Michelle Scott-Bennett, a candidate for Civil District Court Domestic Section 2, highlights improved efficiency as a cornerstone of her campaign.
The founder of the Justice for All Law Center, Scott-Bennett plans to make the court run more efficiently by doing a better job of planning hearings and by changing how the court works with people who don’t have lawyers.
When a judge gets a filing in a domestic case, an employee has to schedule a hearing. Some things, like simple visitation matters, can be handled in a 30-minute hearing. Others, such as custody battles, take much more time.
Scott-Bennett said court employees should call the parties before scheduling a hearing to see how much time should be blocked out. This will keep them from wasting time with a short hearing that ends with lawyers on both sides telling the judge that they need more time to prepare their cases.
Another area Scott-Bennett seeks to change is how the court deals with people who don’t have lawyers — which is common in domestic cases. These hearings tend to take longer because people usually don’t know how the legal process works.
Scott-Bennett, who has practiced family law for 17 years and has served as ad hoc commissioner for Jefferson Parish’s family court for nine months, proposes handling such cases on separate days. She initially plans to devote one day a week to them, but she said she will adjust depending on how many cases there are.
She said she’d also prepare a standard list of questions to ask the parties in order to move the proceedings along and give them a chance to testify about facts and allegations.
Judges often ask open-ended questions, which can lead unprepared people to go off on tangents. Sometimes, they won’t provide important details unless prompted.
The list, Scott-Bennett said, “moves the case along; it keeps the person from floundering.”
On domestic violence, she said those cases are handled best if the judge is fully knowledgeable about state law and what conditions are required to issue a protective order.
It is important to protect women and children from abusive homes, Scott-Bennett said, but she also would make sure someone isn’t using a protective order as a back-door way to gain custody of a child in a contentious relationship. If a protective order is filed based on false information, it can take one to three months before the accused even gets a hearing. And the order can remain on someone’s record.
Scott-Bennett said voters should take an active interest in the domestic court elections because they are more likely to appear there. Decisions don’t just affect the litigants; they affect children and other family members.
“Each decision affects a lot of lives on a daily basis,” she said. “This position is one of the most important positions on the ballot.”