Although she enjoyed her private law practice, Kristine Russell said she didn’t find her true calling until she joined the Lafourche Parish District Attorney’s Office.
“From the day I walked in, I felt like I was home,” she said. “I felt as though this was where I was meant to be. There’s never been a moment I’ve woken up feeling like, ‘I’ve got to go to work again.’ I truly feel like this is my second home – even on bad days, even in the big trials.”
Russell is now leading the office as interim district attorney, having been sworn in Friday. District Attorney Cam Morvant, citing health issues, stepped down that day after nearly 15 years in the role.
Morvant is remaining in the office as an assistant district attorney. The winner of a March 24 special election will complete his term, which expires in 2020.
“Everyone asks me if I’m nervous, and I’m not,” Russell said. “When I was appointed in 2012 as first assistant, I understood what that role meant just in case something would happen to him. So in my mind, I always thought when I was making decisions here, ‘What if? What if today was the day that I would have to take over?’ I truly do feel like I’m ready. I’m excited to take on the new role.”
Russell majored in psychology and minored in government at Nicholls State University. She originally wanted to pursue a career in child psychology but decided to become more of an advocate.
She graduated from LSU’s law school in 1996 and took a job at the Thibodaux law firm Morvant and Danny Cavell operate. She also taught family law at Nicholls for several years.
When Morvant took over as district attorney in 2003, Russell joined him as a full-time assistant district attorney.
Russell handled juvenile cases, misdemeanors and felonies, pre-trial diversion and traffic offenses before being named first assistant in 2012.
She has worked on major murder trials, including those of Amy Hebert and David Brown. Hebert, of Mathews, was convicted in 2009 of murdering her son and daughter. Brown, of Houma, was convicted last year of murdering a Lockport woman and her two daughters.
Russell is director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Lafourche, which was established in 2005. An investigator at the center interviews children who report being abused, and those interviews can be used as testimony in court.
Prosecuting child sex abuse cases, Russell has seen things that haunt her.
“In turn, it has made me a better person,” she said. “I know it’s made me a better mom, and it’s definitely made me a better prosecutor.”
Russell is involved with organizations such as the Hi-5 mentoring group, the Lafourche and Thibodaux chambers of commerce, the Thibodaux Rotary Club and the Bayou Industrial Group.
She said she wants to continue the programs and outreach Morvant started, including regular visits to schools, because she believes they can help reduce crime.
“I do not think I’m supposed to come to work every day, prosecute and go home,” she said. “I believe that all of us in the positions that we’re in – and we’re blessed to be in them – have a responsibility to give back in hopes that we can make a difference.”
Russell plans to start a program to build girls’ self-esteem, which she thinks would help reduce the number of carnal knowledge and sexting cases. She also wants to address boys on the issue of gun violence.
“I had to find an occupation that made me feel, at the end of the day, that I was doing something to leave this parish and earth a little better,” she said. “I feel as though this office has, over the years, left this parish better.”