Both a registered nurse and an attorney, Juvenile Court Judge candidate Jacqueline Carroll-Gilds says she is the only person vying for the seat with her brand of experience, having worked as a former assistant district attorney and as a mental healthcare provider while she owned and operated Bridging the Gap, Inc., a behavioral health agency that provided family counseling services to children and adolescents with sever behavioral problems.
“I know the population. I have been in their homes,” Carroll-Gilds says. “I also know the juvenile justice system.”
Her agency was community based and worked with youth and their families in the their homes, schools and in the court system to meet their individual needs and goals, she says.
Because of her work with Bridging the Gap, Carroll-Gilds says she understands the comprehensive approach that must be taken to help youth who are in trouble. But she also believes they must be held accountable for their behavior.
“I am not a big advocate of locking kids down,” she says. “I am a big advocate of having a plan that involves wrap-around services—parenting skills classes, social services, mental health services, as well as our juvenile justice code.”
Ernest “Freddie” Charbonnet
As an attorney, Ernest “Freddie” Charbonnet says his experiences are wide-ranging. Charbonnet has 30 years of legal experience, serving as an assistant city attorney and on the city’s legislative lobbying team. He is now an attorney in private practice.
“Juvenile court, family court, you name it—I did it,” he says. “I wanted to be as well-rounded as I could.”
And Charbonnet says he has also always had a desire for public service. That is why when he was selected a few years ago to serve on the New Orleans City Council in an interim capacity, he jumped at the chance and even threw his ring in the hat for a permanent seat.
He lost that election; but it was while working on the Council that Charbonnet says the budgetary needs and challenges of Juvenile Court caught his attention.
“This is something that I want to do,” he says. “It means something to me.”
Charbonnet says he has some ideas about ways to improve use of the court’s resources, such as looking at the money spent to detain juveniles prior to trial at the Youth Study Center, the effectiveness of which he questions as it relates to keeping the detained youth or the community any safer or providing rehabilitative services to youth.
“We need to put resources together and come up with something better,” he says. “Let’s look at the money being wasted on those 21 days and bring entities together to make a lasting change in the juvenile court system.”
Charbonnet says the juvenile justice system must work with other entities in the community to combat the cradle-to-prison pipeline.
He points to his own experiences as a youth who was positively and deeply impacted by the network of positive role models at St. Augustine High School, which has educated generations of young Black men, as one example of how people and institutions can help to steer the lives of young people in the right direction
“I don’t just want to slow it down; I want to annihilate that pipeline. I want to blow it out of the water.”
An attorney, minister and single mother of three Desiree Cook-Calvin says she has had to console of lot of women—members of her church—that are burying their children. And that reality has in part fueled her desire to run for juvenile court judge.
“We still have some work to do to stop what’s going on in our community,” Cook-Calvin says.
If elected, she says she will engage community organizations and agencies to take a holistic approach to helping the children and families in juvenile court.
In addition to her private law practice, the candidate has worked as an administrative hearing judge, an assistant city attorney, as a staff attorney with Southeast Louisiana Legal Services and as an adjunct professor at area colleges and universities.
Cook-Calvin adds that as a judge she plans to be involved with the community to help address issues critical to the juvenile justice system.
“After you get off the bench, it’s your job to get into the community and talk about ways we can stop what’s going on, how we can stop this cycle.”
Cook-Calvin says that if elected she will be able to make the tough, but fair decisions required to ensure that youth deserving of second chances and in need of rehabilitation are served while also addressing the need to keep the community safe. She adds that parent accountability and partnerships with school and everyone “connected” with a child in the juvenile court system is critical. Cook-Calvin says that too often the court system is the first place where issues involving youth end up, when it should be the last place.
“We’re going to have to make sure that families get what they need to make sure they produce productive citizens.”
As for the fiscal challenges the court faces, she says she will be committed to using the available resources in the best manner.
“We can’t sit around and cry about budget cuts,” Cook-Calvin says. “We have to find ways to work around them.”
