Tuesday, January 25, 2000
Antelope Municipal Court
Incumbent With Political Connections Faces Challenges From Two Lawyers in Cowboy Boots
By ROGER M. GRACE, Editor
(Second of Two Parts)
The area of Los Angeles County comprising the former Antelope Judicial District—abolished along with other judicial districts when court unification took place Saturday—is found in the upper right hand corner of a county map. Bordered on the north by Kern County and on the east by San Bernardino County, it's the westernmost portion of the Mojave Desert. A contrast to the megalopolis only 60 miles to the southeast, its local businesses include tractor services, feed and grains, and horse boarding facilities.
The "big" cities are Lancaster, population 118,518, and Palmdale, population 100,157. Other burghs in the former judicial district are Acton, Agua Dulce, Lake Hughes, Littlerock, Pearblossom, Quartz Hill, Lake Los Angeles, Lake Elizabeth, Llano and Big Pines.
Denizens of this remote area of the county on March 6 will chose a judge who will serve on the countywide Superior Court. The election started as one for a judgeship on the Antelope Municipal Court and, even though no such court now exists, the election will play out as if no change had been made.
The incumbent, Pamela Rogers, newly installed as a member of Los Angeles Superior Court, faces two challengers: Lancaster attorney William Allen Clark and Acton lawyer Larry Layton. Each typically clad in cowboy boots, Clark and Layton fit right in. Rogers, born in New Jersey and educated at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., is perhaps less comfortable there.
She notes that it's a "smaller community," and "it's casual." A casual attitude in the courtroom is something she can't accept. When attorneys walk through her courtroom chatting, while court is in session, it's more than Rogers will stand for. Yet, she complains, attorney misconduct of a far more serious nature—such as "yelling, tossing a book down"—is readily tolerated in some courtrooms in Lancaster.
Political 'In' Group
This hardly means, however, that Rogers is an outsider. To the contrary, she is closely tied to those locals who have political influence.
Her campaign is being managed by Sharon Runner—who happens to be the wife of the assemblyman for the area, George Runner, R-Lancaster. Rogers lists Runner as an endorser, along with the state senator for the vicinage, Pete Knight, R-Palmdale. The mayors of both Palmdale and Lancaster, as well as members of the city councils, are also in her corner.
A lawyer in the region who gives money to causes and reputedly has no difficulty getting what he wants is R. Rex Parris. Layton describes him as "very powerful in the Antelope Valley" and Rogers assesses his clout as "considerable." The judge notes: "He's my attorney." She adds: "I'm a close friend of his wife's."
Also a powerhouse in the Antelope Valley is former state Republican Party Chairman Frank Visco. "Visco is backing Ms. Rogers," Clark says, lamenting that he does not have that backing, himself.
Clark acknowledges that in light of Rogers' connections, defeating her would be no easy feat. Clark, a registered Republican, points to the conservative makeup of the Antelope Judicial District, and credits Rogers with having strong support of the "intensely active and vocal Christian faction" of the GOP.
Though Rogers might, given her connections and her incumbency, take the election outright in the primary, an imponderable is how many ballots will be cast against her based on negative publicity she received over a drug problem. Although the narcotic drugs she took were prescribed by a doctor, and her dependency on the drugs ended in April, 1997, Rogers' reputation in the community clearly has been marred.
Clark's Campaign Finances
Of the two challengers—neither of whom is alluding to the judge's former drug problem—Clark appears to be the only viable contender. So far, he's put $10,000-$12,000 of his own funds into the campaign, by his own estimate, and expresses a willingness to spend another $1,750. He's garnering contributions, he reports, and estimates he will have "close to $30,000" in his campaign coffers before the primary. The lawyer notes that campaigns in the sparsely populated judicial district—he estimates there being no more than 45,000 likely voters—usually don't cost more than $16,000, but says it will take more than that to topple an incumbent.
Layton does have a campaign asset: name recognition from his four previous runs for the Antelope Municipal Court. Also, the name could strike some voters as having a familiar ring based on it appearing in national news reports; a different Larry Layton was convicted in 1986 in connection with the murder of U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan of California in the massacre at Jonestown. However, this Larry Layton is a candidate with no campaign organization. He paid the filing fee and the cost of a candidate statement—but that's the extent of his financial commitment. "I'm not spending any money on the campaign," he declares. Layton explains that he hopes to win simply because "people will realize I'm the best person for the job."
