The race for the first of two domestic sections of Civil District Court puts the incumbent against a local attorney, who owns her own law practice the Harrison Law Group and has represented clients in a number of matters, including civil and domestic court issues. Both candidates say they possess the background and experience for the job
Bernadette D’Souza has held her seat as the first family court judge since being elected in 2012. As the first dedicated family judge for Orleans Parish, D’Souza says she is “committed and passionate” about a court that she has helped to shape. That, along with her more than 18 years of experience as an attorney specializing in family law, has enabled her to more effectively settle cases than someone without her history in the field, she says.
D’Souza says that if re-elected, she will continue to effectively manage her courtroom’s large docket. She says the domestic section has the highest number of cases in the Civil District Court and that continued efficiency is critical in order to give litigants enough time to present their cases and cut down on continuations and contempt issues that she sees “over and over“ in her court room.
“When you have passion and experience in family court, the docket is manageable,” she says.
As for the city’s pro-se litigants, D’Souza says that 65 percent to 70 percent of the litigants that she sees in her courtroom are unrepresented. She says that she would like to see more attorneys volunteer to help give those without proper representation access to the courts.
In 2012, D’Souza’s campaign platform included “implementing institutional reform to help children and families who are experiencing distress in divorce, custody and domestic violence disputes.” Since then, she has developed a case-by-case plan that is designed to work in the best interest of the children involved. D’Souza wants to continue the work she has done.
“Over the past couple of years we have seized upon the opportunity to put into practice our shared vision for a first-rate Family Court; and for that reason I am again asking for your support in my re-election.”
Teatrece Harrison says New Orleans needs a family court judge who can really identify with the community. Harrison, a single mother of one, says while practicing law in the New Orleans court system, she has seen firsthand the struggles families encounter.
Harrison started her own law firm, Harrison Law Group LLC, in 2008 and has since helped people save their homes from foreclosure and stood “side-by-side” with domestic victims seeking justice.
“As the domestic court judge, you’re dealing closely with people’s lives, and you need someone well-rounded to understand where they’re coming from,” she says.
She says she believes that domestic court is not hearing cases quickly enough. Harrison says that if elected she will create a better strategy to move the dockets.
“There are ways you can tweak things to make it a little better,” she says.
Harrison, 46, says she would like to see working parents treated more fairly during court appearances.
Working parents are spending too much time in the courtroom and it “takes a toll on them when they are required to pay court and parking fees and maybe lose time at work.”
She also takes issue with the number of litigants sent to mediation, saying poor families have trouble affording mediator fees, which can vary on a sliding scale.