Janet Ahern, who has practiced law in New Orleans for about 27 years, is running for Civil District Court, Domestic Section 2 on a platform of increased efficiency and transparency.
In 2001, Kern Reese defeated Ahern in a race for an Orleans Parish Civil District Court seat. Had she won, she said in an interview with The Lens, she would have focused on domestic cases. Now that the court has reserved judgeships specifically for family court, Ahern is eager to embrace the challenge.
“I have always wanted this seat,” Ahern said. “My heart has always been in the family court venue.”
She began her legal career as a prosecutor before moving into civil practice in 1991. In 1993, she had her first custody case, which she said changed the course of her career. Since then, she has represented over 500 families in the New Orleans area in family law matters — experience she believes gives her an advantage over her opponents.
Ahern is an advisory board member of the watchdog group Court Watch NOLA, which works to bring greater transparency and efficiency to local courts. Her time there has given her ideas on what should be fixed.
A simple change she would make is not requiring all attorneys and litigants to show up at court at 9 a.m. Waiting all day for a case not only takes people’s time, but it can mean lost wages and more billable hours from their attorneys.
Instead, she would stagger her schedule and adjust the required arrival times accordingly.
Simple matters such as uncontested divorces can be scheduled first and quickly cleared from the docket, she said. The more complex matters, such as custody trials, should come after the easier cases.
Ahern also wants the court to subscribe to an online service to help locate parties and ensure that the addresses on file are correct.
Feedback is important to Ahern. When reforms are instituted, she wants to hear from people who’ve been affected by them. If elected, she plans to form a committee of citizens and family law attorneys to tell the her what’s working and what isn’t.
Ahern said she wants to eliminate wait times before an initial hearing with the judge. Although timeliness is always important, she said it’s particularly vital in child-support cases. Those judgments are not effective until they are signed by a judge. If it takes three months to see a judge, that’s three months without money.
“You can’t let people wait 90 days,” Ahern said. “It really could mean them not being able to pay their rent.”
To combat domestic violence, Ahern said there must be greater awareness of services offered by social workers and churches, as well as new programs. She said more families should take part in counseling to help solve emotional issues before someone is abused. She would seek federal grants to help pay for the development of new programs.