“One of the first cases I got at the DA’s office was a case where a little girl was raped by a friend’s father,” Roya Boustany related. “I didn’t have children at that point. It shaped very early on what my husband and I have done with our children. It just resonated with me because my parents were always very worried with me and my sister about going out. We had never stayed with a babysitter. Now, I understand and we pretty much parent the same way.”
Boustany’s parents protected her from dangerous people. She wants to do the same for all of Lafayette. “My main job I feel like is for this community to feel safe. If I on a daily basis am going to work with the mindset that I want everyone to feel safe in their community, justice will come.”
Boustany became a lawyer to become a prosecutor. The idea of convicting the guilty, and protecting the innocent inspired her. Referring to a formative period as a sixteen-year-old living for a short time in her father’s native Iran, she recalls, “Not only did I want to be a lawyer, I wanted to be a prosecutor. I had seen some instances overseas where there had been too much control. There wasn’t justice.”
The lack of opportunity and freedoms in Iran fueled her desire to make an impact as an attorney, “I got to see first-hand that not everybody in every country gets to have the ability to have a voice, to advocate for themselves, do what they want to do, be who they wanted to be. That trip, that journey really changed who I am today. It completely changed everything about who I am.”
Once back in the United States, Boustany’s father encouraged her and her sister to pursue their goals, “He instilled in us that in this country you can be anything that you want, you better dream high, and that a woman can be a president.”
Boustany’s path to becoming a prosecutor went through undergraduate at UL, a staffer with Congressman Charles Boustany, Southern Law School, a judicial clerkship, a stint as a public defender, and finally to the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office in 2014.
Boustany sees criminal prosecution as being “in the ring” affecting change for good. “I know and take very seriously that justice really begins with me as a prosecutor. If I am not taking good cases, I am affecting people’s lives every day. Lawyers make the change. We do the fighting. You are fighting for a person. You feel it in your core.”
Her time in politics as a congressional staffer, though, was not without benefit, “What I have learned through all of these years of politics is that you affect change in small doses where you know you can affect change. You can be very effective for a lot of people without having big roles.”
Given the fulfillment she finds in being a prosecutor, Boustany’s decision to pursue the City Court bench was not automatic. “What forced me to do this in the first place was my colleagues, really from both sides, a lot on the other side, telling me that we needed someone like me to be on the bench because of the way that I do my job, how I prosecute. I know that not everyone needs to go to jail. I am running right now to make sure that I can give this community assurances. The bench was nothing that I ever aspired to. I was never looking to be a judge at all. I didn’t want to be pulled out of the fray. I love being among our colleagues.”
One such colleague is Kirk Piccione, a local criminal defense attorney and member of Boustany’s campaign. Piccione credits Boustany’s professionalism as the basis for his support. “Professionally I can tell you Roya is very good to work with. Coming from a criminal defense lawyer, you might wonder what that means. To me, it means working with a DA who is smart, prepared, and willing to talk.”
Piccione relates that over “95%” of the time he beats the prosecution to speaking first with the victims of crimes. Recently he contacted a victim who related that she had already been contacted twice. Surprised, Piccione asked who had contacted her, “And of course, as it turned out, it was Roya. That’s consistent with how Roya handles her cases.”
Boustany believes her ability to listen and even-handed approach will translate well onto the bench, “I listen. Even if I have built a case and I think it is the best case ever. I still listen to the defense attorney. In a lot of instances, I have met with the defense attorney and their client.”
Boustany knows her prosecutorial advocacy ends if elected judge, “I am just an umpire. It becomes the prosecutor and defense attorney, the plaintiff and the defendant. It’s not me. I am not in the ring anymore.” But, she does see having been in the “ring” as a separator from her competition. “I have the recent trial experience that you need. Trying cases from 10 years ago has changed dramatically. I think you need someone on the bench who understands that and is efficient with the time of the people who come into the court and the lawyers.”
