Note: This is the first in a series of profiles and interviews on the candidates for First City Court Judge, which is on the ballot for Orleans Parish on July 11. First City Court judges hear evictions and small claims disputes for all residents of the east bank of New Orleans.
We were only able to speak to three of the five candidates. Due to the remote nature of the interviews, Big Easy Magazine conducted a questionnaire and a phone conversation with each of the candidates. The first candidate is Schalyece Harrison.
Schalyece Harrison is a native New Orleanian, a product of Hollygrove, McMain graduate, and student at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts for dance. After college, Ms. Harrison obtained her Juris Doctorate from Southern University Law Center and her Master of Laws degree (LLM) in taxation from Golden Gate University.
Ms. Harrison has decades of legal experience and has practiced in small claims court as well as both sides in eviction court. Perhaps what is most impressive, however, is that Ms. Harrison is the sole Administrative Hearing Officer for the City of New Orleans. This job requires adjudicating issues of code enforcement, short term rental violations, safety and permits, and historic districts.
This is important, because the diminishing quality of our housing stock and lack of affordable housing play a role in landlord-tenant relationships. As a result of this experience, Ms. Harrison is aware of the role that short term rentals play in the city’s affordable housing crisis.
Ms. Harrison also attended meetings of the Renters’ Rights Assembly, which advocates for housing rights in New Orleans, which demonstrates a keen awareness of the dire situation that tenants face right now.
One area Ms. Harrison highlighted as an issue is the accessibility of the courtroom. All tenants on the east bank of New Orleans must travel to the First City Courtroom on Loyola Avenue, next to City Hall. Ms. Harrison proposed opening satellite courtrooms in the Sanchez Multi-Service Center for 9th Ward residents and in the East New Orleans Regional Library for residents of New Orleans East.
Outside of Ms. Harrison’s law practice, she performs pro bono legal work for the Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana. This work entails advocating for former inmates who have outstanding tickets and child support arrears. With her assistance, formerly incarcerated people have their outstanding issues cleared so that they can obtain a driver’s license and get jobs. That way, they can transition to life outside of prison without the impediments that many people face. “I am a person who likes to help,” Ms. Harrison said.
You are running for First City Court Section B. For what reasons do you want to serve as City Court judge?
The citizens of New Orleans should vote for me because I am the most qualified candidate. I have over 20 years of legal experience. I am the only candidate who already possesses the necessary skills and experience for the position. For the last four years, I have served as an Administrative Hearing Officer for the City of New Orleans where I have conducted over 3,500 fair, impartial, and orderly hearings, where I have considered testimony, examined evidence and rendered judgments for municipal violations as well as experience managing a docket, dealing with attorneys and unrepresented parties. Once elected, I can hit the ground running.
What is your vocational background, as a lawyer, community member, and/or public servant?
I have often taken on pro bono matters for families and members of the community who may need my help. I especially have a passion for assisting our elderly who often can’t afford to retain a lawyer for their legal needs. I feel the elderly are a widely underserved community and I am proud to step up to help them in any way I can.
What principles, desires, or convictions have informed your decision to run for City Court Judge? In short – why do you want to hold the office?
We need a judge who understands our culture, our community, and our traditions. Most of the citizens that come into our courtroom are unrepresented parties, and that is why we need a judge who is compassionate and understanding. That’s why we need a judge who has not only been part of this community, but who has also been an active participant in the community.
How can you ensure that all litigants are treated fairly in your courtroom and enjoy equal justice?
As your next First City Court judge, I will seek ways of making it convenient for parties to attend court hearings. It takes an average of an hour and a half for a person to travel from New Orleans East to downtown. That is why I would like to conduct hearings at satellite locations in areas such as New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward. This will allow tenants more access to the court.
Do you believe that eviction courts should have remained closed until August 24, keeping in line with the federal CARES Act, given our current pandemic? Why?
Unfortunately, I am unable to comment on issues of policy and law.
Over 50 percent – at least 53 percent – of New Orleans residents are lessees, rather than homeowners. While appreciating that your role is to apply the law rather than to write it, do you think that tenants are given a fair shake in eviction proceedings currently?
After attending several fair housing advocacy community meetings, I have learned that the attitude of the community is that the laws need to be changed to offer increased tenant protections. As a judge, I will ensure that every person that comes into my courtroom has the same access to a fair and just legal system regardless of their race, age, or income level.
Do you believe that all tenants should have legal representation in eviction proceedings?
Yes, however, if they are unable to represent themselves, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services and law students in the Community Justice section of the Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic do a great job in representing low-income tenants in eviction proceedings.
What can you do as a judge to ensure that an eviction proceeding does not prevent low income tenants from obtaining future housing?
One of the things I can do as a judge is to ensure that the proceeding is proper and fair.
Do you believe that the doctrine of judicial control grants judges discretion to award a tenant additional time to move? Do you think any other judicial doctrines or legal principles operate to that effect? Why or why not?
I believe as a judge I can exercise my discretion to allow additional time to tenants to vacate the premises. However, this should be determined on a case by case basis.
Do you believe that the doctrine of judicial control grants judges discretion to require a payment plan? Do you think any other judicial doctrines or legal principles operate to that effect? Why or why not?
If the reason for the eviction is for non-payment of rent, I don’t believe a landlord can be forced to accept a payment plan. However, I do believe that there is nothing wrong with asking them if they would be amicable to one.
Do you believe that the doctrine of judicial control grants judges discretion to deny an eviction due to special circumstances? Do you think any other judicial doctrines or legal principles operate to that effect? Why or why not?
As a judge I take an oath to follow the law, I must apply the law to the facts and evidence provided as it relates to evictions. A case must be decided on a case by case basis in a fair and impartial manner.
You can read more about Schalyece Harrison for Judge here.