Parris says that "not a significant amount of money" will be raised for the Rogers campaign. "I don't think she needs it," he remarks, declaring: "That race is won." He describes a challenge to a sitting judge as "a tall mountain to climb."
Here is a run-down on the backgrounds of the three candidates:
Pamela R. Rogers, 46, received her law degree from Loyola University in 1978. She was admitted to the State Bar that same year.
From 1978-80, she worked in Newhall (to the left of Antelope, on the map), as a deputy district attorney. Turning to academia, Rogers served from 1980-89 as a fulltime professor of law at LaVerne College of Law in San Fernando, being elected by the student body in 1982, 1984 and 1988 as "Outstanding Faculty Member." Rogers returned to the District Attorney's Office in 1989 and was assigned to the Antelope Valley Branch.
In her 1994 quest for an open seat on the Antelope Municipal Court, she was pitted against four rivals.
Represented by her husband (who was also her campaign manager), she won two court battles against one of those rivals, Lancaster attorney Hans Berg. In the first fray, then-Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert O'Brien granted a writ petition filed by attorney Randolph Rogers on behalf of candidate Pamela Rogers disallowing Berg's ballot designation of "retired prosecutor." O'Brien held that Berg "is currently and principally a practicing attorney and his chosen ballot designation would be misleading to the public." Berg changed his ballot designation to "attorney/court arbitrator." A second writ petition was filed, and O'Brien granted that one, also, holding that a reference by Berg to his role as an arbitrator was misleading because he had only arbitrated two matters in the past 15 months.
Rogers attained a County Bar rating of "qualified." Only one of the opponents, Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Victor Reichman, pulled a "well qualified" mark.
Near-Win in Primary
Sporting the endorsement of the Antelope Valley Press, Rogers nearly won the seat outright, garnering 48 percent of the vote. She found herself in a run-off with Reichman, who bagged just over 25 percent of the ballots.
Rogers outdistanced Reichman in the balloting notwithstanding that she was outspent. Though raising $45,600, her campaign committee spent only $17,200, while Reichman's committee used up $29,600.
(Parris comments that if a full-page newspaper ad had been taken out the Sunday before the election listing her endorsements, as he had prescribed—rather than holding back funds for use in the general election—she would have picked up the additional votes it would have taken to win in the primary.)
The campaign in the run-off was acrimonious. Rogers and Reichman each brought charges against the other with the Fair Judicial Election Practices Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association (which found one ethical violation by Reichman). Rogers refused to debate Reichman, explaining at the time, "I wouldn't sit in the same room with the man right now."
One campaign leaflet issued by the Rogers camp was signed by 21 "concerned members of the Antelope Valley Christian community." The signers described themselves as "wives and mothers and active members of our church families." The letter quoted the pastor of the Bethel Baptist Church "where [Rogers] and her family attend" and the pastor's wife as saying, "Pam is the kind of Christian our community needs in positions of leadership."
(Reichman is Jewish.)
Rogers won the election in November, with 62.3 per cent of the vote.
She quickly found she had a new antagonist: the Public Defender's Office and, in particular, Deputy Public Defender Manuel Martinez, then in charge of the Lancaster Office.
Martinez reflects that he regarded Rogers as "very prosecution oriented." He complains that she "championed the cause of the prosecution" to the extent of "taking over cases" to assist that cause.
Points to 'Problem'
Rogers remarks: "My biggest problem is with the Public Defender's Office."
When she makes a ruling, she says, the deputy public defenders "take a poll on whether I was right or wrong." The judge comments that it's "very strange" that the deputies "find my rulings so fascinating." She describes the conduct of the Public Defenders' Office as "very frustrating."
She also asserts that "certain members of the Public Defender's Office believe they should argue the law as they want it, not as it is."
Using such tactics as filing affidavits of prejudice at arraignments, Rogers says, the Public Defenders' Office can foul up the system.
"The PD loves to blanket affidavit," she remarks.
Rogers reportedly brought about the transfer of a deputy out of Lancaster who regularly announced ready on more cases than the courthouse could immediately handle, resulting in generous disposition offers by prosecutors as to those cases that could not be placed.
