Civil District Court judges preside over civil trials, which are cases involving legal disputes between two or more parties (individuals, businesses, corporations, or government entities). Petitioners in civil action are seeking either damages or the performance or determination of rights. Domestic cases typically involve divorces, child support, child custody or protective orders. General docket cases vary, but often involve personal injury, contract disputes, property ownership, property rights or property damage. There are races in five civil court divisions (E, F, G, I, and Domestic Section 1) on the Nov. 3 ballot, with an incumbent judge facing one challenger in four of those races. In the Division I race, four attorneys are vying for the seat left open by Judge Piper Griffin, who resigned to run for the state Supreme Court.
Attorney Dianne Alexander says she is running to become judge of Civil District Court, Section E because she is a native New Orleanian who “loves her city and has a passion for helping others.”
“I have 20 years of diverse legal experience that I believe will serve this position well, she says. I believe all of that experience lends itself to this opportunity, sets me apart, and provides me with a unique set of skills and abilities that will allow me to hit the ground running.”
Alexander is a graduate of St. Mary’s Academy, Southern University at New Orleans, and Loyola University Law School, where she earned her juris doctorate.
She counts among her experiences stints as attorney for Supreme Court’s Committee for Character and Fitness, as general counsel for the Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, as a staff attorney for the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, as an assistant judicial administrator in Orleans Parish Juvenile Court, and as an assistant city attorney.
Alexander says she will work to ensure her courtroom runs effectively by ensuring that she has a prepared and knowledgeable staff and by setting status conferences (to ensure that cases are progressing).
“It is critical to make sure that those trial dates are set and met because that is key to litigants have their day in court,” says Alexander. “Also, I will make sure that I am prepared when I hit the bench and that I understand the issues that are coming before me so that I am rendering sound decisions that can stand up, that will not have to be appealed or in need of a writ in order for correct justice to be rendered.”
Omar Mason says he is seeking re-election to Civil District Court, Division E, to continue his work as a fair, impartial, effective, and compassionate judge.
Mason was first elected two years ago to fill an unexpired term.
“I just started doing the work, I have been working diligently every day that I put on that robe to make sure that everyone who comes into that courtroom—whether they are represented by the highest paid lawyer in the city or whether they are self-represented—has a fair day in court. They are going to get an attentive ear and a compassionate hearing.”
Mason says his career path qualifies him for the position.
For the past two years as judge, he has handled domestic cases. If re-elected, he anticipates moving on to the general docket.
“It’s a trial court judge position, and it requires trial experience. It requires in-depth knowledge of procedure and evidence and basic trial work. And that is what I have done my entire career prior to taking the bench.”
Still, he says handling domestic cases has given him insight on how to keep his court and docket running smoothly once he transitions to general cases.
“We have a very packed docket, a very aggressive docket, so keeping that in order has given me good practice to transition to the general docket,” he says, adding that he is open to exploring new ways to manage the court.
“I always have open ears to listen to more senior judges for their advice,” says Mason.
Mason is a graduate of McDonogh 35 High School, Louisiana State University and Loyola Law School, who touts more than 19 years of experience handling “complex civil cases” on “both sides of the aisle.”
In the area of community service, Mason has served as a board member for Audubon Charter School and on the Board of Directors for the New Orleans chapter of the Federal Bar Association and as chair of its philanthropy committee.
Bruno is vying to maintain the seat on Civil District Court, Division F in perhaps what has been the most contentious judicial race on the ballot. Bruno says he is running so that can continue serving the people of Orleans Parish by running “a fair, efficient and timely docket.”
Bruno has served on the bench for about 11 years and currently serves as chief judge of the Court.
“I want to continue the work that I started,” says Bruno. “As a frustrated lawyer who couldn’t get trial dates, couldn’t get my matters moved on—after 20 years practicing—I saw an opportunity for me to give back. So, I ran and won. I had three years on the domestic docket. I moved those cases rapidly and made sure everybody was treated fairly. I transitioned to the regular docket in 2012, and the goal was to provide accessibility. To me that means getting people in the court, out of the court, let them have their day of justice. I wanted to get jurors back to their families and jobs as quickly as possible. So, my philosophy is to meet with lawyers, streamline cases, reduce costs, set trials at a reasonable time, hear matters every week so that cases are moved quickly and fairly. I have been doing it, and It works. I want to continue. I love the law. It is a true passion.”