Boustany’s background does not include an extensive civil practice inasmuch as her duties as a prosecutor limit her ability to do both. She has, however, some civil experience as a judicial clerk. Also, she has administrative experience as executive vice president of Junior League of Lafayette and as an officer of the Lafayette Bar Association. Junior League’s executive vice president functions as the chief operating officer over the group’s day-to-day business operations. She is now president-elect. She anticipates, if elected as City Court judge, using these executive and leadership experiences in overseeing the City Court’s operations.
Boustany also plans to draw upon her non-profit experience as a resource if elected to the bench. She believes her familiarity with non-profit services will allow her to utilize these resources to help those appearing in City Court. Parenting, literacy, domestic abuse, faith based, and litter abatement programs all have potential to benefit both defendants and victims according to Boustany, “I think we should be using the nonprofits a lot more.”
Jena Dufrene, a college classmate, offers a longer and more personal perspective on Boustany. They met while both attended UL. Dufrene says Boustany has always been the “level-headed” hard working friend who makes decisions after logically weighing the pros and cons. She sees Boustany giving “all of her time and attention” to every aspect of her life. “She and I are in Junior League together. She wipes you out the water with her attention and the drive that she has to help people.”
Dufrene believes Boustany’s drive comes from home, “I think because she comes from let’s say a working-class background. She had to work to become a lawyer. She wasn’t handed anything. She puts in the work.”
Lauren Stelly has known Boustany since their days at Edgar Martin Middle School. Their friendship grew at Lafayette High School and remains strong today. Stelly sees the same “super-involved” friend now that she did growing up. She attributes Boustany’s civic involvement to her love for Lafayette. “She literally just loves Lafayette and wants to make it better for future generations. She’s got three small children that are growing up here and go to school here. She wants it to be better for them as well.”
On a personal level, Stelly credits Boustany in her returning to practicing her Catholic faith. Stelly attended church as a child but admittedly fell away as she grew older. Boustany’s enthusiasm while going through the Catholic Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) classes in advance of her marriage drew Stelly back to the church. “Roya being so passionate about it kind of just rubbed off. We would go to Mass at Cathedral on Sundays. I feel like that she got me back into that as well.”
Boustany’s marriage to Alfred Boustany in 2014 was ten years in the making. A mutual friend introduced them in the summer of 2004 before their freshman year at UL. Their instant friendship evolved to dating and then to marriage when both finished law school though she admits to knowing he was the one during their freshman year. These days Boustany relies upon Alfred’s calm demeanor and optimism. She finds his steadiness to be invaluable in keeping up with her numerous commitments along with raising their three children ages 2, 4, and 6.
Though running as both a Republican and a dedicated prosecutor, Boustany commits to impartially upholding the law if elected City Court judge, “I think you uphold the law. Quite frankly [party affiliation] really shouldn’t matter in the election of judges. We are supposed to be impartial. That is what we swear to be. I am looking for justice no matter what.”
Boustany’s definition of justice, at least for sentencing as a prosecutor, accounts for people’s needs: “What does that individual need? What does my victim need? What does the defendant need? In most non-violent cases, it’s not going to jail. There are underlying issues. I think it is working with my defense attorney to help both sides. That’s what I do for almost every case. If someone is habitually breaking the law, sometimes that is what jail is for. Other times it could be that they need drug court or parenting classes.”
Regarding Judge Odinet’s forced resignation, Boustany’s experience in being from Middle Eastern descent allows no tolerance for racial slurs. “I have experienced someone in Wal-mart calling a family member a bad name. I remember what it did to me then. I remember what it does to me right now. So, that will never happen on my bench.”
Finally, as for which of her faith values she hopes to bring to the bench, “Kindness probably is the biggest one. What I have learned in meeting with victims and defendants, both of them, and witnesses too everybody just wants kindness, to be on an even playing field, to be kind and to listen to them, to respect them.”
Boustany’s stated ambition is to protect Lafayette. She believes she will as the next City Court judge. If not, it takes little imagination seeing Boustany’s passion as a prosecutor carrying her to one day seek the office of District Attorney. As such, November’s results may directly and indirectly determine who holds both offices in the future.