Cynthia D. Samuel, who has been practicing juvenile law for more than 23 years, said she is the “most qualified of any candidate” to be a judge in Orleans Parish Juvenile Court.
Samuel’s first job in juvenile law was as a student practitioner at Loyola University’s Gillis Long Poverty Law Center, where she offered legal services to abused and neglected children. For her first case as a lawyer, she represented children whose sibling had starved to death.
“I discovered then the passion I have for juvenile law,” Samuel said. “It stuck, and I have loved juvenile law since.”
Juvenile Court judges enforce the Louisiana Children’s Code, the portion of state law that pertains to children. They hear cases regarding abuse, neglect, juvenile delinquency, adoption, child support and other matters. Children under the age of 17 who are charged with crimes are seen in Juvenile Court, although they can be sent to adult court if they’re older than 14 and are charged with certain violent crimes.
Working in juvenile law isn’t easy, Samuel said — which is why she thinks the judge overseeing the city’s juvenile court should be picked carefully.
“You have to be made for juvenile law,” she said. “Juvenile court is one of the saddest places. You have to have a special kind of temperament to deal with it.”
Samuel said she got invaluable experience in the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office, where she worked under Harry Connick Sr. She was assigned to the juvenile division, child support enforcement and Magistrate Court.
While in the juvenile division, Samuel said, she tried more than 50 cases, including charges of aggravated rape, first-degree murder, armed robbery, negligent homicide and burglary.
She opened a private practice in 1993, handling thousands of Juvenile Court hearings and trials. She represented children and adults in family law, adoptions and juvenile criminal defense. In 1993 she was appointed by the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court as an attorney for foster children, and by the Jefferson Parish Juvenile Court in 1994 to represent parents of children in foster care.
Samuel said she has won 13 of the 16 cases she’s argued before the Louisiana Supreme Court on juvenile law.
“I’ve worked all sides. I’ve not only represented the parents and children, but also the state,” Samuel said. “And that’s the only way to get experience, is to handle a volume of different cases.”
As a judge, Samuel said she would work to reduce recidivism and encourage kids to participate in prevention programs so they don’t unnecessarily end up in the system. She said she would also work to change how the state handles youth prisons so that violent offenders get the treatment they need.
“There’s a balance between what the child needs and the safety of the public,” Samuel said. “You have to confine some children, but once they’re confined, you don’t want to put them in cages. That’s not where they belong.”
Samuel said she would require education for all families in Juvenile Court. For parents, classes would focus on child-rearing and discipline.
“I want to be able to make a connection with the families who come through the court system so that I can make a difference and affect them positively,” Samuel said. “Children can’t do it alone.”
This isn’t the first time Samuel has run against Judge Yolanda King for this office. Last year, she ran against King and Doug Hammel to complete Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier’s term.
After losing the primary, Samuel accused Hammel and King of lying about their residency. Not long after King was elected, the state Attorney General’s office started to investigate King, who now faces two criminal charges.