Updated: Jun 10, 2020
It’s not often that I get an opportunity to feature a childhood friend, so this week’s Re.engineer Trending Leaders feature is very special to me. I have know Mr. Kenn Barnes Jr., Esq. since the days of Nintendo Super Mario Brothers and sandlot tackle football and I am extremely excited to collaborate with him on a professional level. Kenn serves as Special Counsel-Criminal Justice to the Louisiana Supreme Court. His duties include assisting with the Court’s pretrial services, specialty court programs across Louisiana, serving as liaison between the Louisiana Supreme Court and the Felony Class System Task Force, Louisiana Public Defender Board, Louisiana State Law Institute, and has recently been appointed by Governor John Bel Edwards to the Justice Reinvestment Oversight Committee on behalf of the Louisiana Supreme Court. Kenn received his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Louisiana State University in 2011 and received both his Juris Doctorate and Diploma of Comparative Law from the Paul M. Hebert Law Center at Louisiana State University where he served as Executive President of the Student Bar Association in 2015. Join us as Kenn provides some perspectives on being a leader within the criminal justice system.
Q: What inspired you to practice law? Kenn: My inspiration to practice law is not one based on the leadership of any specific person. While I admire the likes of Thurgood Marshall, AP Turead, Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson, and many other trailblazers, my inspiration is borne from the existence of those not listed in our books. Being born to a middle class in Baton Rouge Louisiana to a middle-class family that was situated around families that had not reached the middle-class, I both saw the privilege and the disparate impact of various effects of our legal and governmental systems. I knew that compassion and change were necessary to ensure that all around me experienced the level of equity I knew they could. It is because of the need for change and the support of loved ones that I believed that I could dedicate myself and play a small part in the necessary change. Q: Collaboration is essential to the success of any industry or organization. What’s the most impactful collaborative strategy that you have been a part of? Kenn: Collaboration is the catalyst for success. Diversity in collaboration is also essential. During my experience as an attorney, I have been able to join with stakeholders from across the legal spectrum to tackle criminal justice reforms. Defense and prosecution; Citizen and Government. It was though this diversity of positions and thoughts that we were able to get widespread buy-in and ultimately become successful in our initiatives. In the attempt to be successful or to collaborate, it is easy to note the benefits of diversity and working together, but it is also as easy to be dissuaded and be let down by differences in opinions. I have found success by remembering that the nature of man is good and that the intentions usually are not meant to be evil. Remembering the humanity of those across the ideological spectrum that I am working with helps me to focus on the issues to find common ground instead of wondering about the nature of the person I am working with. This is the exercise of collaboration that I engage in; one that we can all engage in. Q: How can the average citizen become more engaged with positively influencing the justice system? Kenn: The average citizen can become engaged in positively influencing the criminal justice system by participating in the process of making informed decisions, voting, and holding elected officials accountable. Citizens can be engaged in the criminal justice system by showing up to town halls and debates to ask officials and prospective politicians tough questions that affect them. These questions can range from asking a mayoral candidate if there will be a call for Crisis intervention training or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder therapy for officers and citizens, to asking a judge if they will engage in a reduction in the use of financial bail or use of alternative conditions to release, or to asking a legislator their views on certain nonviolent crimes. Citizens can influence the criminal justice system by voting for those that best represent their values, morals, and their position. It is easy to fall into the cycle of just voting for someone because they mirror our political party or because they previously held a position but that is not how the criminal justice system changes. That is not to say that an incumbent or a member of any party cannot be an agent of change, but if voters appear to be complacent with their votes, and do not demand change with their votes, then these voters cannot expect change. Lastly, criminal justice reform can be accomplished by holding elected officials accountable. Holding officials accountable can be not only be done by voting out those that do not do the job demanded of them by their constituency, but also by supporting and sharing with that official, the things that benefit and please us. It is easy to only discuss the things that upset us or that we disapprove of but highlighting our points of satisfaction is equally if not more important. Q: Often we do not perceive that the political or legal disciplines interact with technology and innovation. Can you share some examples where the two worlds are combining to generate value? Kenn: Political and legal disciplines’ interactions with technological innovation intertwine in many ways. Just in 2016, we saw politics and technology intertwine when Russia hacked our elections through the theft and proliferation of stolen emails, false social media post aimed at sowing racial animus, and many other attempts. In 2008, we saw technology benefit political campaigns with the use of social media and digital marketing initiatives. We see technology combined with the legal field in a myriad of ways including the use of electronic monitoring, video calls to family, breathalyzers and more. Each of these methods has proponents and detractors on all sides and has advantages and disadvantages that must be considered to create effective systems. This is why the use of technology in the political and legal disciplines must continue to innovate in ways to ensure equity and improvement. Q: What career advice would you give to other professionals or entrepreneurs? Kenn: My career advice to other professionals and entrepreneurs would be to find a consistent base of support, to be flexible in thought and practice, and to believe in themselves. Q: What keeps you up at night? Kenn: What keeps me up at night is that, as a society, we will one day forget the humanity of the past, find comfort and complacency in the rhetoric, and become apathetic to reaching our true potentials. Kenn is not only a personal family friend but he is also a re.engineer Trending Leader. He has recently been announced by the American Bar Association as an "On the Rise 2019" Top 40 Young Lawyers award recipient! As you can tell through his perspectives, he is building a legacy across the political and criminal justice landscape. Kenn, thank you for taking our community to the next level and for being a faithful, servant in criminal law. You are a certified re.engineer!