When talking about candidates for district judge, it’s hard to imagine someone more experienced in a wide variety of law than Karen Kovatch. A candidate for the 22 Judicial District Court Division F in St. Tammany and Washington Parishes, Kovach has been a lawyer for over 20 years. In that time she’s worked in the oil and gas industries, commercial litigation, admiralty, and education law.
As far as education, Kovatch has something of an unusual background. Her bachelor’s degree is in geology from Tulane University, she has a master’s degree in urban studies and economics from the University of New Orleans, and she has a law degree from Tulane School of Law. She began her career in the oil and gas industries, first helping companies find places to drill and later working in marketing and legal.
The adoption of a special needs child 17 years ago necessitated something of a crash-course in education law and advocacy for Kovatch, and she has put that experience to use helping other families across Louisiana. “[My husband and I] take a few ed law cases a year. No one else takes them because they don’t make money off of them.” Kovatch also belongs to the Council of Parent Attorneys, and Advocates (COPAA), a nonprofit which works to protect the civil and legal rights of students with disabilities and their families.
Kovatch was also the Vice President of the Louisiana National Alliance on Mental Illness. She says this can help her if she’s appointed to the bench. “I can ascertain someone who is mentally ill, who has an issue with mental illness. And that’s pretty big because not everything is an intentional act. A lot of times, individuals cannot control what they’re doing and it looks like – as my sociology professor used to call it – ‘deviant behavior,’ but it’s not. It’s basically either a chemical imbalance or an organic problem that they have. They do not have control.” But society, Kovatch says, often ignores those issues, putting people who need treatment into jails instead. “We’ve pretty much done away with mental hospitals,” Kovatch says, “so now the jails are becoming de facto mental hospitals.”
“I don’t have any problems upholding the law,” Kovatch said. “Then again, you have to use your common sense and look at the total picture. If the individual has an issue or a problem, then you need to address that; you don’t just ship everyone off to jail because we don’t rehabilitate people. We really don’t. The lack of rehabilitation exacerbates a really bad situation for someone who is mentally ill or challenged because what happens a lot of times is they don’t always understand and they don’t always see [consequences] coming, and they end up becoming victims within a jail system. Because it’s a ‘survival of the fittest’ kind of environment…”
One thing that Kovatch says sets her apart? She doesn’t take herself too seriously. “I’m not in it for the status or the money (’cause there’s not that much money). I’m not in it for those reasons. I don’t know why other people are in it, everyone has their own reasons, but basically, if I can assist anyone in this, it’s really a good thing.”
Jenn Bentley is a freelance journalist and editor currently serving as Editor-in-Chief of Big Easy Magazine. Her work has also been featured in publications such as Wander N.O. More, The High Tech Society, FansShare, Yahoo News, Examiner.com, and others. Follow her on Twitter: @JennBentley_