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Lafourche collects millions in child support

As part of the Child Support Division, Karen Martin and Frank Rathle may be the only assistant district attorneys in Lafourche Parish who don’t want to see anyone go to jail.

They simply want people to be responsible parents.

“We want to see you do what you’re supposed to do,” Rathle said. “When we get that child support payment I look at it as part of a bigger picture. It impacts that child’s life for the rest of their life. They get better jobs, they get better education.”

Since Jan. 1, the District Attorney’s Office Child Support Division has collected about $4.3 million in child support payments. Last year the office collected about $9.8 million.

The Child Support Division doesn’t represent mothers, fathers or grandparents, Rathle said. Its mission is to do what’s best for children.

“We represent the state of Louisiana on behalf of the children,” Rathle said. “We will do what’s necessary as long as it’s justified.”

The office is currently handling close to 4,000 active cases, Rathle said. State law now allows parents to make child support payments in person at the District Attorney’s Office.

“Our whole job is holding people accountable,” Rathle said. “We want them to make payments. Some people get it done by income assignment, and we may not see those people unless an issue comes up. A lot of people don’t really want to go to court. They just want to make their payments. We provide many avenues for people to make those payments including mail, income reassignment or in person in the office.”

There are cases when child support matters have to be decided by a judge, Martin said.

“In court we have people coming back every month,” she said. “In general these are people who are not employed or are self-employed. They come in every month to make a payment. If they fail to pay, we have a trial and the judge decides whether that person should go to jail for nonpayment.”

So far this year the court has collected $110,772 in child support, Rathle said. About $222,356 was collected in the District Attorney’s Office.

“What we collect goes straight to the custodial parents,” Martin said.

In December authorities arrested 20 suspects in Lafourche who owed a combined amount of nearly $430,000 in child support.

Lafourche Sheriff Craig Webre said he’d like for those owing child support to go through the Work Release Program so they can pay their dues.

“The goal is not to let them sit in jail,” the sheriff said. “They’re not making money (that way), and they’re certainly not going to satisfy their obligations.”

Providing financial support to a child helps them become more productive citizens, Rathle said.

“When a child receives steady support it’s like a ripple effect,” he said. “The child’s likelihood of being on state aid when he gets older decreases by 80 percent. If you support your kids they will become productive citizens who contribute back to society. This is one of the only programs that basically gives back more to society by holding parents accountable to support their kids.”

Posted June 9, 2018 - The Daily Comet

Kids practice court skills during mock trials

As the judge declared the prison sentence for Johnny Smith’s guilty verdict — 15 years — the courtroom full of Lacache Middle School fifth-graders erupted into cheers and clapping.

Eleven-year-old Claire Arceneaux, sporting the actual District Judge David Arceneaux’s robes, sentenced Smith to the maximum penalty for selling synthetic marijuana on school grounds.

The student prosecutors, who were participating in Project LEAD, an annual mock trial program at the Terrebonne Parish Courthouse, laid out a convincing case for the young jurors. Three eye witnesses testified that they had seen him with the bag filled with synthetic marijuana, and he was found with $320 in cash in his pockets.

Now in their 20th year, the mock trials are a joint effort between the Terrebonne Parish District Attorney’s Office and the Terrebonne General Medical Center designed to prevent crime by educating children about the court system.

Fifth-grade students from 23 Terrebonne schools enroll in a 14-week program led by prosecutors and investigators who educate the kids about how to resist peer pressure and the legal consequences and health effects of using drugs and alcohol.

The program culminates in a weeklong event where the schools participate in one-hour mock trials. Students cross-examine their peers, present evidence to the judge and deliberate on a verdict. While most of the program is scripted, the students prepare their own closing arguments, jurors decide the verdicts and the judges determine the sentences.

Juror Jansen Marcel, 11, said a guilty verdict came easy. “It was suspicious because the marijuana cost $20, and he had all $20 (bills) on him,” he said.

By the end of the week, more than 1,000 kids will have participated in the trials, said First Assistant District Attorney Jason Dagate.

District Attorney Joseph Waitz was inspired to launch the program in Terrebonne Parish after he observed similar programs in New York and Los Angeles, he said.

“While we do have a lot of juveniles that choose to go the wrong way, I think this program has had a vast effect in our community and helping kids stay out of trouble,” he said.

A 2005 government-funded report on Los Angeles’ Project LEAD program found that it helped students make appropriate decisions, understand the consequences of their actions and fostered a positive attitude toward laws and lawyers.

The Terrebonne Parish program uses synthetic marijuana as an example because of its particularly harmful side effects, said Waitz. Also known as K2 or spice, synthetic marijuana batches can have varying types and amounts of chemicals, leading to unpredictable effects that include suicidal thoughts, violent behavior and rapid heart rate, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

″(Kids) don’t realize how bad it is,” Waitz said. “Even adults don’t realize how bad it is.”

Although Waitz said there were no similar programs in Louisiana when he took over as district attorney, he’s seen them crop up all over the state since he adopted the initiative.

“So many kids start off on that slippery slope and they end up in the criminal justice system,” he said. “My goal is to be protective and keep them out.”

Posted May 15, 2018 - Houma Today