Juvenile Court Judge Pamela Taylor Johnson — one of the longest-serving judges in Louisiana — has announced she will retire next month, making her the fifth judge in East Baton Rouge Parish this year to retire before their terms ended.
Johnson has held her seat on the juvenile bench for 25 years, becoming a pillar in the capital city for juvenile justice issues. Her retirement is effective Aug. 1, more than a year before her term would have expired at the end of 2020.
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“We have a come a long way with this court since I came here in 1994," Johnson said Friday. "We’ve accomplished a lot. We’ve put a lot of things in place, I feel like we are at a good place for me to leave.”
Johnson, 63, said the job had recently become more strenuous after she came back from knee surgery this spring. Though she had hoped to stay in her role for a few more months, she said, the timing this summer worked out best because the state would not have to spend additional funds on a separate special election.
"This was just a good time for me to do it," Johnson said.
Johnson submitted her intent to retire in early July. The Secretary of State's office has called for the election to fill her seat; the election will fall in line with others this fall. The primary is Oct. 12 and runoff, if needed, is Nov. 16. The qualification period for candidates is Aug. 6-8.
Attorney Niles Haymer is the first to publicly express his intent to run for the seat. He is a defense lawyer who has represented youth going through juvenile court system for almost two decades. He said he hopes to focus on children's needs and improving alternatives to incarceration for juveniles.
“If we want a brighter future in Baton Rouge, we have to invest in the juvenile court system," Haymer said.
In addition to handling juvenile delinquency, the legal term for juvenile crime, cases, juvenile judges also oversee adoptions, juvenile marriages, neglect, abuse and other matters.
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Reflecting on her tenure, Johnson said Friday she is proud to have started the district's first drug court and partner treatment program for youth, faith-based mentoring program and court-based Boy Scout program. She said she also helped bring better training to the court's probation officers so children could be better evaluated.
That drug court program, however, later shuttered and brought Johnson a mark on her record from the state's Supreme Court. The justices publicly censured her in 2005 for failing to conduct hearings for 10 juveniles affected by the closure of the treatment center. The Boy Scout and faith-based programs also have ended, due to lack of funding or changes in leadership over the years, but Johnson said the new director of Juvenile Services, Tamaira Wade, is working to bring back that mentoring program.
Johnson said she hopes her successor will continue her fight to improve the lives of children and families.
Johnson follows four other judges, all in the 19th Judicial District's adult court, to announce retirements this year: Mike Caldwell, 69, is retiring effective Nov. 1; Todd Hernandez, 52, and Lou Daniel, 65, retired on March 31; and Mike Erwin, 69, is stepping down Aug. 1. Their six-year terms also expire at the end of next year, so special elections to fill those seats will be on the October ballot as well.
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