Desiree Cook-Calvin said she decided to run for judge in Orleans Parish Juvenile Court after counseling mothers whose children had been murdered.
“I work with my church, and I interact with a lot of victims,” Cook-Calvin said. “From that experience, I understand the pain and plight of a victim when they go through violence.”
As a lawyer in private practice, Cook-Calvin already has helped working-class families navigate juvenile issues.
She has worked as an assistant city attorney, which gave her experience in litigation. Serving as an administrative hearing officer for the city taught her to “make fair and impartial decisions” — a skill she would bring to Orleans Parish Juvenile Court.
“I know how to make a decision based on the law but also treat you with dignity and respect,” Cook-Calvin said.
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.
This isn’t Calvin’s first bid for elected office. In addition to two terms on the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee, she ran for state representative twice. The first time, in 1995, she was straight out of law school. She ran again in 2011. She lost both races.
If she were elected, Cook-Calvin said she would work to address problems that contribute to a culture of violence. She said failing schools, for example, lead to criminal behavior, and the current justice system doesn’t hold parents accountable.
Calvin said she would work to bring out the “talent that every kid has” by advocating for more educational programs. She’d also push to get more mentoring, tutoring and job training for kids who’ve ended up in Juvenile Court.
Her “holistic” approach would include appropriate sentencing, drug or mental health counseling and more parenting classes. She said that every one of her rulings would cater to the individual child before her in court.
To that end, Calvin said she’d fight for Louisiana’s juvenile justice system to have more alternative options and better prevention and diversion programs, rather than more prisons. Prisons should be reserved for a small population of violent offenders, she said.
“I want to be part of the conversation to address those issues,” Calvin said. “On the bench, I’d be working to turn lives around for those who found themselves in a bad way.”
NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune reported that Calvin has unpaid income taxes from 2011 and 2012 — $9,200 owed to the IRS and $4,800 to the state. Since then, she said, she has set up a plan to repay her debts. She said she paid her 2013 taxes, and she doesn’t think her financial history should be a factor in the race.
“I understand the obligation to pay the government and I definitely worked to do what I can within my budget,” Calvin said. “I don’t think it’s relevant to my experience, education, and the work I’ve done, which is dedicate my life to just serving the people.”
The Juvenile Court race attracted six contenders after the incumbent, Judge Yolanda King, was charged with filing a false public record. King is accused of lying about where she lived on the paperwork she filed to run for her 2013 campaign. She was suspended from the bench after she was indicted in March.
As an attorney, Calvin made between $25,000 and $100,000 last year, according to a financial disclosure form submitted in August.