While the race for Criminal District Court Section G has been quieter than its Section D counterpart, it is no less important; and it pits a long-serving Municipal Court judge against a former federal and state prosecutor. The two Democratic contenders are battling for the seat left vacant by Judge Julian Parker, who held it since 1996, but chose not to seek re-election. Both candidates have pledged similar goals of being tough on violent criminals and rehabilitating drug and nonviolent offenders. Another challenge for the winner will be getting a handle on a backlog of cases.
Paul Sens, 58, who has served on the Municipal Court bench for the past 18 years, says his first priority if elected will be to clear the docket out and get all cases into current status within 18 months. He says he move the docket by limiting continuances and setting expectations and deadlines before trials start.
Sens says he is looking to establish specialty courts similar to the drug diversion program that he established at Municipal Court in 2011 after the City Council downgraded marijuana possession to a municipal offense. In the two and half years since then, Sens has credited this program with helping 5,000 mostly young, Black men to avoid a criminal record for possessing marijuana. These specialty courts, he says, would benefit those guilty of “victimless crimes” and would include re-entry court, mental health court, homeless court and a court for war veterans.
“These courts would serve a great purpose,” he says
Speaking specifically on veterans court, Sens says he thinks we “owe it to the people that have served our country to do everything we can do to help.”
As for violent crime, Sens says he will be “very strict” on violent offenders, especially repeat offenders. He says New Orleans needs “tough judges who are not afraid of making tough decisions when sentencing tough offenders.”
“The criminal element must be dealt with and dealt with now,” Sens says. “As someone who has served on the bench for almost two decades, I know when compassion is warranted; and I know when toughness is called for.”
Byron C. Williams
Byron C. Williams says that if elected to the Criminal District Court Section G seat, the city of New Orleans would get judge who “works for the people and a public servant who will treat everyone who comes into court with dignity and fairness.” Williams, 59, is no stranger to the court. He was chosen by the state Supreme Court to serve as Judge Pro Tempore of Section E after Judge Calvin Johnson retired in 2008.
Williams says he comes from the “village to raise a child” era and his village was Hardin Playground. It was in this seventh ward neighborhood that Williams says mentors like Coach George “Nick” Connor of St. Augustine High School and Coach Ernest Johnson, now pastor of Greater Mt. Carmel Baptist Church instilled in him the “values of self-discipline, hard work and responsibility.”
Williams says judges need to be out on the frontlines engaging in the community. He intends, he says, to be a “servant judge,” connecting the court’s work with nonprofits and community organizations.
As for case flow, Williams says he will work to efficiently manage his docket and that doing so will require all-around effective time management from witnesses, lawyers, police officers and judges. Williams says he vows to break the “culture of continuances” that he says plagues the courtroom.
He also says he has enough life experience and discernment to understand that everyone in jail doesn’t belong there. He says he will foster and utilize specialty courts in an effort to rehabilitate non-violent and drug offenders and would work with the community to bring together resources for those individuals.
“It’s a support mechanism,” he says. “A lot of people need to know there are resources to help them get over their problem, to help them from repeating the crimes that put them in the position they’re in.”