Criminal District Court judges preside over criminal trials. Judges decide whether people charged with crimes should be held in jail until trial or set conditions for release. They also approve search and arrest warrants and instruct the jury in jury trials. All first or initial appearances of arrested individuals are made in Magistrate Court, where the magistrate judge determines whether there is probable cause for the arrest and sets bail. There are races in six sections of the Court, in addition to the race for magistrate. In sections A and L, an incumbent judge faces a challenger. While, the races in sections D, E, G, and K will decide who will replace a judge that has stepped down, resigned, or retired.
Dennis W. Moore
Dennis Moore, who has been practicing law for over 22 years as both a civil and criminal litigator, says he has the experience, knowledge, professionalism and temperament to serve as an outstanding judge and has devoted his life to helping people navigate through the court system.
Moore says he believes that for the criminal justice system to run efficiently, judges must use their power to move the system forward by creating new ways of doing business. If elected, he says he plans to reduce the use of excessive bails for non-violent arrests that he says lead to offenders losing jobs and more because they can’t afford to get out of jail. He also says that the system needs to be streamlined and strict time lines set for processing so that cases aren’t continuously delayed. These are changes he would like to see throughout the criminal court system.
“If one section fails, all sections fail,” Moore says. “Although you’re hiring me as the judge in that section to move that docket, it also is upon me to deal with my colleagues and make sure that we all are successful. If any of those sections are not successful, then none of us are successful.”
When asked about criminal court providing effective alternatives to incarceration, Moore says that if elected he will implement pre-sentencing investigations for all defendants who plead or are found guilty to help make sentencing decisions. He says that the re-entry program created by his opponent is a great program, but more is needed to focus on getting individuals back on their feet.
Incumbent Judge Laurie White is running for the Criminal District Court Section A seat, a seat that she has held for the past 13 years. She says she wants to continue her work with the Re-entry court, a first in Louisiana when she started it with the now retired Judge Arthur Hunter.
The court provides job training and mentors for non-violent offenders during their prison terms and social services when they are released, she says, adding that the court received a $1.6 million federal grant to provide medical treatment for heroin and other substance abusers. White says the court has connected over 200 inmates with mentors and job skills training.
“People don’t realize how much I have accomplished,” she says. “I’m an incumbent that should get re-elected because of the great work I’ve done in re-entry. It’s my passion.”
If re-elected, White says she would like to work with other juvenile judges to implement a re-entry court on the juvenile level similar to that of criminal court.
Ensuring that her court runs efficiently will be a familiar task for the jurist, White says that when she was first elected, she inherited a docket of over 450 cases. She contends she used her experience to get cases moving. Now with just 60 open cases, White says that she has one of the smallest dockets in criminal court and has moved more than 173 jury trials since taking the bench.
The value in that is swift justice and that no one is wasting time and tax payer dollars sitting in jail because of a stagnate case, she adds.
Attorney Graham Bosworth says that no judicial candidate has his level of experience, with the exception of incumbent judges. In 2016, Bosworth temporarily served as the judge for criminal court, Section D seat. That experience, along with his work as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney, having litigated cases before Louisiana Circuit Courts, the Louisiana Supreme Court, and the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, qualifies him for the bench.
A New Orleans native, Bosworth maintains that judges not only have to know the law, but understand the inequities in the system and be willing to step in and do what’s right.
Bosworth says that change is needed in the criminal court system and a big part of that change will be getting the criminal justice system to realize that incarceration doesn’t necessarily equal public safety.
He says judges should be utilizing their discretion to tackle the inequities in sentencing, especially when it comes to multiple bills or habitual offender laws. And Bosworth says he will not hesitate to exercise such discretion if elected.
Capital defense attorney Kimya Holmes wants to bring impartiality, accountability and experience to a criminal court section that she holds very near to her heart.
“I actually tried my very first case in Section D back in 2001 under Judge Frank Marullo. I’ve actually represented my clients in death penalty cases in Section D,” she says. “Most people don’t know this; and it’s probably the one thing that sets me apart from any other candidate this election season. I was a victim of violent crime; and that case was assigned to Section D. So everything about me stems from Criminal Court Section D.”
Holmes says that if elected to the bench, she plans to address three major issues that she believes the city of New Orleans is facing. She says that she plans to spend her first 100 days on the bench reviewing the backlog of cases due to COVID-19 and giving prompt court dates with emphasis on defendants that are incarcerated. She also wants to see more technology used in the court system, such as continuing and expanding the use of video conferencing to hold hearings.
She plans expand alternative sentencing measures by using specialty courts in Section D if elected.