"The PD holds us hostage because they could shut us down at any time."
Another antagonist Rogers points to is Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Chesley McKay. Although McKay endorsed her in 1994, she now says, "He doesn't like me," and says she does not know the reason. Rogers contends that he "gives out misinformation" about her and has been engaged in "encouraging bad comments" concerning her.
Rogers also identifies Deputy Alternate Public Defender Eugene Duncker as a detractor. She says he wrote a "nasty letter to the editor" about her. In a letter published by the Antelope Valley Press in 1997, Duncker faulted Rogers for having failed to disclose her medical problems when she ran for the bench in 1994. Although Rogers had experienced migraine headaches since her teens, the problem reportedly became severe during her pregnancy, with the severity persisting after she gave birth to a daughter in January 1993.
Duncker says Rogers will not have his vote, remarking, "I don't like lying politicians." She affrmatively represented in 1994 that she had no medical problems that could affect her performance on the bench, he recites.
He says of her current performance that it's "much improved from when she was on drugs." Duncker adds, however, "It is still not where it should be." The defense lawyer explains: "She still thinks she's a DA."
While Rogers has her critics, there is apparently considerable favorable sentiment toward her, also. She was voted last year as "Judge of the Year" by the Antelope Valley Bar Assn.
The president of that organization, Rob Parris—brother and law partner of R. Rex Parris—was unavailable for comment as to the reasons the group chose Rogers to receive the award.
Jurist Cites Accomplishments
Among the accomplishments Rogers claims is her successful effort as presiding judge to gain electronic legal research capability for each of the judges.
She notes that she and her husband personally paid for equipment for their respective courtrooms enabling the recitation of rights via videotape. Forms are available in their courtrooms for written waiver of rights to be used where there are dispositions.
Rogers' campaign materials note that when there were major sting operations in the district, the judge "[d]evised and presided over special arraignment courts at Lancaster Sheriff's Station to process voluminous custody arraignments."
Her community activities have included acting as a judge at high school mock trial competitions. Harold Charles Fishbein, the 1997 president of the Antelope Valley Bar Assn., says he has observed Rogers acting as a judge at a such an event. "I was very impressed with the way she handled it," he relates. She explained law to the youths and conducted the proceedings in a "very judicious" manner," he says.
The judge does admit to failings. She confesses "not showing enough patience, perhaps, with younger lawyers" when they pull such boners as citing a case "for the opposite of the proposition that the case stands for." Too, she says, her tendency is to explain her rulings, which, she's found, is something to which lawyers are not receptive. "I need to find a way to just say, 'Denied,' " she reflects.
Rogers comments that she's had a "difficult first term," but says of her troubles, "a lot of that's behind me, I hope."
William Allen Clark, 52, was admitted to practice in June, 1977. He attained his undergraduate degree from Loyola Marymount University in 1969 and his law degree from the University of LaVerne College of Law in 1976.
During college, Clark became a golf professional. He came to the Antelope Valley in 1968 to work as an assistant pro at Antelope Valley County Club.
As soon as he obtained his law license, he opened up shop in Palmdale, as a sole practitioner.
Six years ago, he announced that he was considering a run for an open seat on the Antelope Municipal Court. He indicated, however, that he would stay out of the race if Lancaster practitioner David Bianchi, whom he described as a "dynamite candidate," entered it. As it turned out, Neither Clark or Bianchi ran that year; Rogers did, and won the seat. (Bianchi this year is running for an open seat.)
The lawyer says he has handled major felony cases including the defenses in more than two dozen homicide cases, nine entailing potential death sentences. He says he's also had a thriving civil practice, representing both plaintiffs and defendants, and has gained experience in family law and bankruptcy.
One case he handled involved charges of first degree murder, robbery with use of a deadly weapon, burglary of an inhabited dwelling, and other offenses. Clark's client was convicted and sentenced to death. His conviction was upheld by the California Supreme Court in 1993. Last June, acting upon a petition for writ of habeas corpus, the high court was confronted with the contention that Clark had provided his client with inadequate legal representation. Justice Joyce Kennard, writing for the 6-1 majority, declared "that counsel's performance did not fall below an objective standard of reasonableness under prevailing professional norms." (Justice Stanley Mosk dissented from the denial of the writ based on his view that evidence of guilt was not so strong as to warrant imposition of the death penalty.)
