Hammel runs for Juvenile Court in Orleans Parish
2nd April 2013 · 0 Comments
By Christopher Tidmore
Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, Doug Hammel recollected that a man he met during the months of recovery asked for his legal help. The man’s son gotten into a minor bit of trouble with four of his friends, and he wondered if Hammel would appear as the young man’s attorney.
Working pro bono, the veteran lawyer agreed, only to find out that the Assistant District Attorney and the Public Defender had agreed on a sentence for all five boys without publically reviewing the evidence, or even making a move towards a court hearing.
“I told them, the other four can do whatever they want, but my client is not just giving up without a hearing,” Hammel told The Louisiana Weekly.
The experience made Hammel thereafter acutely aware of how many children on the line of a normal life have often fallen into a criminal existence after being rushed mindlessly through the Juvenile Court System. From that moment, Hammel explained, he dedicated himself, donating his time and efforts, to making sure as many kids could be saved as possible—while still reasonably adjudicating those who could not.
After years of fighting on the outside, Hammel said, he wanted “to make a difference in the lives of children.” The best means, he decided, was to stand for the open New Orleans Juvenile Court Section E seat in the April 6, 2013 Special Election.
Hammel has three basic campaign planks. He seeks to “implement scheduling orders, as used in Federal Court to ensure an efficient courtroom, [make a] comprehensive evaluation of programs and services to ensure evidence based best practices, [and expand] communication with Orleans Parish School Board, RSD, Charter, and Alternative Schools to make every effort to address that services provided work in a preventative fashion.”
Should Hammel emerge victorious, he will become one of the first judges to use the new juvenile courtrooms on-sight to the Youth Study Center—the detention center for those under the age of 18. When asked how this relocation will impact the day-to-day operations of the Court, the Judicial Candidate responded, “It will streamline the services, housing and courtroom procedures. It will also provide the opportunity to have day and night court.”
For the first time, he maintained, judges will be able to regularly schedule drug court and hearings after school and work hours, making it easier school children to attend without disrupting their lives. That, Hammel explained, plays a critical importance it keeping problem youths on a mainstream path of normalcy.
More importantly, it will allow the Juvenile Court to more effectively work with parents. As he explained, “Having court after hours will allow parents to participate in treatment without having to miss work.” The importance cannot be underestimated, he emphasized.
Hammel demurred on voicing an opinion on the subject of juveniles tried as adults. When asked whether the criminal code has gone too far and what discretion he believes juvenile judges should have to retain primary jurisdiction, the judicial candidate replied simply, “The decision to transfer juveniles over the age of 14 rests solely within the discretion of the District Attorney.”
He was slightly less circumspect when asked for his thoughts on the current status of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. “It is not appropriate for a judge to answer this question but enforce the laws that the legislature enacts. Having said that, mandatory minimum sentencing takes discretion away from the judges who are most familiar with the facts of the case.”
Hammel made an equally subtle criticism of three strikes laws, “As a judge, I am required to follow the laws the legislature enacts. However, I believe we should move beyond slogans to solutions.”
One growing concern of the Juvenile Judicial candidate are the number of children that have been sent into the criminal justice system for what in past years were considered offenses that school officials might simply have awarded detentions or suspensions. He gives the case of the problem student, who is troubled, but not particularly bad. The young man, however, does cause problems in class at his Charter school, the typical clown or troublemaker that aggravates teachers and earns the regular detention.
Then, one day, he ends up in a fist fight in the school yard. Teachers, looking to have a less disruptive classroom, call the police, and he is arrested for assault. Now, barred from the Charter System, the boy is forced to attend an alternative school. Without the chance of a main stream alternative, Hammel outlined, “Zero tolerance takes them out of their familiar environment and puts them into an unfamiliar environment.” Dislocated from their own school, they are in danger of embracing a bad crowd, and falling down an irreversible path into juvenile delinquency.
And, it’s a downward spiral Hammel wishes to fight. “If elected, I intend to work closely with all schools to develop policies to prevent young people from entering the juvenile system.” Keeping kids in a normal school environment is the first step to keeping them out of jail as adults, he maintained.
As for what rights victims have in facing their attackers, Hammel noted that “Victim’s rights are outlined in the criminal code.” However, he added,”And as a judge; I will enforce victims’ rights.”
Still, Hammel did note that, while he would enforce the law, he did personally oppose the death penalty.
When asked how his personal life helped mold him into the type of individual that would make a great judge, Hammel thought for a moment, and then replied, “Integrity. I have had several experiences in my life that have taught me what it means to be fully integrated. What I say and do on the outside matches what I think and feel on the inside.”
Election day is April 6.
This article originally published in the April 1, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.