You know Joe Biden is running; you may like Antoine Pierce or Adrian Perkins for Senate; and you’ll probably vote for Cedric Richmond for Representative (because who else is there?). But who are all of these judges? This piece will address this question, with several key factors in mind.
First, this piece is a first-blush attempt to give backgrounds on the criminal judicial candidates. Criminal judges come in several forms – Criminal District Court judges, Magistrate Court judge, Municipal Court judge, and Juvenile Court judge. But they all play a major role in how our law is applied, most often to the most vulnerable members of our society – people victimized by the system of mass incarceration that permeates the administration of law.
The Supreme Court race must be included too, as they hear criminal cases on appeal that often originate from these courts. Earlier this year, for example, the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the life sentence of a man who stole hedge clippers. Every justice voted to uphold his sentence except outgoing Chief Justice Johnson. This election, New Orleans will decide who is to replace this critical justice.
Second, this is not an endorsement piece. It is merely a story to provide background on the candidates and explain their platform and belief system. An unprecedented number of public defenders are running for judicial office this year. That could have major implications for Tulane and Broad – a place that criminal defense attorneys often bemoan for their unjust practices.
Harry Cantrell, the outgoing Magistrate Judge and father-in-law to Mayor Latoya Cantrell, for example, has a shameful history of setting upwards of $15,000 bonds for marijuana possession. In fact, Judge Cantrell was sued in federal court, which found his bond practices unconstitutional in 2018. Still, some criminal defense lawyers argue that he defies the bond setting guidelines he agreed to follow.
Finally, while this is not an endorsement piece, it is written with these facts in mind. Big Easy Magazine does not shy away from the problem of racism and mass incarceration in New Orleans. While we will not make endorsements, we will point out facts about candidates whose values are in line with making our legal system more equitable and just for working class people and people of color.
Louisiana Supreme Court.
Associate Justice – Supreme Court 7th Supreme Court District (Vacant Seat).
With the retirement of Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, New Orleans has a chance to send another person to Louisiana’s highest court. All three candidates are democrats and Black women. Parts of Lakeview are not included in the 7th Supreme Court District. The Supreme Court of Louisiana hears cases on appeal from the state’s five Circuit Courts of Appeal and is considered the “Court of Last Resort” for appellants. The Court is massively important in deciding matters of whether a statute or conviction is constitutional.
Honorable Judge Piper Griffin. Judge Griffin has 33 years of experience, the last twenty of which she has served as Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge for Division “I.” Judge Griffin touts a large number of community organization endorsements, including Voters Organized to Educate, which analyzes races based on their impact on the criminal justice system. According to Voters Organized, Judge Griffin pledges to ensure equitable treatment under the law and to protect the liberties of all people. You can read more about her here.
Honorable Judge Sandra Cabrina Jenkins. Judge Jenkins is also highly qualified, having served as an Assistant District Attorney and then serving as a criminal defense attorney for 15 years. Judge Jenkins serves on the Louisiana Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and was selected by Governor John Bel Edwards to the Louisiana Women’s Incarceration Task Force. You can read about Judge Jenkins’s platform here.
Honorable Judge Terri Love. Judge Love also serves on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and has been a judge for 25 years. Judge Love is highly experienced in family law and domestic violence. In that capacity, Judge Love was the author of the first domestic violence ordinance in New Orleans. You can read about her platform here.
Leaving Royal Street and turning our attention to Tulane and Broad, we have our courts of original jurisdiction for most criminal matters in the city. This is important, because appellate courts are usually deferential to the findings of District Court judges. This is because the issues are tried and the facts are adduced here.
While judges are bound to follow the law, they rule differently on evidentiary issues and have some discretion on sentencing ranges. They also have different attitudes toward defendants. Some judges at Criminal District Court are borderline cruel to mentally ill clients, for example, while some reserve that attitude for counsel. These judges also approve search and arrest warrants.
Judge – Criminal District Court, Section A.