Larry H. Layton, 57, secured his law degree from Glendale University College of Law. He has been a lawyer since December, 1975.
In 1972, while attending law school, he began selling course summaries known as "Larry Layton Legal Aids," and soon began operating "Larry Layton Law Review Courses," preparing first-year students for the "Baby Bar."
From 1980-87, Layton frequently handled small claims matters in the San Fernando Courthouse, sitting as a pro tem. "I did hundreds of cases," he says.
For awhile, he operated a sidewalk stand across the street from that courthouse at which he gave out evangelical tracts.
He and his wife in 1987 left their home in Sylmar—"to get out of the crime," he once explained— and purchased a 10-acre ranch in Acton.
In running this year, Layton is seeking a rematch with Rogers. He was one of the three candidates in Antelope in 1994 who were rejected at the polls in the primary. He came in third, with 10 percent of the vote.
Billed as 'Attorney/Evangelist'
Layton, who at the time used religious symbols on his business cards and letterheads, was listed on the ballot as an "Attorney/Evangelist."
He was found "not qualified" by the County Bar's Committee on Judicial Evaluations, which declared that he "lacks the proper temperament to be a municipal court judge." The candidate issued a press release in which he complained that the committee had quizzed him inappropriately on his religious views and pressed him as to how he would rule on abortion issues.
Undaunted by his loss in June, Layton mounted a write-in campaign in the November election against an Antelope Municipal Court judge, William Seelicke, who had drawn no opposition in the primary. By filing a petition with 100 names, he forced election officials to place Seelicke's name on the November ballot. "I'm just giving the voters the choice, if they want me," Layton said at the time he launched his campaign, adding: "I have all the respect in the world for Judge Seelicke." He somehow failed to topple the incumbent.
Layton in 1996 unsuccessfully challenged then-Antelope Municipal Court Judge Chesley McKay (who was elevated to the Superior Court on the heels of the June primary). After receiving a tentative "not qualified rating" from a County Bar subcommittee, Layton decided not to bother appealing the rating. He says he surmised that it would be a "futile act" as it had proved to be when he appealed two years before. The full committee issued its report, branding Layton "not qualified" based on a lack of "judicial temperament."
The candidate shot back in a press release that evaluators "dislike me because I do not fit into their little cubby hole of what they believe a lawyer/judge should be." He continued:
"The LACBA has attacked me for my religious beliefs, my past religious activities, questioned my wife's attitude toward my religious beliefs and activities and attacked me for my feelings on abortion and abortion related issues."
Founds Law School
Layton ran that year as a "Dean/Professor/Attorney." He was teaching six law students on weekends at his own unaccredited law school, the Larry H. Layton School of Law, which he opened in Acton in 1994. The library contained not only law books, but also Christian materials, the latter collection comprising what the candidate called the "Larry H. Layton School of Law Religious Resource Center." Layton lost the election by a 2-1 margin.
In 1998, Layton launched an ill-starred campaign for an open seat. He was listed on the ballot as "Arbitrator/Dean/Professor." The County Bar's Judicial Election Evaluations Committee said in its report: "Larry H. Layton was evaluated as 'Not Qualified' because in the committee's opinion at this time he lacks the necessary legal and judicial experience and judicial temperament." That year, he declined to fill out a questionnaire or be interviewed, labelling the evaluation process "totally unfair."
This year, Layton did participate in the process. "Some people said, 'You're in a no-lose situation," he says, explaining that if he did not participate, he would be rated "not qualified," and if he did participate, he could not do any worse than that.
He is running this time as an "Actor/Attorney/Professor." His candidate statement lists his credits in plays, films, and television production, and mentions that he is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
Layton exudes enthusiasm in telling of his recent starring role in a production at the Palmdale Playhouse. He portrayed Kris Kringle in "Miracle on 34th Street." Given his long, white beard, the prop department did not need to supply false whiskers.
He says he is no longer a member of any evangelical organization.
The candidate has no criticism to direct at either Rogers or Clark. "I don't believe in mudslinging," he says.
Copyright Metropolitan News Company, 2000