Viewpoint: Six candidates qualify for School Board and judicial races

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Danae Columbus photo

House District 93 residents are urged to vote early. They will be electing their state representative on the Saturday before Mardi Gras.

A half dozen candidates, including two current officeholders, paid their filing fees on Wednesday (Jan. 25) for one School Board and two judicial races. Qualifying continues through Friday, Jan. 27. Early voting will take place March 11 to 18. The election will be held on March 25.  

The recent retirement of long-time Division A Criminal Court Judge Laurie White created a vacancy that has attracted three capable lawyers: Deidre Pierce Kelly, Simone Levine, and Leon Roché. 

Danae Columbus

Criminal District Court candidate Deidre Pierce Kelly, second from right, is joined at qualifying by her family and her boss, Councilmember Oliver Thomas.

Currently the chief of staff for Councilmember Oliver Thomas, Deidre Pierce Kelly could be considered the early front runner. A graduate of McDonogh 35 High School and Dillard University, Kelly graduated cum laude from Southern University Law Center. A former associate attorney with Spears & Spears, Kelly has already received a plethora of endorsements, including from U.S. Rep. Troy Carter, for whom she worked as a legislative assistant in Baton Rouge. 

She is also supported by state Sens. Joe Bouie and Jimmy Harris; state Reps. Delisha Boyd, Jason Hughes and Candice Newell; Clerks of Court Lisa Diggs, Donna Glapion and Darren Lombard; and Constable Edwin Shorty. Endorsements from city officials include City Council President JP Morrell, Vice President Helena Moreno and district Councilmembers Lesli Harris, Freddie King II, Eugene Green and Oliver Thomas. 

Danae Columbus

Judicial candidate Simone Levine is joined at qualifying by her husband Will Harrell and their two sons.

Accompanied by her husband, Will Harrell, and their two children, first-time candidate Levine voiced her enthusiasm about the chance to serve. “I am very excited to run for this judgeship,” she said. A native New Yorker, Levine is a member of District Attorney Jason Williams’ prosecutorial team. She previously headed up Court Watch NOLA and was a deputy police monitor in the New Orleans office of the Independent Police Monitor. DA Williams is expected to endorse Levine. She has been endorsed by Public Service Commissioner Davante Lewis as well as by civic activist Susan Hess. 

Danae Columbus

Criminal District Court candidate Leon Roche II completes the qualifying process.

At first glance, candidate Leon Roché II might be pegged as the underdog. Roché is a native of the West Bank where many Black judges reside, and is well known in criminal defense circles. A former St. Augustine High School track star, Roché graduated from LSU and earned his J.D. from Loyola University College of Law. From 2009 to 2022, Roché was a staff attorney at the Orleans Parish Public Defender’s Office, where he was respected for his willingness to fight hard for every client.  

While Roché has yet to announce any endorsements by elected officials, his website includes a photo and statement by Norris Henderson, founder of Voice of the Experienced (VOTE).  These days, support by Henderson carries significant weight. He and his organization have successfully guided several candidates to victory, most recently Public Service Commissioner Davante Lewis.  Since Henderson exited incarceration almost 20 years ago, he has become a political force to be reckoned with. 

Hunter Harris IV, a former Judge Pro Tempore in Criminal District Court, announced yesterday that he would not enter the race as was expected. Although Harris had assembled a strong campaign team that would have helped him offer his leadership to the city, ultimately he decided it was not his time to run. “I expected there would be two Criminal Court vacancies on the March 25 ballot, but only one race was called. This resulted in a more crowded field and a potential for greater division among voters than originally anticipated,” Harris said. Another election for Criminal District Court judge to replace Karen Herman, who won an election for a seat on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal, will be on the fall ballot.   

Stephanie Bridges

West Bank resident Stephanie Bridges, a nonprofit organization executive, is also vying to replace Johnson. Bridges hopes this third race will be th e charm. In 2020 she lost a Criminal District Court judicial race against Judge Marcus DeLarge by about 1,200 votes. Bridges also ran second for City Council District C against Freddie King III in 2021. “I learned a lot from my first two races — lessons that I will put to good use in this campaign,” Bridges said. 

A graduate of Loyola University College of Law, she is a former assistant city attorney for New Orleans. Bridges currently serves aspresident of the New Orleans Council for Community and Justice. She is a former member of the Algiers Charter School Association and former president of the Lower Algiers Community Action Group. 

