Judge Mary Hotard Becnel

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 13, 2009

1. Why are you the best candidate for this job?

A. Judicial experience at the trial level and the appellate level. An appellate judge reviews the decisions of trial judges. My experience as a trial judge is an invaluable asset because the decision-making process at the trial level is a complicated one, involving common sense, experience, heart, gut and credibility calls, as well as legal knowledge. I have also been appointed by the Supreme Court to assist the First Circuit Court of Appeal, during which time I handled my docket as a trial judge as well as the appellate docket and performed all duties in a competent and timely manner.

B. A Record of public service. A judge is a public servant and should do more than make decisions in the courtroom. Based on the needs of our community, I have chosen to work with at-risk youth and have established Truancy Court, CHARM School, Devoted Dads and a Monitoring Policy. These programs are not part of my job description. However, my philosophy is this: By the time these children get to me, if I don’t do something to help them, then who will? I intend to continue to work with these programs and expand them.

C. A Record of Fairness. My broad base of support – public officials in three parishes, plaintiff and defense lawyers and other civic-minded people – indicate fairness.

D. Product of the River Parishes. As a life-long resident of the River Parishes who loves the River Parishes, our culture, heritage and way of life, I welcome the opportunity and honor of serving all the River Parishes.

2. What makes you a better candidate than your opponent?

See answer to Question No.1. Also, I have nearly 16 years judicial experience, which my opponent does not have, and much more courtroom experience, including trying cases as a lawyer. Starting as court reporter I worked my way through the justice system, going from court reporter to lawyer to judge. As a lawyer and a judge I have tried thousands of cases, civil and criminal, family and juvenile, and many jury trials. Those who know me know my dedication to the justice system. My courtroom record of 40 years from three different perspectives is a unique one and will make me a better appellate judge, as it has made me a better trial judge. My dedication, reputation and record as a judge have been recognized by our Supreme Court as evidenced by its appointment of me as a mentor to new judges over the past twelve years, in which I enjoy sharing the benefit of my experience with new judges.

3. What is the most pressing problem facing the judicial system in St. John Parish?

DRUGS! Our jurisdiction, as well as all others, is permeated by drug-related crime. Criminal, juvenile and family cases are all impacted by drugs. Most of the crimes committed, whether felonies or misdemeanors, are somehow drug-driven—murders, armed robberies, fraud, theft, rape, battery, domestic violence, cruelty to juveniles, abandonment and neglect of children, etc.

4. How do you plan to address that top problem?

Drug use and drug-related crime is a social issue/societal problem everywhere. There is hardly a family untouched by this issue. I wish I knew the answer to the problem, but I don’t. However, the drug problem is currently being addressed in our court through a special Drug Court, which is about rehabilitation rather than incarceration. I support—and will continue to support—drug courts, rehabilitation of drug offenders and drug education in the schools. Personally, as a judge, I address the drug problem in this fashion: I make a particular effort to ascertain whether a drug problem/addiction is at the root of a criminal, juvenile or family case before me. If appropriate in the particular case, I order drug testing, counseling, treatment, rehabilitation, etc., in an effort to have the addict rehabilitated, regain control of his /her life, and become a productive, responsible citizen, parent, spouse, employee, etc.

5. What are the other key issues you plan to address?

As a judge I have already addressed the issues of truancy, juvenile rehabilitation and parental responsibility through programs which I plan to continue as an appellate judge. I have established the following programs:

A. Truancy Court, in which I am the sole presiding judge

B. Monitoring policy for every child who comes to my attention C. CHARM School for juvenile girls in court who simply don’t know how to behave. The DA agrees not to prosecute if the girls attend CHARM School, in which I and two friends teach behavior modification, basic manners and how to be a lady.

D. Devoted Dads, which focuses on “Visitation instead of Incarceration” when fathers are delinquent in child support payments. As an alternative to jail, the fathers are given the option of a commitment to visiting with their children, assisted by court personnel, and visits are partially monitored and verified.

6. How can you improve the juvenile drug problem?

In addition to education, it may be time for our local courts to establish a Juvenile Drug Court, in conjunction with Juvenile Court and Adult Drug Court, and I will of course support this effort.

7. What is your position on the death penalty?

As a Judge I am obligated to follow the law, whether I agree with it or not. Although I do of course have personal opinions, they play no part in my performing my duties as a judge. By stating a personal opinion publicly, I would be taking a definite position, which would defeat my impartiality and open-mindedness as a judge in the eyes of the public. Judicial ethics require that a judge at all times maintain the appearance of impartiality, for the purpose of public confidence. I defer to the legislature to make laws, and as a judge I interpret and apply the law to the facts of a case.

8. What do you think can be done to address the problem of teen pregnancy in Louisiana?

Children having children is a social issue that affects several areas within the court system. Two of my programs, CHARM School and Devoted Dads, described above, directly and indirectly address the issue of teen pregnancy. In CHARM School, we instruct the girls in self-respect, which includes respect for their own bodies; the importance of completing their education; and the importance of responsibility for themselves and others. Devoted Dads is a new program, but it is intended to instill responsibility in fathers, who hopefully will become better role models for their sons and also influence their sons to be respectful and responsible in their relationships.

9. Biographical information.

Personal: Married to Daniel E. Becnel Jr.; two sons, two stepsons, five grandchildren. Resident of Laplace.

Education: St. Charles Borromeo and Sacred Heart Norco Grammar Schools; Destrehan High School; UNO; Loyola University School of Law.

Work Experience: Secretary Shell Oil Co.; Official Court Reporter 29th and 40th Judicial District Courts; Lawyer with Becnel Law Office; Judge, 40th Judicial District Court Division B since 1993. Organizations:

Member of numerous professional organizations, River Region Arts and Humanities Council, St. Joan of Arc Church.