Juvenile Court Judge Yolanda King describes herself as a compassionate jurist with a desire to make a difference in the lives of children. And that desire, along with her education, experience, strong work ethic and dedication to service, are why she should be re-elected to the bench, she says.
Meanwhile, she casts the legal issues—chiefly an indictment for allegedly lying about her residency when she qualified to run for the seat in a previous elections—as political tricks aimed at keeping her out the race.
King says she keeps her docket running smoothly and works to develop a relationship with the children who appear before her.
“I always say ‘we’ and I say ‘our’ children because they look like me. I want to do everything I can,” she says. “Many of the children are not necessarily delinquent. They have a high need for service. They have parents that don’t understand or are intimated by the system. A lot of youth have undiagnosed mental health issues.”
For that reason, King says a holistic approach to juvenile justice that focuses on helping entire families must be employed.
King has more than 20 years of legal experiences, ranging from law clerk to assistant district attorney to judicial clerk and research attorney as well as a stint as an administrative law judge.
With cuts to the juvenile court budget, King says the court has “a lot of need.” And says that need is another reason she should be re-elected. She has served as the chair of the court’s grant writing/fund-seeking committee, she says.
“I am like a pit bull so we can get the funding we need so that our children are better off,” she says. “You can’t be effective if you don’t have the resources.”
Niki Roberts has been a prosecutor with the Orleans Parish District’s Attorney’s Office for 12 years, serving as a prosecutor in the juvenile court division, a senior trial attorney in Criminal District Court and working in the office’s screening division. But as a prosecutor, she believes she has reached her limit in how she can help youth caught in the juvenile justice system. So she is running for judge.
Roberts says “any real impact on the kids and how they are affected, any real involvement in helping them has ended’ once plea bargains are made or sentences are handed and adds that “judges control accountability.”
“The more time I spent in juvenile court, the more I realized that because of my professional and personal life experiences, I could help these kids,” says Roberts, who was a teen mother who says her own life serves as an example “that you can make a mistake that has the ability to alter the path of your life and not allow it to.”
“My experience shows that kids sometimes make mistakes. They have to pay for them. They have to be responsible for them. But the mistakes do not have to define them for the rest of their lives.
Roberts says she fully believes in the rehabilitative role of the juvenile justice system and is committed to treating each case as a unique set of circumstances, while also balancing the needs of the larger community.
“If a child is out there committing violent offenses, I’m sorry—that child’s rehabilitative needs are going to come secondary to the safety of the community; and their rehabilitative needs must be met in a secure facility.
Roberts also says that the role of the court does not end with a case’s disposition when it comes to juveniles. Instead, she says the situations must be monitored to ensure the needs of children in the juvenile justice system are being met at every level.
“Every stakeholder in the child’s life has to be held accountable,” she says. “And that is the judge’s job. That is an essential element. Everybody involved in helping that child has to do their job.”
Cynthia D. Samuel
Cynthia Samuel has 23 years of experience practicing juvenile law and says she has handled thousands of juvenile court hearings and clients. She also served as a former prosecutor in the juvenile court.
And Samuel, who has run for juvenile court judge before and lost, says personal and professional her experiences make her the perfect choice for the city’s next Juvenile Court Judge. She was raised by a single mother and became a teenage mother and high school dropout, but describes herself as a self-motivated, self-learner who went on to finish high school, college and eventually law school despite obstacles.
And it was while in law school that Samuel says she became captivated with working with cases in the juvenile justice system.
She believes she can have a positive impact on the lives of children who enter the courtroom on delinquency and child protection cases.
“(My background) gives me insight into those families and the lives of those children,” she says. “And it gives me a lot of empathy. Good kids get into to trouble.
Samuel says it takes a variety of resources that provide assistance to families in need to help children and parents navigate the challenges before them. And she will work to bring those resources together if elected, adding that the local education system must also be challenged to do more.
“As a teenage mother and a dropout, education was my salvation,” she says. “Every child that comes into the system, every case must address education. Education is the cornerstone.”