Johnell Matthews


Johnell Matthews

Running for:
Political Party Democrat
Campaign Website:
4705 Bluebonnet Blvd., Ste. A, Baton Rouge, LA 70809


Ranked Statements


Short-answer Questions

What is your personal experience with pro bono work? Do you believe all citizens have adequate access to legal help and the legal system? How can this access be improved?

Pro bono work is extremely important. I believe that all citizens should have access to the judicial system and should have access to legal help when needed. My law office contributes monetarily to the Louisiana and Mississippi Bars through the pro bono section. This is a small contribution that helps in the aggregate those citizens who need access to our legal system. We also contribute to others who need legal help through free consultations and advice. This system can be improved through a greater allocation of state funding for our pro bono legal services.

What is your approach to the cash bail system? Should the ability to pay be a consideration before assigning bail? What are the programs you are aware of to help those with financial difficulties?

The cash bail system causes tremendous hardships for many impoverished citizens who are unable to pay the amount of bail set by the courts. Many are pre-trial detainees who have not been sentenced, and the majority of the pre-trial detainees await arraignment and trial behind bars in jail cells for months and sometimes years before they are afforded a trial or sentenced; and sometimes misdemeanor charges are simply dismissed after a detainee has remained in jail due to the inability to pay the cash bail. Based on research and statistics, “the United States has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, and the highest per capita prison population among the world’s major economies. The number of defendants detained pre-trial in the United States is larger than most countries’ entire prison population.” There are programs originating out of large cities, such as New York City, namely the The Bail Project, Inc., which tries to combat incarceration for the impoverished citizens on the front end of the system. This project pays the bail up front, and presumably the bail is returned at the end of the case, which produces a cycle of funds that can be reused over and over to free detainees from the cycle of incarceration in jails due to a lack of ability to pay a cash bond. The ability to pay, and the severity of the accusation are two elements that should be imposed in consideration of the amount of bail for pre-trial detainees. Misdemeanors should be excluded from this category, and the person should be given the opportunity to appear for a scheduled court date, in lieu of a cash bond.

How has the War on Drugs been effective and ineffective? What is your view on mandatory sentencing for non-violent drug offenses?

I believe that everyone deserves a second chance. Statistically, the War on Drugs has failed to accomplish its original goals, but this concept has contributed to the incarceration of countless citizens for substance abuse. In my opinion, substance “misuse” is a public health issue, not a criminal justice issue. Thousands of citizens have been incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses, for example, possession of marijuana, which has now been legalized in multiple states. Incarcerating our citizens for drug-related offenses has little impact on substance abuse; rather it is linked to depression, overdoses, and suicides. The War on Drugs has not reduced crime rates, but it has expanded our jail and prison populations and enriched the privatization of prisons and jails. Besides, the mandatory minimum sentence for drug-related offenses has been disproportionately applied which results in unfair sentencing, but does very little to deter substance abuse.

What is a judge’s responsibility regarding the growing problem of overcrowding in Louisiana’s jails and prisons?

Justice is supposed to be “blind”, and judges are supposed to be fair and impartial. However, judges have great discretion in sentencing practices. Therefore, judicial attitudes, political perceptions of judges, political pressures, electoral partisanship, and public demand for tough-on-crime punishment, are all factors that influence sentencing decisions and contribute to high incarceration rates. Race nor a citizen’s socioeconomic status, in a blind system, should determine the rate of incarceration. However, these two factors may also influence some judges’ discretion in sentencing. A judge is assumed to be fair, impartial, and in many instances, compassionate. A judge is in the uncanny position to reduce the problem of overcrowding in Louisiana’s jails and prisons by using judicial discretion in sentencing, in a system of “blind justice.”

If a sitting judge displays egregious bias in the courtroom or in a personal action, what disciplinary measures are warranted, if any?

It would be very difficult for a judge to be fair and impartial in deciding a case if the judge displays bias or prejudice for or against a party or against an attorney. However, this sentiment may be hard to prove since tangible evidence must be used to prove such an accusation which can not be based upon mere suspicion or an impression of bias or prejudice. A complaint can be filed against a judge, and such a complaint will be determined on its merit by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

What are your previous legal experiences and how have these prepared you to handle all of the judicial responsibilities including both normal docket and duty court in a timely manner that respects citizens’ rights?

First of all, I am licensed to practice law in two states: Louisiana and in Mississippi. In both states, I have practiced law for 18 years in all local, state and federal courts. I have worked in the law office of Matthews and Matthews along with my husband and daughter, and we have handled all manner of personal injury claims, family matters, wills and successions, will contests, property contests, and a small segment of criminal matters. Practicing in different states, before many judges in different courts, has given me the unique opportunity to be in trial before judges and juries, and I have learned valuable lessons from adverse situations as well as the winning situations that brought great joy to our firm and to our clients. I have experienced judges whom I believed were biased against me, and I have learned how to successfully deal with these circumstances. Besides, I have the unique background of having served for 20 years as a teacher, supervisor, and assistant principal in the East Baton Rouge Parish Public School System. This experience prepared me to deal with all people: parents, teachers, students, superintendents, other administrators, public officials, lawyers, etc. Therefore, I have a wealth of legal experience and the people skills necessary for the position for which I am a candidate. I refer to the City Court as the “peoples court” because this is the court of limited jurisdiction where real people come with real issues to be resolved. This court requires a person who is experienced in handling people issues, legal issues, and the types of problems that will come before the court for resolution. I have proven leadership and experience, and I am uniquely qualified to serve the people of the City of Baton Rouge in the “peoples’ court”.

What makes a good temperament for a judge?

An effective judge, must possess the ability to be calm in the “mist of a storm”. An effective judge is strong, experienced in issues that affect the lives of people; compassionate; knowledgeable; fair and sensitive to the needs of the people. Yet, an effective judge must know the law, and know how to apply it impartially. I believe in integrity, fairness, and respect for others. My judicial philosophy will be to uphold the rule of law, to be compassionate, and considerate of the various life issues and circumstances that citizens may be facing when they come before the bench.

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