Monday, January 26, 2004
Criminal Defense Lawyer Elizabeth Harris Elected Commissioner
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Veteran criminal defense lawyer H. Elizabeth Harris has been elected a Los Angeles Superior Court commissioner by the court’s judges, a court spokesperson said Friday.
Harris, 61, was the top-ranked candidate among 35 nominated by a panel of judges, and was the only one named on a majority of the ballots in voting for two positions. The election, which concluded Thursday, was to elect replacements for Commissioners Lonzo Lucas, who retired, and Richard Novak, who resigned in order to enter private practice.
Because no other candidate received the necessary majority, there will be a runoff for the second position between the second- and third-highest vote-getters, court spokesperson Kyle Christopherson said. Those two are Maren Nelson, a Morrison & Foerster partner who primarily does financial institutions litigation, and John M. Murphy, a retired municipal court commissioner.
Nelson ranked No. 2 on the panel’s list, Murphy No. 20. The rankings are not binding on the judges, who are free to vote for anyone on the list, but are usually followed.
Runoff ballots will probably be mailed out tomorrow, Christopherson reported, and will be due back Feb. 26.
The newest commissioner, Harris, is a 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included Robert Glen Jones, sentenced to life imprisonment for the stabbing murder of a pregnant woman who had just withdrawn $40 from an ATM in Sherman Oaks; Ralph Mora, acquitted of the murder of popular Los Feliz restaurateur Alberto F. Sarno; and Milos Klvana, an obstetrician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—who was on the panel that nominated Harris for commissioner—to withdraw from the case for health reasons.
More recently, she represented Herbert Charles McClain Jr., who is appealing a death sentence for the Halloween 1993 shooting deaths of three Pasadena boys. Prosecutors said the trick-or-treaters were gunned down by McClain and two other gang members out to avenge a killing.
Nelson, who faces Murphy in the runoff, has been practicing law for 22 years, and has been with Morrison & Foerster since 1987.
Murphy has been sitting periodically on assignment since 1998. He could not be reached for comment, but a source said the court’s fiscal situation means that retired commissioners rarely sit anymore.
The 68-year-old Murphy attended University of San Fernando Valley School of Law at night while working in the clothing business, then worked as a deputy public defender prior to his appointment as a commissioner of the now-defunct Burbank Municipal Court in 1978. He moved to the old Beverly Hills Municipal Court in 1981 and retired in 1989.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company