Ernest “Freddie” Charbonnet realized he wanted to make a career in public service while working in the City Attorney’s office after graduate school.
Assigned to “just about every job in the office,” he litigated, worked in Municipal Court and helped prepare the city’s legislative package in Baton Rouge. When he went into private practice, he handled cases in juvenile, family, domestic and Civil District Court.
In 2012, Charbonnet was appointed interim city councilman after District E Councilman Jon Johnson was sentenced to federal prison for stealing nearly $80,000 in FEMA funds.
It was during that time on the City Council, Charbonnet said, that he became interested in Juvenile Court.
“This is where the rubber meets the road, where you can root [out] causes of crime better than anywhere else,” said Charbonnet.
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.
Charbonnet said the current system is disjointed and wastes public resources.
Should he win the election, Charbonnet plans to create a task force to reimagine the juvenile justice system, bringing together representatives from school boards, state government agencies and private companies.
By coordinating a “comprehensive plan” that organizes education, psychiatric care and work-study programs that already exist, he hopes to lower recidivism rates and improve young people’s lives without wasting public dollars.
“The children that come in contact with the juvenile justice system here are not necessarily leaving better off than when they first came in,” Charbonnet said. “That’s the whole point of the system. You’re not trying to move a docket — you’re trying to change a life.”
Although he doesn’t have as much experience in juvenile law as some of his opponents, he said his work history makes him a strong candidate.
“I wanted to be a well-rounded attorney. I believe that’s important when you’re trying to be a judge,” Charbonnet said. “I don’t think focusing on one area of the law makes you the best candidate for the job.”
Charbonnet ran for City Council in 2013 and again in 2014; he lost both times.
This time, he has five opponents. The Juvenile Court race attracted contenders after the incumbent, Judge Yolanda King, was charged with filing a false public record. She’s 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.
Charbonnet made more than $100,000 in 2013 as a private attorney, according to his financial disclosure.