Honorable Judge Laurie White (Incumbent). Judge White has served as judge in Section A since 2007. She has been a proponent of criminal justice reform for years and helped start the Reentry Court program in Orleans Parish. Before Judge White served on the bench, she was a criminal defense attorney who got wrongful life sentences overturned. In one such case, she secured the release of Larry Hudson, after serving 26 years in Angola for a crime he didn’t commit. Judge White has also historically been a skeptic of outgoing District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro. In 2016, she testified that she “dislikes and distrusts” Cannizzaro. You can read more about Judge White here.
Dennis W. Moore. Mr. Dennis Moore is a practicing attorney of 22 years. After graduation law school, he worked for the Orleans Indigent Defender Program (the precursor to the Orleans Public Defenders). In 2010, he began working for the Capital Defense Project of Louisiana, which represents defendants who are facing capital punishment sentences. In that capacity, he has handled multiple 1st-degree murder cases. Mr. Moore is also running on a platform of compassion, and you can read about him here.
Judge – Criminal District Court, Section D (Vacant Seat).
Graham Bosworth. Graham Bosworth previously served as Judge pro tem in this same section of Criminal District Court and has a robust history of public service. Mr. Bosworth has also served as both a prosecutor and criminal defense attorney, with more of his time in the latter capacity. He has served as a criminal defense attorney for the Jefferson Parish Public Defenders. Mr. Bosworth serves on the Louisiana State Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Committee. He is also a longtime volunteer with the Justice and Accountability Center, which helps people in the reentry phase of conviction and works to remove barriers to employment and education for those who have done their time. Mr. Bosworth is endorsed by the progressive slate of reform campaigns, including #FliptheBench, NOLA Defenders for Equal Justice, and Voters Organized to Educate. You can read more about Mr. Bosworth here.
Kimya Holmes. Ms. Holmes is another seasoned criminal defense attorney. Like Mr. Bosworth, Ms. Holmes has served as a prosecutor, defense attorney, and ad hoc judge. She also worked as a senior staff attorney for the Capital Defense Project of Louisiana. Ms. Holmes is running on a platform that involves implementing mental health and drug court alternatives for nonviolent cases. Ms. Holmes also hopes to institute pre-sentencing investigations and reports, which allows judges to make informed decisions when imposing higher or lesser sentences. You can read more about Kimya Holmes here.
Judge, Criminal District Court, Section E (Vacant Seat).
Derwyn Bunton. Derwyn Bunton is the Chief Public Defender for New Orleans, having helped build Orleans Public Defenders (OPD) into one of the most esteemed defender programs in the nation. Prior to his service at OPD, Mr. Bunton was Executive Director of the precursor organization to the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights. Mr. Bunton’s platform states that “incarceration is not the answer to poverty, mental illness, and violence in our community.” Mr. Bunton is a longstanding advocate of reducing the size of the prison population in New Orleans, and he has taken a firm stance against the austere and unethical practices of Leon Cannizzaro. These bold stances have earned Mr. Bunton the glowing endorsements of #FliptheBench, NOLA Defenders for Equal Justice, and Voters Organized to Educate – as well as a number of other local organizations. You can read more about Mr. Bunton here.
Ms. Goode-Douglas has been a prosecutor for 15 years, working in both Orleans and Jefferson Parishes. She boasts endorsements from a handful of political organizations, including the Independent Women’s Organization (IWO), Forum for Equality, and New Orleans East Leadership (NOEL). On her website, which you can read here, she writes that she “recognize[s] that the criminal justice system has been plagued with racial and economic disparities,” and she pledges to treat everyone with dignity and fairness before the law.
Judge, Criminal District Court, Section G (Vacant Seat).
Nandi Campbell comes to the table with a strong platform to reform the administration of criminal justice. A former federal and Orleans public defender, Ms. Campbell boasts a plan to create a flexible court schedule for working New Orleanians, implement alternatives to incarceration, review sentences for rehabilitated inmates, and create a one-stop expungement program. Nandi’s website states that she wants to place the “Constitution over convictions” and use discretion in sentencing decisions based on mitigating factors. Ms. Campbell is the favorite choice of #FliptheBench, NOLA Defenders for Equal Justice, and Voters Organized to Educate – due to her desire to seek alternatives to incarceration. You can learn more about Nandi Campbell here.
Lionel “Lon” Burns.