Derwyn Burton, the city’s chief public defender, says he is running for the Section E seat because change is needed in the criminal court system and it has to start with the leaders.
If elected, Bunton promises to bring a new spirit of innovation, accountability and reform to Section E.
“Without a doubt, our criminal legal system is broken. But we can’t expect to see different results until we elect proven reformers as leaders,” he says. He says he has dedicated his life to fairness, justice and equity throughout his career as a lawyer, leader and reformer and wants to see a more “just, fairer, more equitable, smarter, safer criminal legal system that serves all the people of New Orleans.”
Bunton has held his position in Orleans Parish since 2009 and says that he has stood next to and in the shoes of those who have been affected by disparities of criminal court system and added that he believes New Orleans deserves a “fresh perspective to deliver fair justice.”
He touts his efforts in helping transform the public defender’s office from an office that was labeled “dysfunctional, corrupt and unconstitutional” by legal experts in 2005 to “one of the most respected public defender offices in the country” today.
He says his transition from public defender to judge would be an easy one because his office has always looked at clients holistically and held all parties accountable.
Before taking on his current role, Burton was a trailblazer for juvenile justice and reform. He most notably was part of the litigation team that sued the state of Louisiana over the condition of its juvenile prisons, which ultimately led to the closing of Tallulah Juvenile Detention Center in 2004.
Attorney Rhonda Goode-Douglas says she is running for the Section E judge seat because it is important for judges to reflect the community they serve and not treat individuals solely based on the facts of their case. She believes the court should provide wrap around services and be more rehabilitative when it comes to sentencing.
When asked about challenges she would address if elected, Goode-Douglas says that although individuals are getting long prison sentences, they are being released with no training or education, which leads to recidivism.
If elected, she hopes to implement a new re-entry program similar to one in Jefferson Parish, where she worked as an assistant district attorney. This program, she says, would allow inmates to receive education, job training and any type of counseling or treatment needed to return to their families as a productive member of society. She added that their family members would receive counseling as well.
“We have to fix the reason they’re in prison in the first place,” she says.
Goode-Douglas says she understands that the criminal justice system has been “plagued with racial and economic disparities.” And one of the things she pledges to do if elected is to treat everyone that enters her court room with dignity and fairness. She also says that she plans to partner with as many agencies as possible to ensure that individuals in Section E are getting what they need to become better thriving members of society.
Lionel “Lon” Burns
Lionel “Lon” Burns says that his track record as an attorney uniquely qualifies him for the Section G judge seat. Burns is a New Orleans native with over 22 years of experience practicing criminal law in district courts across the state, including every section of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court. Burns says that he understands that a judge must be fair, knowledgeable and show judicial temperament; he adds that the criminal district court judges must also utilize “tolerance and treatment” as well so that offenders receive the treatment that they need to help curtail recidivism.
When asked about addressing crime from a holistic standpoint, Burns says that it is the duty of a judge to dispense justice, but the judge also has to make a distinction between non-violent and violent offenders. He says that he will use drug, mental and homeless/veterans courts and a re-entry program for all first time non-violent offenders. Burns added that he would protect the community from violent offenders by being firm, fair and tough on crime and doing what’s right for the community.
“Court is not a playground or a bicycle with training wheels for you to learn how to ride,” he says, adding that his life experiences provide him with “compassion and wisdom to be a fair, impartial, inclusive and diverse asset to the court and our community.” He says the if elected, he will show up every day and work to make sure that his dockets move “expeditiously” from arraignment to resolution.
Nandi Campbell says she is running for the Section G seat because after serving 12 years as a criminal defense attorney, she sees this an opportunity to have a positive, far-reaching impact on the criminal justice system
“I went to law school at 33 specifically to become a public defender,” says Campbell. “Observing the courts, observing the system, getting to know defendants and their families, getting to know victims and their families. I’m talking to them about problems in the system, things that they want to see addressed. I decided that I’m the person to address these issues,” she says.
Campbell, a Brooklyn native who previously worked in the banking industry, moved to New Orleans in 2008 to pursue a career at the Orleans Public Defender’s Office, which was newly restructured but still backlogged after being shuttered by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
She describes herself as a “next generation leader with a lifelong commitment to fairness” and hopes to connect her business and legal backgrounds to create a model that “puts justice back in the justice system.”
When asked about issues that affect the current justice system, Campbell says that too many people are being incarcerated for non-violent offenses and not being offered a “wall of support.” She also says that if elected, she would work with community leaders to offer social services that would address the issues that brought the offender to jail for the non-violent offenses. She added that she would work to implement other alternatives to incarceration.
“To throw an individual away without talking about the mitigating issues is creating a bloated system; and it’s why we’re the highest incarcerated,” she says.
