New Orleans attorney Bernadette D'Souza has announced her candidacy for the first family court section at Civil District Court (CDC). Gov. Bobby Jindal is expected to call a special election for the open judicial seat for March 24, with a runoff (if needed) on April 21. Based on those election dates, qualifying will be Dec. 7-9.
A recently passed state law has permanently dedicated the next two vacancies at CDC to domestic matters. Civil Court Judge Herbert Cade's recent election to Traffic Court created the first vacancy. Cade's Division K seat at CDC will be reclassified as Domestic Relations Section 1.
Under previous law and custom, the two newest judges at CDC heard domestic cases — but only until another new judge or two got elected, at which time the domestic docket transferred to the new judges. Many felt this practice gave short shrift to family law cases and fostered inconsistency in rulings.
D'Souza, a native of India who has been a U.S. citizen since 1988 and an attorney since 1993, has long advocated a permanent family law section at CDC. She claims support from several dozen prominent business, civic and legal professionals, as well as CDC Clerk Dale Atkins, state Sen. Julie Quinn, R-Metairie, and state Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans. Her campaign co-chairs will be state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, and attorney Michael Arata, whose wife Emily Arata is a top aide to Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
D'Souza, 57 and a Democrat, ran for judge once before in 2004, when she promised to retain the domestic docket permanently. This time, she says, she will be better funded and better organized.
"For many years, I passionately advocated for the creation of a Family Court in Orleans Parish with a dedicated domestic docket," D'Souza told Gambit. "This historic change will help families address challenging domestic issues like divorce, custody, paternity, child and spousal support, and visitation, and will serve in the best interests of litigants, lawyers, and the justice system."
If the election is held on March 24, it will coincide with another citywide race — for Arnie Fielkow's former at-large seat on the New Orleans City Council. — Clancy DuBos