Mr. Burns has been an attorney for 22 years and is a former senior assistant Assistant District Attorney for New Orleans. Lon Burns does not have a campaign website, but you can read his Facebook page here.
Judge, Criminal District Court Section K (Vacant Seat).
Marcus DeLarge is a former Assistant District Attorney, but he has been involved in private practice at DeLarge Law and Associates and John T. Fuller & Associates. Mr. DeLarge wants to work with businesses to ensure that defendants will have access to employment upon release. He also acknowledges incarceration as a form of slavery and plans to work on alternatives to incarceration. According to Balletopedia, Marcus DeLarge is “committed to courtroom that is respectful of victims, witnesses, defendants, and attorneys.” You can read more about Mr. DeLarge here.
Charles “Gary” Wainwright.
Mr. Wainwright is a fiery criminal defense advocate with good policies on combating mass incarceration. For years, he has been at the forefront of the fight to decriminalize marijuana statewide. A former attorney with the Orleans Indigent Defender Program, he now works in private criminal defense practice and has practiced in Criminal District Court for 30 years. While Mr. Wainwright is opposed to incarceration for drug offenses, he believes that for some individuals, incarceration may be necessary to save their lives or that of someone else. You can read more about Gary Wainwright here.
Stephanie Bridges has been the president of the New Orleans Council for Community and Justice (NOCCJ) – a local organization “dedicated to fighting bias, bigotry, and racism” – for 24 years. The NOCCJ has held expungement clinics in New Orleans for nearly ten years to give residents a fresh start. As judge, Ms. Bridges would like to expand the Re-entry Court Workforce Development Program and administer the law in a fair and impartial manner. Ms. Bridges does not have a campaign website, but you can view her Facebook page here.
Judge, Criminal District Court, Section L.
Angel Harris. Ms. Harris is a dyed-in-the-wool criminal justice reformer, first serving as a public defender in Orleans and Calcasieu Parishes. Later, she served as assistant counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, focusing on capital defense and juvenile life sentences. Ms. Harris also served with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on their Capital Punishment Project. Angel Harris is the co-founder of the Black Womxn Lawyers Collective, which provides Continuing Legal Education with a focus on women, children, and communities of color. Ms. Harris is running on a platform of providing alternatives to incarceration for those before her court. She also pledges to work to stop the criminalization of poverty. Her campaign page, which you can read here, reads: “We cannot say we are acting in the best interest for the people of New Orleans when we have a system of “justice” that preys on the impoverished.” Ms. Harris is endorsed by #FliptheBench, NOLA Defenders for Equal Justice, and Voters Organized to Eduate.
Honorable Judge Franz Zibilich (Incumbent).
Judge Zibilich has been a fixture at Criminal District Court for over eight years now. Judge Zibilich has been rated the most efficient judge on the bench by the Metropolitan Crime Commission for the past four years. For the past seven years, Judge Zibilich has voluntarily presided over drug court, because he believes in alternatives to incarceration. The voter endorsement guide Know Your Vote has, however, issued a caveat about Judge Zibilich: “However, during his time as judge, there has been a pattern of racial disparities in sentencing. For example, he has been seen to sentence Black men to maximum sentences, but does not always do the same for white men.” That being said, Judge Zibilich touts at least ten endorsements, including Forum for Equality, Alliance for Good Government, and United Teachers of New Orleans. You can read more about Honorable Judge Zibilich here.
The well-hidden Youth Study Center – where minors are held in detention – is next to Juvenile Court, both of which are alongside Bayou St. John near St. Bernard Avenue. The Louisiana Children’s Code governs rehabilitative penalties for juvenile offenders, and thus a Juvenile Court judge must know a separate body of law to be effective. Juvenile Court Judges must also place extra emphasis on rehabilitation, reconciliation, and restoration – while balancing the need for public safety. Children are still held – albeit usually in a separate facility – prior to trial, and sometimes they are also placed in unsafe conditions of pretrial detention. Sometimes, a child may be tried as an adult, if the crime is severe enough and the child is old enough. In Orleans Parish, Juvenile Court also handles adoptions.
Judge, Juvenile Court, Section A (Vacant).
