Janet Ahern, a 53-year-old attorney with nearly three decades of experience working with family issues in the courts, says she is running for judge because she wants to “put her vast experience, deep qualifications and abiding compassion for families to work for the people of New Orleans.”
Ahern became an Orleans Parish assistant district attorney after graduating from Loyola University College of Law, handling over 50 jury trials. Her first family court case was in 1993 and she has since served over 500 clients “in every capacity of family law you can imagine.”
Ahern ran unsuccessfully on a family court platform in a 2001 unsuccessful bid for the Civil District Court Division L seat against Kern Reese. She says family court is where her heart is and that being a family court judge is a “great way to see that you can impact people and make a difference.”
If elected, Ahern would like to see the dockets managed more effectively in an effort to decrease wasted time and court costs. One way to do this, she says, would be reviewing the dockets days before and scheduling cases within 30 days based on complexity. She wants to strive to make the court work for families, especially children.
“All of this stuff is impacting our children and that is my focus. My priority is always going to be about our kids,” she says.
As for the city’s pro se litigants, Ahern wants to recruit attorneys to be available to work closely with them through the legal process and for those litigants to have improved, more complete and detailed forms and orientation packages.
“I want to try to give them as much of a road map as we can,” Ahern says.
Monique Barial, 43, says she is running for family court judge because she has “devoted much of her life to serving her community and strengthening families” and would like to continue the legacy of commitment to public service that she received from her parents, Dr. Walter and Sylvia Barial.
She believes that all litigants should be treated with respect when they enter the courtroom. Barial, who has worked as Civil District Court Judge Chris Bruno’s minute clerk for five years, says she sees “day in and day out” how coming to court can be a hardship for many. If elected, she will take steps to make the process as effective and efficient as possible.
Effective time and docket management is a must, she says.
“The people of New Orleans need a judge who not only knows family law and how to apply it, but one who is also capable of managing this court’s docket effectively so that families don’t have to wait months to resolve issues.”
Another facet of family court that Barial says needs attention is the handling of pro-se litigants. Barial believes that pro-se litigant, those without attorneys, should be treated with the same level of respect as those with legal representation and every step should be taken to ensure that they are represented fairly and not lost in the legal system.
“You will always have people you can’t get to work it out for a variety of reasons,” she says. “What I haven’t always seen is people doing whatever they can do (to help).”
Barial says she ultimately would like to see cases in her courtroom three to six weeks after filing and with staggered court times so that litigants will have ample time to present their cases. Additionally, Barial wants to set aside time for emergency filings during times when families need faster access to judges, especially during holidays and the beginning of the school year.
Michelle Scott-Bennett says she is the most qualified and experienced “applicant” for the position of family court judge because she has “professional and practical experience.”
Scott-Bennett, a 43-year-old political newcomer, has been a family law attorney and owner of Justice for All Law Center for 17 years. She has been “hands-on” when dealing with cases involving child custody, child support, community property and domestic abuse issues. She says the “job” of family court judge is the most important seat on the ballot.
“The family court judge makes daily decisions about the lives of the people in the New Orleans community. This job is not about politics. This job is a service position,” she says.
As a wife and mother of two teenage boys, Scott-Bennett says she has the practical experience to understand the challenges that litigants coming into court are facing.
She is running on a platform of P.O.W.E.R. (Professional, Organized, Willing, Experience, Results). Scott-Bennett says that if elected, she as well as the employees of her courtroom will conduct themselves in a professional manner and will always be willing to work to help litigants.
“It’s really hard to complain about what needs to be fixed unless you’re willing to do something about it,” she says.