If elected, Bruno says he will continue to be accessible, adding that accessibility is one of the tools he has used to help move his docket effectively.
“Judges are here for you. We work for you. I represent this bench. I don’t own it.”
Bruno is also committed to the continued use of technology, which has been highlighted during the current pandemic, to make court more accessible and efficient.
Bruno attended Brother Martin High School and is graduate of Louisiana State University and Tulane University School of Law.
Attorney Jennifer Medley says she has long been preparing to vie for a seat on the Civil District Court bench.
She worked for 18 years in private practice, in addition to serving as an assistant attorney general for the state of Louisiana, general counsel for DePaul Community Health Center, and as an assistant bar examiner.
In the community, Medley has served as a member of her neighborhood association and as a former commissioner for the Kenilworth Improvement District. She is a graduate of McDonogh 35 High School, Xavier University and Southern University Law Center.
She also has served as an ad hoc judge for Orleans Parish Juvenile Court. Her time on the juvenile bench taught her a lot of compassion, says Medley. And with the bulk of her legal career in civil litigation, Medley says she hopes to bring those lessons to the civil court bench, where she has always wanted to serve. She says she was methodical in choosing which division she would seek. She did not want to be in a crowded field of candidates, nor did she want to run for a seat that is permanently dedicated to the domestic docket, she candidly says.
As she talked to other people, Medley says the Division F seat was the one where she thought new leadership was most needed.
“In talking to colleagues in the legal community who have voiced concerns about (Division F), I knew I could make a positive change.”
She promises to run an efficient docket where all litigants are treated fairly and with respect.
“Whether someone wins or loses, they feel like they have had their day in court when they feel they have been treated fairly,” she says. “I think that you need to be able to follow the law and have empathy at the same time.”
Attorney Schalyece Harrison says change is what Civil District Court, Division G needs, and she will bring it if elected.
Harrison is a graduate of the University of New Orleans and earned her law degree from Southern University Law Center. She also earned a Master of Laws from Golden Gate University Law Center.
Harrison has more than 20 years of experience in private practice as a civil law and tax attorney. She currently serves as an administrative hearing officer for the city of New Orleans. She is a member of the Greater New Orleans Martinet Society and does pro bono work for the Re-Entry Program.
“(As a hearing officer), I have considered testimony, examined evidenced and rendered judgments in over 3,500 cases,” says Harrison. “I will ensure that every person who comes into my courtroom has the access to a fair and just legal system regardless of their race, age or income level.”
Michael “Mike” Hall
Michael “Mike” Hall, a candidate for Civil District Court Judge Division I, says “service to his community” is what drives him to seek the seat. He believes that lawyers “are servants to our clients and to all citizens of our city,” adding that the highest level of service would be the office of judge.
Hall describes himself as a level-headed leader with an “intimate understanding of the community” that, he says, “provides me with a distinct ability to appreciate and understand the law from various viewpoints.”
Hall lists an expansive legal career that he says prepared him for the judgeship, including serving as a Judicial Law Clerk in the Orleans Parish District Court, working as an associate with the law firm of Weiss & Eason, LLP where he practiced in the areas of medical malpractice defense, professional and general liability defense, insurance defense, and asbestos/environmental litigation and as a founding partner in the law firm of Shorty, Dooley & Hall, LLC where he practiced in the areas of family law, personal injury and general liability defense.
If elected Hall promises “consistency in rulings and judgments, effectiveness in the manner in which the law is enforced and efficiency in the manner in which the court is run.”
Hall also says he will address what he sees as three major issues in the civil justice system—access to justice, aging infrastructure and increasing stability of the family court docket.
He says that enlisting the help of law clinics at local colleges and expanding ways to fund and staff self-help stations at the court will assure citizens have proper access to justice.
If elected, Hall says he would work along with other judges of the and with city leaders to raise the money to upgrade the government complex.