Mr. Clint Smith has been involved in private practice and was formerly a partner at Bryan & Jupiter. On his campaign page, Mr. Smith states that he wishes to “shift the culture of Juvenile Court from a gateway to incarceration to an opportunity for improvement and a life of productivity.” He also touts a desire to use a “trauma-based approach” to juvenile justice. That means taking into consideration the external experiences – particularly involving violence or abuse – in a child’s life that may impact a child’s decision making and judgment. Mr. Smith touts a bold platform that speaks for itself: “A new vocabulary is necessary: interventionists instead of jailers; detention instead of incarceration; change agents instead of probation officers.” You can read more about Clint Smith here.
Mr. Guillory made a competitive run for Judge Laurie White’s Criminal District Court seat in 2014, but he withdrew after his father suffered a heart attack. Since 2013, Kevin Guillory has been an Assistant District Attorney at Leon Cannizzaro’s office, and prior to that he was employed in private practice. Mr. Guillory admirably states on his campaign page that “trauma cannot be alleviated simply by going to court, being on probation, or serving time,” and he states that he will find ways to balance the need for restorative justice and accountability. Mr. Guillory also notes how the inflexibility and inconsistency of Juvenile Court proceedings contribute to the hardships of working class New Orleanians, who must typically bring their children to court. In order to address this, Kevin Guillory pledges to start his court hearings on time and strive to handle them efficiently. You can read more about Kevin Guillory here.
Marie Williams has served as an administrative law judge for the State of Louisiana and previously worked in private practice at a number of firms in the Greater New Orleans Area. Most notably, Ms. Williams was an attorney at the Pro Bono Project, which aims to partner legal professionals in need of pro bono hours with indigent parties who need representation. Ms. Williams aims to implement job training and educational opportunities in Juvenile Court. Marie Williams does not have a campaign page, but you can view her Facebook page here.
Judge, Juvenile Court, Section F (Vacant).
Teneé Felix is a veteran juvenile public defender with the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, having served there since 2009. Ms. Felix is running on a strong progressive platform to seek community-based alternatives to incarceration. She has the backing of #FliptheBench and NOLA Defenders for Equal Justice, as well as Voters Organized to Educate. According to Voters Organized, Ms. Felix will “demand that the justice system become restorative, instead of the current system based on punishment.” Ms. Felix states in her Facebook page that “I believe we need to take dramatic steps to identify and treat trauma well before a child ever comes into contact with the court.” On that page, which you can view here, Ms. Felix takes bold and forward thinking stances toward a reimagined juvenile justice system.
Ranord J. Darsenburg.
Ranord Darsenburg is both an attorney and licensed social worker who boasts 25 years of experience in the juvenile justice system. Mr. Darsenburg intends to implement reforms to “prevent further escalation into the juvenile justice system, reduce the length of time youth are involved in the juvenile justice system and reduce recidivism.” While touting strong reformist platforms, a recent campaign advertisement by Mr. Darsenburg mentioned the wave of juvenile car break-ins. Mr. Darsenburg’s campaign page states that, in his previous capacity as Juvenile Court Judicial Administrator, he has secured funding for evidence-based programs and services for children and families. You can read about Mr. Darsenburg here.
Niki Roberts has long been a juvenile prosecutor with the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office. Ms. Roberts’s vision for Juvenile Court is one which identifies a child’s strengths and focuses on the importance of education. This is because Ms. Roberts became a single mother in high school and decided to continue seeking her education, earning a high school diploma, Bachelor of Arts, and law degree while raising her child. You can read more about Niki Roberts here.
MUNICIPAL AND TRAFFIC COURT.
Almost everyone knows about this court through their experience with traffic citations, but Municipal Court also adjudicates misdemeanor offenses within the City of New Orleans. It is difficult for the public to learn this other than through experience, however, because the Municipal Court website and phone number are almost entirely dedicated toward getting New Orleanians to pay their fees and fines. There is a reason for that: New Orleans courts rely on funding through these fines and fees, which are almost entirely assessed against working class citizens. Municipal Court is incentivized to squeeze money from the poorest in the city. If you don’t pay your tickets, your driver’s license is suspended and a warrant may be put out for your arrest. Despite calls from City Council to stop this process, the result is the same: there are close to 740,000 open charges in Municipal Court – for a city of about 390,000, and there are still 55,000 active warrants out for New Orleans residents. Additionally, there are 2,000 outstanding charges for begging, which the Louisiana Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in 2013. A Municipal Court Judge plays a profound role in establishing programs to expunge these charges and warrants – or failing to do so.