Campbell says that she would manage an effective docket by using any available resources to establish a “flexcourt,” with the goal of scheduling court appearances in a manner where no one’s time is wasted.
Attorney Stephanie Bridges says she has the experience needed to be a fair, impartial judge who will work to protect families and communities.
A former city attorney now in private practice, Bridges is also the executive director of the New Orleans Council for Community and Justice.
She calls herself a “change maker” who wants to make a positive difference in the system.
“I have worked in the community for over 30 years on criminal justice issues. I believe that my experience, not only my legal experiences, but my experience in the community and with community leaders makes me more than qualified.”
Bridges adds that her upbringing has also shaped the type of community leader she has been and the type of judge she will be if elected to the court.
“As the second oldest of nine children, I learned at an early age the meaning of responsibility and the value of hard work, education and the community.”
If elected, she says she will expand the use of alternative courts to help address crime.
“We have to look at alternatives to sentencing to address these issues. If it’s non-violent, we can certainly come up with programs that help people turn their lives around,” says Bridges. ‘Right now, Louisiana is in the top 10 states in the country in incarceration, and a lot of the community still does not feel safe.”
Specifically, Bridges’ platform includes expanding Re-Entry Court include more programs to include more skills training for returning citizens.
“We want to help them work on their hard skills such as basic education and technology, and also their soft skills, such as oral communication,” she says.
When it comes to ensuring that her courtroom runs effectively, Bridges says the onus will be on her to set the tone for an efficient court.
“I think it starts with me as judge,” she says. “Each individual has a constitutional right to a speedy trial. I am going to present, well knowledgeable and hold myself (and the lawyers) accountable.”.
Attorney Marcus DeLarge says he is running for the Division K judge seat because he has committed his life to supporting and uplifting the New Orleans community and he feels that he can help more people on the bench than he can in his criminal defense practice.
DeLarge describes himself as having “the perfect combination of service and experience.” He says he has been serving the community for a long time, having previously worked as athletic director and teacher at St. Augustine High School and as a youth mentor. As a criminal defense attorney, DeLarge says he has tried 30 jury trials in his professional career and has tried a case in every section of criminal district court.
DeLarge,who started his career as a prosecutor with the District Attorney’s office, says that if elected he is committed to running an efficient court room that is respectful of victims, witnesses, lawyers and defendants. He says he will set the tone for everyone in his court room by being prompt and prepared for court daily. He also his experience will allow him to “referee” and give both sides a fair trial because he has sat on both sides of the court room.
“Everyone wants fairness, honesty and justice to prevail. As judge, there is no doubt these things are going to take place in my court room,” DeLarge says.
When asked about alternatives to incarceration, DeLarge says that because he grew up in New Orleans and has been active in the community, he understands some the obstacles that individuals face and will be able to show compassion but still rule with an iron fist when necessary. He says that if elected he wants to enhance and improve alternatives to incarceration starting with specialty courts. He also hopes to build partnerships with the community and businesses to help provide offenders with job opportunities and mentorship that will help them stay on a positive track.
“This is exactly why I wanted to be a judge,” he says.
Charles “Gary” Wainwright
Attorney Charles Gary Wainwright says he is running for the section K seat because he was troubled by the lack of experience among the other candidates.
“When I saw the Section K race shaping up, I felt as if I was called…to get into the race. The idea of someone that has never practiced criminal law and someone that has only helped try some criminal cases would have the responsibility of conducting trials when people are facing life in prison was something that I didn’t think was appropriate,” he says.
Wainwright, who says he has represented over 7,000 families in his nearly 30 years as a defense attorney, says the primary focus and responsibility of a criminal court judge is to preserve and protect citizen’s constitutional rights. He says that in order for the citizens to accept that they have received justice, there must be an “open, honest process” where each participant is given fair and just resolutions to their cases.
Many times, he says, that requires men to stay in prison, adding that his years of experience as a criminal defense attorney has given him insight that would help him judge who is really dangerous and who isn’t.
When asked about other tools other than incarceration that can be used to address crime, Wainwright says he has spent his career being active in the drug policy movement and that he has never believed in incarceration for minor crimes. But he also does not see the courtroom as a space where social services can be delivered effectively.
“Criminal courts are not social service distribution delivery points. They’re not meant to be,” he says. Individuals needing help should be connected to available services, he says, but “people that are running for criminal judge seats on the platform of social services are confused about what their responsibilities are in this society.”
Attorney Angel Harris is hoping to be the next judge for the Criminal District Court, Section L seat because she says it is time for a complete reform of a criminal court system that just isn’t working.
