed his own law office to handle civil and criminal matters in New Orleans since he left the public sector. This is his first run for public office.
If elected, he said he would evaluate current programs and their effectiveness, implement a youth rehabilitation program based on therapy and education rather than punishment and would be proactive when it comes to stopping juveniles from committing crimes.
One change Hammel said he would make is the introduction of a schedule of when each court proceeding would take place.
“My reputation as an attorney is that I’m an extremely organized and efficient person,” Hammel said.
He also said he would introduce night court sessions in an effort to reduce the burden on families with working parents who might not be able to get to court during daytime hours. He also said that would ease what could be overcrowding at the new juvenile courthouse, which is under construction.
Though there are six judges on the bench, the new facility will have only four courtrooms. Mayor Mitch Landrieu has said he will ask the state Legislature this session to reduce the number of juvenile judges to three.
Hammel said he is not opposed to seeing the number of juvenile court judges reduced but wants to see a “comprehensive plan” from the administration about how issues the court faces could be resolved with fewer members on the bench.
Hammel also said juveniles arrested for crimes need to be taught that their actions have consequences, though not necessarily jail time. Hammel said he would like to put those youth in touch with their victims to show the effects of their actions.
“All of a sudden, you’re not just part of the system,” he said. “It’s more personalized.”
King, 55, a former clerk for several courts and a former Orleans Parish assistant district attorney, now has a private practice. She has run previously unsuccessful campaigns for judgeships at Criminal District Court in 2008 and for Juvenile Court in 2002 and 2004.
Her ideas for juvenile court include ensuring a fair and balanced process for those who go through the court, protection for the community and children, bringing the court to the public through several initiatives and finding mentors for children.
Part of the way to make the court fair and balanced, King said, is to ensure it is properly funded.
With the city cutting its funding to the court this year, King said she will try to find private and public money to help shore up those losses.
She said she would like to initiate a “comprehensive community assessment” to help move cases through the court as quickly and efficiently as possible.
“The process must be swift,” she said of juvenile court.
Under that system, she said, not only would juveniles get help, but so would parents. Community service would be a form of restitution for nonviolent offenders.
Ultimately, King said, she would try to make the public aware of what the court does. Schools and church-based communities would be the places she would focus to educate people, King said.
The idea Landrieu has floated to reduce the judiciary does not bother her.
“It would be up to the public,” to vote on, she said.
Samuel, 49, a lawyer who has practiced juvenile law for two decades, touts her professional experience when describing why she would make a good judge.
A former juvenile court judge prosecutor under former District Attorney Harry Connick Sr., she said she will work to find grant money to help with funding the court. She said she wants to increase the size of drug court and would encourage young attorneys from law school to do more juvenile work.
The services, such as drug court, are needed most, she said.
“We can talk and talk and talk, but if we can’t give them the services we need … it’s just not going to work,” Samuel said.
She said there needs to be diversion for non-violent or non-victim crimes, while there is a greater focus necessary for more serious crimes. For less serious crimes, she said, those offenders should have community service “out of their ears.”
Samuel said she is against reducing the number of judges in juvenile court, saying that young people in trouble need as much guidance as possible, whether it is a social worker or a judge.
“The more adults we have involved in these children’s lives the better,” she said.
Attempts to contact Gates were unsuccessful.