Baton Rouge City Court Judge Suzan Ponder hasn’t faced opposition since her 1993 election to the court, so with two challengers on the Nov. 6 ballot, Ponder said she’s been relishing the chance to pound the pavement, press the flesh and tout her judicial experience.
“They’re very gracious, they’re very welcoming,” the 58-year-old Republican said of Division E’s residents. “Just the warmth and the generosity in the way we’ve been greeted (stands out), because it’s been 19 years since I’ve done this.
“I don’t own this seat. It has been an honor and a privilege to do this job and serve the public. I would very much like the opportunity to do this job for another six years.”
So would lawyers Cliff Ivey and Tiffany Foxworth.
Ivey, who served as a law enforcement officer for 15 years, said he, too, has been walking door to door and shaking as many hands as possible in an effort to convey his credentials and unseat Ponder.
The 39-year-old Republican said he understands “from real, on-the-job experience what it means to serve and protect our community and our families.”
Ivey contends Baton Rouge cannot simply incarcerate its way out of its crime problems.
“Things have gotten worse, not better,” he said. “It’s going to take spending more time with people (in City Court) and finding out more about them. Let’s stop them there before they graduate to the District Court building.”
Foxworth, a 38-year-old Democrat and registered nurse, acknowledges that simultaneously running her legal practice and a grass-roots campaign is exhausting.
“Sometimes I lay down at night and I feel like my legs are still moving,” said Foxworth, who lost in a November runoff election for the District 101 legislative seat in Baton Rouge.
She also ran for the Metro Council.
Foxworth, whose home and office have been burglarized within the past year, views City Court as a “first line of defense” and argues it’s time to “toughen up” and impose stiffer sentences in some cases.
“I decided to make Baton Rouge my home (15 years ago) because I felt so safe here,” she said. “Now, it’s done a 360. It’s changed a lot.”
Ponder said she has handled her cases in a fair and efficient manner, been a good steward of taxpayer money, encouraged offenders to return to school and complete their education, ordered them to perform community service and make restitution to crime victims and/or imposed jail time.
“I’ve always tried to do what I’m legally and ethically supposed to do,” she said. “I’m a taxpayer too. I come to work and do my job.
“I’m very fair, but I’m also very firm. I like to hold people’s feet to the fire.”
Ponder, who presides over City Court’s Sobriety Court for repeat DWI offenders, said 34 participants have graduated from the yearlong program since its inception in January 2011.
“I hope it’s made them and our community safer,” she said.
Ivey, who describes himself as a fiscal conservative, said he has a moral objection to jailing people who cannot pay fines or court costs.
He said he would bring “change” to City Court and would offer some defendants an opportunity to complete their high school education in lieu of receiving jail time
or offer treatment instead of jail.
“Problem-solving policing needs to be applied to the courts,” said Ivey, adding that he would tailor community service to a person’s talents and abilities.
Foxworth said her life experiences and time spent in the courtroom would make her a good representative for the people in the community. If elected, she said she promises to uphold the law and be fair and impartial.
Foxworth, who is black, bristles at the mere mention that Division E is predominantly white.
“In 2012, I really don’t think race should be an issue,” she said.
Division E is basically comprised of the southern and eastern part of Baton Rouge.
If no candidate wins outright in the primary, a runoff would be held Dec. 8.