“I am running because all of my career has been based on criminal defense or criminal justice reform. I’ve been practicing for over 10 years and I’ve noticed that the same statistics and the same facts that I heard when I first started are still happening because we’re not getting to the root causes of why people are coming into the court.”
If elected, Harris says she will focus on three major issues that she has seen over her course of practice.
Harris believes that every individual that enters her court room should be treated with dignity throughout the process and deserves effective and equal justice.
“The individualization of justice isn’t happening because we’re trying to move through cases too quickly. We’re not looking at the defendant as a whole person. We’re not really looking at the history and the biography of who’s in front of us and for that reason were not providing alternatives to incarceration,” she says.
When it comes to alternatives to incarceration, Harris says that many who enter the criminal court system deal with mental illness, substance abuse or live in poverty. And more must be done to address those issues, adding that she believes judges can have the final say in recommending alternatives such as specialty courts.
If elected, Harris says she would also work to end the criminalization of poverty.
“I’ve seen families or people’s lives ruined by sitting pre-trial because they can’t afford to pay a bail, not because they were a danger to the community, but because they simply didn’t have the money. You don’t have to set $10,000 and $5,000 bails because we know they can’t pay that.”
Judge Franz Zibilich currently presides over Section L of Criminal District Court and is seeking reelection to the seat he has held for nearly nine years.
Before becoming a district judge, Zibilich spent 24 years working in the City Hall Law Department, at one point serving as chief deputy city attorney. Zibilich says that his experiences as a litigator, where he tried more than 120 jury trials in front of 48 different judges, helped to shape the kind of judge that he wanted to be and remain throughout his career.
“After practicing law as long as I have, there were many a time where I was in front of a judge and I didn’t like his or her operation, so I decided once I became a judge that I was going to be prompt. I was going to be prepared. I was going to be fair and give people the benefit of the doubt. I was going to be efficient. I was going to be accessible,” he says, adding that there’s no sense in being a judge if you’re not going to be accessible.
Judge Zibilich touts a high ranking for efficiency on the Metropolitan Crime Commission’s scorecard, being ranked most efficient judge on the bench for the past four years. He plans to continue this trend if reelected.
In addition to running his court room, Judge Zibilich has voluntarily resided over the drug court for the past seven years and says he believes it is important that alternatives to incarceration are available for people convicted of nonviolent crimes who struggle with drug addictions.
If reelected, Zibilich says that he will continue to be accessible and approachable to all. He adds that he will continue to run a tight ship in his court room because the people of New Orleans deserve “swift and fair justice.”
Juana Marine Lombard
In the current “chaotic” climate of the city and criminal justice system, Juana Marine Lombard felt that it was her time to step in and be a part of change. She says that she is running because judges with experience and judicial temperament needed
Lombard has spent the majority of her career in the justice system, having worked as a staff attorney in the Orleans Parish Indigent Defender Program, as an appointed commissioner in the same court she now hopes to lead and, in most recently, as a commissioner on the Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) Board.
She says that while working with indigent defenders, she often talked about alternative bail and sentencing measures. And while she says the magistrate cannot unilaterally end money bail, she is eager to work within the system to help address this issue.
“What the magistrate can do is work with the courts and district attorney to create policies that will end money bail for the non-violent, low risk offender. And I think I can do that. I’m confident we can work up a policy that the whole court can agree on to get the misdemeanors off the table and let non-violent misdemeanors go without bond. Why do they need a bond at all?”
Lombard says that if elected she would make moving her dockets a priority. She says that she will resume holding court three times per day and stagger her docket so that people will not be sitting in court for hours unnecessarily.
She says that if elected she will be practice balance when making decisions and will do what ever she can to both protect the rights of the defendant and the safety of the public and the victims.
Steven “Steve” Singer
Attorney Steve Singer says he is running for Magistrate Court judge to put an end to the excessive money bails, a primary driver of mass incarceration that he says disproportionately affects the Black community.
Reform is at the top of Singer’s agenda if elected. Combined with 20 years of criminal legal experience and having led the post-Katrina reform of the Orleans Public Defender’s Office, Singer says he knows the criminal legal system inside and out and knows what changes need to be made and how to get them done.
He says that he would work to overhaul the current intervention services program and, using both grants from the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance and funding from private donations, develop a “real and robust” pretrial services agency. This agency, he says, would quickly identify those with mental illness, substance abuse, unemployment or other social problems and connect them with community based social services that can get them treatment instead of incarceration.
Singer wants the citizens of New Orleans to know that “together we can transform the Magistrate Court from the current mass processing system that just processes poor New Orleanians to a court that actually works to solve problems and serve our community.”