Story and Photos by Kenya Meredith Data News Weekly Contributor
As election day approaches on April 4th, candidates running for the Orleans Parish First City Court Judge Section B election participated in a community forum on March 3, 2020.
The candidates who participated were Aylin Acikalin, who handles government, business, and family litigation; Schalyece Harrison, a civil and tax attorney; Sara Lewis, a civil
and commercial attorney, and Marissa A. Hutabarat, who also handles civil litigation. A fifth candidate, Robbins Graham, who handled child support cases for the Office of Family and Children Services did not make the forum.
“A lot of the people that come here [First City Court] are self-represented, meaning they do not have attorneys,” Lewis said about the types of cases the judge of this court would have to rule on.
“Evictions are a huge problem in this city,” Lewis added. “We have twice the national eviction rate. In areas that are predominately African American, one in four people faced eviction within the last three years versus one in twenty-four in predominantly White areas,” Lewis explained.
The First City Court’s jurisdiction includes civil lawsuits with claims up to $25,000; small claims suits up to $5,000; and evictions for residential and commercial properties with rental fees within the jurisdictional limit of up to $3,000 per month for the East Bank of Orleans Parish.
The forum at Café Istanbul provided community members the opportunity to question the candidates and to bring any concerns to the four of the five candidates on the ballot in attendance.
“The reason why I want to be a judge is because I feel like I have the judicial temperament and character to move this court forward,” Harrison said. In response to a question based on modern technology in the First City Court, Harrison stated that if elected she would work with the clerk of courts to create an easier process for citizens.
Residents also raised concerns about court efficiency, eviction procedures and how candidates will lobby for modern practices of judicial processes in the First City Court.
“We are public servants as judges, and I commit to being prepared, keeping things moving, and trying not to keep parties and attorneys waiting,” Acikalin said when asked about court efficiency plans.
There was a consensus amongst the candidates in the forum that every case would require them to utilize their background as attorneys, and to apply fair judgment to provide citizens with a just trial.
“My vision is to promote an environment where citizens from all walks of life can come before the court, feel welcomed, feel respected, and feel like their voices are being heard by a fair and impartial judge,” Hutabarat said. The position of Section B judge was held for 20 years by Judge Angelique Reed who died in November 2019 and was the first African American judge to serve the First City Court for Section B. Reed, who attended Xavier University and earned a law degree from Loyola University’s Law school had been recognized for her contributions to the community.
One of the opening speakers of the forum was Darrin Browder, the Chapter Development Specialist for Court Watch NOLA. Court Watch NOLA is an organization whose mission is to promote a legal reform and to increase civic engagement through courtroom observation. Founded in 2007, the organization has trained over 1,000 volunteers to observe the courts’ procedures and respond with data driven results to promote greater efficiency and transparency in the Orleans Parish Criminal Court System.
“There is a stigma on Tulane and Broad, by many Black men who feel that building is where we enter and do not make it out. If we do exit, a piece of us is missing,” Browder said when explaining the importance of court watchers and the importance of electing the right