Municipal Court Judge, Section A.
Meghan Garvey has been a public defender in New Orleans since 2005, where she got her start in Municipal Court. Ms. Garvey was also managing director of the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, where she helped advocate for Raise the Age legislation to exclude 17-year-olds from being adjudicated in Criminal District Court. Meghan Garvey’s platform is unapologetically reformist, running to eliminate the excessive warrants that affect one in seven New Orleanians. Ms. Garvey also pledges to address the backlog of 740,000 open cases by working to dismiss those that have expired or have been declared unconstitutional. Ms. Garvey also boasts the progressive bona fides of #FliptheBench, NOLA Defenders for Equal Justice, and Voters Organized to Educate. You can read more about Meghan Garvey here.
Honorable Judge Paul Sens (Incumbent).
Judge Sens has been Municipal Court Judge for 24 years. In 2012, Inspector General Ed Quatreveux accused Judge Sens of using his connections as judge to build a “family dynasty.” The son of Judge Sens, Christopher Sens, is still Clerk of Municipal Court. Additionally, the company that helped oversee the construction of a temporary jail in New Orleans, Crowley Construction, is linked to the Sens family. Judge Sens’s campaign website pledges that, if re-elected, he will move the court in an innovative and modern direction and touts his role in helping establish “Homeless Court,” to enable individuals to get access to essential needs. You can read more about Judge Paul Sens here.
Magistrate Court takes place in the Criminal District Court building, but unless you are an attorney or a defendant, you might not appreciate how important this role truly is. While Magistrate Court hears certain evidentiary matters like preliminary examinations and grants search warrants, the court primarily impacts the lives of New Orleanians by setting bail. Outgoing Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell (father-in-law of Mayor Cantrell) established a draconian practice of setting exorbitant bonds for minor drug possessions. Judge Cantrell also refused to abide by federal law requiring that numerous circumstances, including ability to pay and alternatives to bail, must be weighed in setting bail – such as flight risk and risk of harm to the community. Instead, Judge Cantrell often rubber stamped bonds as high as $15,000 for defendants charged with marijuana possession. Cash bail also works to enrich powerful bondsmen by allowing them to profit off of a defendant’s circumstances. A Magistrate Judge should seek to reverse the unconstitutional practices set up by Judge Cantrell and introduce a holistic approach in setting bail – considering, primarily, the defendant’s flight risk and the safety of the community.
Magistrate Court Judge.
Steve Singer is running on a platform that is revolutionary for New Orleans but fairly popular among other major cities – ending money bail. “No one should be in jail just because they are poor. We need to stop using jail to lock up poor people and people with mental illness or substance dependency,” his campaign page reads. The practice of setting bail “serves to line the pockets of insiders who fund judicial campaigns,” he adds. And this is true. Until a federal lawsuit struck down the policy last year, about 25 percent of the Criminal District Court budget was funded by a fee placed on bail bond transactions. Mr. Singer is endorsed by the progressive slate of #FlipTheBench, NOLA Defenders for Equal Justice, and Voters Organized to Educate. You can read more about Mr. Singer here.
Juana Marine Lombard.
Ms. Lombard resigned from Commissioner of the Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) in 2019, having served for three years. In that capacity, ATF conducted numerous raids of strip clubs in New Orleans, leading to harassment campaigns of dancers in the French Quarter and club shutdowns. After no arrests for sex trafficking were made, Ms. Lombard stated that “prostitution in and of itself is sex trafficking,” which is factually inaccurate and demeaning. Ms. Lombard states no affirmative policies for her platform as Magistrate Court Judge on her website, which you can read here.
Editor’s note: To view our guide and recommendations on the Amendments, click here.
For an overview of the New Orleans DA race, click here.