Thursday, October 7, 2004
Stephen Czuleger Elected Court’s Assistant Presiding Judge
He Defeats House and Lichtman Outright, Obviating Need for Runoff
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge J. Stephen Czuleger has been elected assistant presiding judge of the court for 2005 and 2006, court officials said yesterday.
In keeping with the court’s practice, vote totals were not disclosed. But there was no runoff in the three-way contest, so Czuleger, 53, necessarily received a majority of the votes cast in defeating Judges Peter D. Lichtman and Mary Thornton House.
If tradition is maintained, Czuleger will serve his two-year term as assistant presiding judge and then run unopposed for the post of presiding judge for 2007 and 2008. The current assistant presiding judge, William A. MacLaughlin, will be the presiding judge for the next two years.
His immediate plans, Czuleger told the MetNews, are to take a vacation with his wife, legal fiction writer Rebecca Forster. When he returns, he said, he intends to meet with MacLaughlin and start planning for next year’s administration.
Czuleger was the last of the three candidates to enter the race. In his “Dear Colleague” letter in May, he touted his 16 years on the local trial bench and his service as assistant supervising judge of the civil departments and earlier as assistant presiding judge of the criminal departments.
He also noted that he is a former California Judges Association vice president, has served on court and Judicial Council committees, and has experience lobbying in Sacramento on issues of interest to judges.
Czuleger identified several “clear priorities” in that letter, including preserving “the stability of our local benefits,” maintaining “the service we provide to the public in our courtrooms” in the face of budget problems, and considering “the career goals of judicial officers...along with the needs of the Court” in making judicial assignments.
But he made clear yesterday he will defer to MacLaughlin when it comes to implementing an agenda, explaining “my job is to co-pilot for the next two years.”
This was Czuleger’s second bid for assistant presiding judge. He lost to current Presiding Judge Robert Dukes four years ago.
Czuleger was appointed to the Superior Court by then-Gov. George Deukmejian in 1990.
Crime Strike Force
He graduated from the University of Santa Clara in 1973 and from Loyola University Law School in 1976. He was an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles from 1977 to 1979; an associate with Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert & Matz from 1979 to 1982; and a special attorney with the Justice Department Organized Crime Strike Force in San Francisco from 1982 to 1984.
He returned to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1984 and served there until his appointment to the Los Angeles Municipal Court by Deukmejian in 1988.
In an e-mail to all of the judges, a copy of which she provided to the MetNews, House congratulated Czuleger, and thanked him and Lichtman “for conducting a dignified and issues-oriented campaign.”
“Traveling to all of our court locations and meeting my fellow judicial officers has been a tremendously rewarding experience. I have been personally enriched by that opportunity.”
In a brief interview, House declined to speculate as to whether she will make a second bid for the office in the future.
“This is not a day to ask me that question,” she said.
Had she been elected, she would have been the first woman to hold the post.
Lichtman could not be reached for comment yesterday. But in a recent interview, he said he definitely considered himself the underdog in the race, based on his having run an “insurgent” campaign critical of what he characterized as a tendency on the part of the court to be overly concerned with caseload statistics.
He was criticized for a proposal to allow judges in each court district to elect, or to at least cast an advisory vote for, their supervising judges.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company