Danae Columbus

Family members join First City Court Judge Marissa Hutabarat as she qualifies for Civil District Court Section B

First City Court Judge Marissa Hutabarat is one of two candidates who have thrown their hat in the ring to fill the vacancy at Civil District Court Section B. The seat was formerly held by Judge Rachael Johnson, who has moved up to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal. Attorney Richard Perque, son of  Judge Jane Triche Milazzo of the Eastern District of Louisiana, will continue serving as judge pro tempore in Section B until after the election.    

Hutabara, the first Asian-American member of the judiciary in Orleans Parish, was elected to the bench in 2020. She graduated from DePaul University and Loyola University College of Law. Hutabarat clerked for Appeals Court judges Roland Belsome and Edward Lombard and Civil District Court Judge Monique Barial. 

She is active in several community organizations including The First 72+, Coats for Kids and the Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse for Greater New Orleans (CADA). Prior to running for elected office, Hutabarat was an associate attorney at Glago Williams LLC.  Among her endorsements are Council President Morrell and Councilmembers Joe Giarrusso, Lesli Harris, Freddie King and Eugene Green.  

Danae Columbus

Donaldo Batiste is running for his first full term on the Orleans Parish School Board.

Donaldo Batiste qualified yesterday for the District 4 seat on the Orleans Parish School Board. A 47-year career educator, Dr. Batiste was appointed to the board in August 2022 to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of J.C. Wagner-Romero. Dr. Batiste was a speech pathologist and mathematics teacher who also served as principal of John McDonogh Senior High School, where he was recognized as the best high school principal in Louisiana. He was the superintendent of schools in Waukegan, Illinois, from 2003 to 2016, when he returned to New Orleans to teach education at the University of Holy Cross.     


Danae Columbus

The Democrats competing for House District 93 include Alonzo Knox, Naj Wallace, Fox Richardson, Morgan Clevenger and Steven Kennedy.

Urban planner and real estate developer Steven Kennedy was endorsed last night by the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee for the state House seat recently vacated by Royce Duplessis.  Kennedy competed again four other Democratic candidates for the endorsement: Morgan Clevenger, Alonzo Knox, Fox Richardson and Taj Wallace. Kennedy told OPDEC members that he wanted to be a role model for young Black males and that he would work on initiatives to reduce crime, address the affordable housing problem and find solutions to high insurance costs.  

Republican Matt Hill is also a candidate in District 93 but was not invited to the forum. Hill ran for mayor twice as a Democrat before switching parties. The election is Feb. 18, the Saturday before Mardi Gras. District 93 residents are urged to cast their votes early or by mail.      

Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

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 former District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, former City Councilman Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman at-large Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. She is a member of the Democratic Parish Executive Committee. Columbus can be reached at

3 thoughts on “Viewpoint: Six candidates qualify for School Board and judicial races

  1. ROLE MODEL? Steven Kennedy has multiple arrests and convictions for illegal firearm possession by a felon, illegal carrying of weapons, drugs (cocaine, Vicodine and Diazepam), simple robbery, disturbing the peace, theft, and domestic abuse battery, (at least three), including at least one involving strangulation. How is this candidate not in jail?!

    “Domestic Violence Victims Advocates were outraged by the candidacy of Steven Kennedy, and even more so following his endorsement by the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee. There is no place in the LA Legislature for an individual with such a horrible criminal history, especially when that history includes multiple drug charges, firearm violations and domestic abuse battery involving strangulation. Louisiana now ranks 5th in the nation for domestic homicides after being 2nd in the nation for many years. I feel certain that former and sitting legislators, who worked in bipartisan fashion to pass groundbreaking legislation to protect victims of domestic abuse since 2014, will not want Mr. Kennedy to serve amongst their noble rank.”

    Kim Sport
    Chair, United Against Domestic Violence Coalition
    Past Chair, Louisiana Commission to Prevent Domestic Violence

  2. I don’t know Mr. Kennedy and I’m not aware of his criminal record. When this kind of criticism is put online, it’s appropriate to cite the sources for the negative information that’s been posted by Ms. Sport. I’m not saying that Mr. Kennedy is guilty or innocent; I don’t know. But this kind of post should cite actual facts—otherwise, it’s hearsay. The internet has a bad reputation for impugning people without providing actual proof. Just sayin’….

  3. Please look at the docket master for OPSO. Kennedy’s arrests, convictions and sentences are matters of public record, which OPDEC could have easily accessed.

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