Dec 142017
 

Clerk of Court Dale Atkins leads a class on the court’s new electronic filing system. (photo by Danae Columbus for UptownMessenger.com)

Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

Citing a desire to continue as “an instrument of justice,” long-time Clerk of Civil District Court Dale N. Atkins will enter the spring 2018 race for an open position on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal. The seat was vacated by Judge Madeleine Landrieu who recently became Dean of Loyola University’s Law School.

Elected in 1989 as the state’s first African-American woman Clerk of a District Court in Louisiana, Atkins has the distinction of serving in the same elected office longer than any other official in the state. Atkins, 59, says running for judge is an opportunity to serve the community at the next level. “The depth and breadth of my legal experience and personal experience has prepared me for this position. With age and experience comes wisdom,” she said. Atkins believes she also has the right judicial temperament.

The Clerk of Civil District Court’s office is the foundation of the civil justice system, explained Atkins. “We provide access to justice and are the front line where the process starts.”

A New Orleans native and daughter of a laborer and a public school employee, Atkins grew up in the shadows of the St. Bernard Housing Project. Her early life focused on church and Rev. Andrew Darby Sr., who instilled in young Dale the need to serve. “Rev. Darby taught us we could achieve whatever we wanted but we had to help others,” Atkins says she has based her life on that maxim.

Atkins began with teaching Vacation Bible School and organizing penny party fundraisers for youngsters at the church. Atkins’ high school years at Xavier Prep — where as a senior she received the Mother Katharine Drexel Award for most closely exhibiting the values and achievements of its namesake — reinforced her inclination for public service.

Atkins received a scholarship from the University of Notre Dame where she was a Notre Dame Scholar and named Outstanding Senior. In addition to serving on the Notre Dame’s Alumni Board, Atkins was recognized as one of the university’s 50 most distinguished African-American alumni.

Upon receiving her law degree from Southern Methodist University, Atkins became an Orleans Parish Assistant District Attorney and rose to the position of Senior Trial Attorney before running for office. Atkins now supervises a staff of 175 having added the duties of Recorder of Mortgages, Registrar of Conveyances and Custodian of Notarial Archives when state legislation merged the offices in 2009.

Atkins is proud of her office’s record of efficient operations and the technological advancements culminating with the new e-filing system. “Everyone – not just the legal community but the community as a whole – should have easy access to the courts,” Atkins said. “We have made it much simpler for people to research their records and know what’s happening in their cases.” Atkins and her staff have been making presentations throughout the community and offering free training. “We have met out goals. The response from the public has been excellent.”

Atkins does not spend her days just sitting behind her desk. “I understand that public service is not about me but about the people that we serve. Helping others is the right thing to do whether we are recognized or not. It’s self fulfilling.”

Working with young women is very dear to Atkins’ heart. She was instrumental in the successful effort to save Xavier Prep when the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament wanted to close the school in 2013. Today the facility is known as St. Katherine Drexel Preparatory School.

Atkins also counts among her blessings niece Ebony whom she raised after her sister’s tragic death. “Ebony is an integral part of me. Every day family members have to step up to the plate when children lose parents. I don’t think what I did was anything different. Having Ebony in my life helped develop who I am today. I see the world differently,” Atkins said. Ebony, 23, recently graduated from college and plans on entering law school.

Atkins is excited about embarking on the campaign trail. “I’ve never met a challenge that I couldn’t handle and I am not afraid of hard work,” she said. “As a former assistant district attorney I have the criminal law experience I need to succeed as a judge and the civil experience having worked at two law firms and now dealing with civil procedure on a daily basis.”

Atkins will hold a soft kick off for her campaign tomorrow night at the French Quarter home of lawyer and fundraiser Darleen Jacobs. Jacobs puts her money where her mouth is. She was also an early supporter of another recent female candidate – Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell. Qualifying for the spring races begins January 3.

GISLESON-PALMER HOSTS FUNDRAISER TO REFOREST ALGIERS

Bobby and District C Councilmember-elect Kristin Gisleson Palmer – who narrowly won a heated race against incumbent Councilmember Nadine Ramsey – will host a fundraiser at their Algiers home Saturday night to support an urban reforesting effort in Algiers. The fundraiser should draw a who’s who of Algiers political and civic leaders who will also be celebrating Palmer’s come-from-behind victory one more time. Tickets, $25 to $75, are available on Eventbrite.

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Foster Campbell, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. Her current clients include District B City Council candidate Seth Bloom and At-Large City Council candidate Helena Moreno.

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