Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, December 17, 2003


Page 3


Criminal Defense Lawyer Tops Commissioner List, Source Says




Veteran criminal defense lawyer H. Elizabeth Harris is the top-ranked candidate for Superior Court commissioner, a source close to the process said yesterday.

Harris, who could not be reached for comment, tops the list of 35 candidates that is to be officially announced after the court’s Executive Committee meets today, the source said. The list and rankings were determined by a judicial panel that reviewed applications from more than 150 applicants, including a number of the court’s referees.

It may also be learned today whether the two current vacancies will be filled from the old or the new list. The person most seriously impacted by that decision appears to be Deputy Public Defender Lisa Brackelmanns, who is the highest-ranked remaining candidate on the old list—which has been used since September 2001—but was an unsuccessful applicant for the new list.

Brackelmanns declined comment yesterday.

A plan to elect a successor to Commissioner Lonzo Lucas, who retired Dec. 2, from the old list was scrapped, a court spokesman said. Another vacancy then arose when Commissioner Richard Novak resigned Dec. 12.

Presiding Judge Robert Dukes, who under local rules controls the timing of commissioner elections, and Assistant Presiding Judge William MacLaughlin were out of town and unavailable for comment, the spokesman said.

 Judges are not required to elect the highest-ranked candidates. But 24 commissioners have been elected, in precise ranking order, from the old list of 35.

Of the other 11 on the list, one withdrew for undisclosed reasons and one was appointed a judge, leaving nine who would be eligible if the list were used for the next election. At least three of the nine, Referees Brian Petraborg and Anthony Trendacosta and former Referee Joel Wallenstein, who lost his position due to budget cuts and now works for the State Compensation Insurance Fund, are on the new list, sources said.

Those sources reported that Petraborg, Trendacosta, and Referee Steff Padilla are in the top 10 in the new rankings, while Referee Alan Friedenthal—who is married to Padilla—and Alliance for Children’s Rights attorney Amy Pellman are in the top 20, as is retired Commissioner John Murphy.

Murphy had been sitting periodically on assignment, but the court’s fiscal situation means that retired commissioners rarely sit anymore, a source said.

Referee Zeke Zeidler, who is running for an open Los Angeles Superior Court seat, is in the top 25. Positions could not be learned for Wallenstein or Referee Pam Davis.

Referee Jacqueline Lewis is No. 35, a source said.

Wallenstein is a former judicial candidate, having run unsuccessfully for the former Antelope Municipal Court in 1998.

The top-ranked candidate on the new list, Harris, is a 61-year-old veteran of high profile criminal cases.

Her clients have included Robert Glen Jones, sentenced to life imprisonment for the stabbing murder of a pregnant woman who had just withdrawn $40 from an ATM in Sherman Oaks; Ralph Mora, acquitted of the murder of popular Los Feliz restaurateur Alberto F. Sarno; and Milos Klvana, an obstetrician charged with having murdered babies in botched deliveries.

Klvana, who clashed with Harris and sued her for malpractice while she was still his appointed counsel, was convicted of nine counts of second-degree murder, and of insurance fraud, perjury, and of aiding in the practice of medicine without a license by a midwife who assisted him.

Harris was not the trial attorney, having been allowed by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Judith Chirlin to withdraw from the case for health reasons.


Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company