LaKresha Roberts ’04: In the Race for Attorney General
Even as an undergraduate criminal justice major, LaKresha Roberts ‘04, née Sanford, planned for a legal career, and she worked hard to make that dream come true. It paid off, and last year she was appointed Chief Deputy District Attorney for the State of Delaware, the second in command of the Delaware Department of Justice. Now, she is running for the state’s Attorney General position – the top office in Delaware’s Department of Justice and a seat formerly held by the late Beau Biden.
It is still early in the 2018 election cycle, and Roberts is up against three other candidates vying for the Democratic Party nomination. It is a crowded field and because of it, political watchers think this race could be the state’s most exciting competition. If she receives the nomination and wins the election in November, there will be plenty to cheer; she will be the state’s second female attorney general and the first African-American to hold the position.
Roberts grew up in a middle-class home in New Castle, Delaware, about fifteen minutes from Wilmington. Mom, Rhonda, is an assistant vice-president of a mutual fund unit at PFPC, Inc., a mutual fund transfer agent, and dad James is a blue-collar worker for Delmarva Power, the local electric company. Neither has a college degree, but they worked hard to ensure that LaKresha and her younger sister had lives with more opportunities than they had growing up. “My parents always expected that my sister and I would go to college and pursue professions. My parents grew up pretty poor, and they invested a lot into us with the hope that we would have an even brighter future and greater success than they had achieved,” said Roberts.
Roberts saw her mom work her way up the corporate ladder of the banking industry and her dad work for 35 years and counting for the same company, never once taking a sick day. From them, she learned the value of taking pride in one’s work and of discipline. “I think both of them taught me different things about the need to be very focused, reliable and dedicated to work,” she said.
Trust your gut
Roberts always saw herself becoming a lawyer. “I cannot recall a time when I didn’t want to be one,” she said. Like many hardworking parents, hers did not have spare income to pay for college. A Pace scholarship enabled Roberts to attend, and set her on the road to pursue her lifelong dream of a legal career. “I recall coming up for the overnight visit, and just feeling a sense of excitement that I didn’t feel at other universities. The Pleasantville campus is absolutely beautiful. I think the small community made it possible to have good relationships with professors,” she explained. Roberts entered Delaware Law School after graduating magna cum laude from Pace with a degree in criminal justice.
She attended law school part-time and worked during the day as a paralegal at a private practice firm. Although the job didn’t pay a lot of money, it was in line with her career aspirations. It was her first exposure to the profession, and after a while, she reached a crossroads. “There was a point in time when working in private practice just wasn’t something that got me fired up. I had a conversation with a very experienced attorney about whether or not I should continue with law school. He said, ‘well, if you don’t like this work, you should think long and hard about wanting to be an attorney.’ I took it to heart. I was someone who spent her entire life thinking ‘I’m going to be an attorney,’ and it was probably the first time I ever second-guessed myself,” said Roberts.
Hindsight is twenty-twenty and now Roberts sees the experience at the private practice firm as a learning opportunity. What she learned is that people will have different opinions about what your career path should look like. “Ultimately you have to follow your gut and take ownership of your future. The advice to reconsider a legal career came from someone I really respected and I could have easily decided to forgo it. But, I’m glad I stuck with it,” she said.
Be part of the solution
With Delaware being one of the corporate capitals of the world, Roberts had always imagined herself a corporate attorney, but, instead, she explained, “ultimately, my path led me to work for the court, and I absolutely love it.” Roberts began her legal career as a deputy attorney general, or a line prosecutor, in the family court of the State of Delaware. Beau Biden swore Roberts in when she started out in the office. “He was an incredible man and a very engaged and visible leader. Even though he was the attorney general, he would stop by and say ‘hey, how are you, how are things going?’ I think that fostered an environment where you felt like you were valued.”
She learned that she, too, liked connecting with people. “My favorite part of the job is the citizen contact, listening to their stories, and problem solving. I knew I was going to be a public servant and my work would be geared toward helping people.”
The nature of family law is intimate. “You’re talking about things that are going on in someone’s household that no one else sees - a parent dealing with their kids, and behaviors they can’t manage; issues related to substance abuse; issues related to mental health; issues related to domestic violence. All very personal, raw stories. There’s a tendency to lose perspective on how significant those incidences can be to someone’s life. The people whose lives are impacted, they aren’t just one of many, it’s not just data; they are human beings. It’s the sad outcomes that really fueled me to say, ‘Wait a minute. There are opportunities that we’re missing to intervene and provide needed services to people before they come in contact with the juvenile justice system,” Roberts said. Her experiences in the family court inspired her to run for the attorney general seat. “At some point you have to do more than be a part of the conversation; you have to be part of the solution.”
The primary is in September, with the election to follow in November. Roberts is refining her platform. Some of the priorities she has identified are dealing with criminal justice reform and addressing the opioid epidemic. She’s also focused upon youth empowerment, building strong families, and ensuring victims of child or domestic abuse have access to services they need.
When Roberts spoke with the Dyson Digital Digest in early March, she and her husband Samuel were expecting their second child and bracing for a hectic and demanding campaign schedule ahead. Yes, she will be juggling motherhood and career on the campaign trail. As Roberts explained, “Those of us at the Department of Justice are a reflection of the communities we serve. I think I can set an important example for the community about our values and I can be an example for our youth, making it clear to them that they can do anything.”
Roberts certainly is an inspiration for the Dyson College community and we look forward to seeing where this star alumna will go next!