“New Orleans is a first-class city, and it requires a first-class governmental complex,” he says.
Elroy James says is running for the Civil District Court judge seat because he has the desire to restore faith in and deliver equal justice to all.
“I believe that Judges have one simple job, which is to earn the trust of their community by restoring faith in justice. I believe the only way to restore faith is to truly provide equal justice to all people,” he says.
He added that Civil District Court judges must have the most qualifications, the most experience and be willing to protect families.
James has over 20 years of diverse legal experience that he says qualifies him for the Judge seat. He began his career as a judicial clerk in Division M of the Civil District Court, where he helped to move the dockets of domestic court. Since 2016, James has worked in Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office, litigating corporate tax cases and gaming issues. He has argued cases before administrative law judges and trial and appellate courts, most notably, securing a $3.6 million dollar judgment for the state of Louisiana in Bridges vs. Mosaic Global.
When asked what he would do specifically as a judge to ensure effective and equal access to justice for all clients, James says that he would encourage utilize the law clinics in the city to come in and provide services for those who cannot afford to pay for a lawyers.
James says he will work with attorneys to help move the dockets, making sure that every case is set for trial and holding attorneys accountable if he feels that a case is moving too slow.
James also feels that it is important for judges to represent the community that they are serving. As a mentor, adjunct professor and president of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, James says he has been active throughout the community.
If elected judge, James says he will always be guided by the community, the law and his faith and he pledges to ensure all parties get a compassionate and thorough hearing in his courtroom.
After 17 years as an attorney, including three with the Louisiana Supreme Court as a research attorney for Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, Lori Jupiter says she knew it was time to run for judge.
“I’m running because it’s time for me to use my skills in a way that will be more valuable to my community. I’ve always known I wanted to be a judge. I just had to find the right time,” she says.
When asked how she would ensure that all litigants are receiving fair and equal justice, Jupiter says she will make sure that her office staff is knowledgeable and can direct litigants, especially those not represented by an attorney, to resources for assistance.
Jupiter believes that judges should be invested in the community in which they serve.
“I believe good judges have a sense of civic responsibility and a commitment to community values, a thorough grounding in the law and a deep and abiding connection to the people they serve,” she says. She added that judges should be willing to go out into the community and educate the public on what the civil court actually does and how it has the power to change lives.
DOMESTIC SECTION 1
Judge Bernadette D’Souza first started thinking about becoming a judge when she realized the problems caused by not having a dedicated family judicial seat in civil court.
D’Souza pushed for the state legislature to create two dedicated family law seats in Orleans Parish. A bill was introduced by state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson and subsequently passed. In 2012, D’Souza was elected as the first dedicated family law judge and has held the seat since.
“I have been honored to serve our community for nearly nine years in the Family Court of Civil District Court,” D’Souza says. “Family law has been my passion for my entire career. I want to continue the work I started in 2012.”
D’Souza says if reelected she will continue to find ways to ensure equal justice for all that enter her court room.
One of the main ways she does this, she says, is helping people to connect with community resources. As a Mayoral appointee to the Total Community Action Board (TCA), D’Souza says she introduced an “Opportunity Center” in the court that provided services to litigants, by assisting them with job search, housing, securing employment and any other issues.
Attorney LaKeisha Jefferson says she is running for the Division K Domestic section seat because she believes that all families deserve justice. Jefferson says that if elected she is committed to providing equal treatment to all litigants, regardless of their sexual orientation, race, religion, or immigration status.
For nearly 17 years, Jefferson has represented clients in domestic cases at both the trial and appellate levels. She served as an assistant city attorney, where she prosecuted domestic violence offenders, and as a staff attorney for Project SAVE, a public interest law firm dedicated to assisting victims of domestic violence.
To effectively moved her docket, Jefferson says she is committed to establishing a “rocket docket,” where the goal would be to schedule specific days for trials that do not require more than 30 minutes for the court to hear. Jefferson also says that she is committed to minimizing the amount of time people spend in court. If elected, she will work to improve the efficiency of her docket by properly preparing for cases using pre-trial conferences to see which cases can be moved through quickly. She says that her goal is to get people out of the court room and back to work.