Wednesday, February 11, 2004
LACBA Panel Finds Meyer Candidate Statement Misleading
Judicial Aspirant Accuses Opposition of ‘Backhanded Smear Campaign’
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The official campaign statement for a deputy district attorney seeking a Los Angeles Superior Court seat contains a misleading reference to the unit in which the candidate works, a County Bar panel has determined.
Judith L. Meyer’s statement that she is “assigned to a Special Victims Unit” is misleading because she actually works in the Victim Impact Program—often referred to by the initials VIP—and “Special Victims Unit is the name of a popular television show,” the Fair Judicial Election Practices Committee said.
There is no entity entitled “Special Victims Unit” in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, committee chair Barbara Y. Johnson noted in a Jan. 28 letter detailing the committee’s findings.
That letter was sent to Meyer and Alan Friedenthal, an attorney and as-needed Superior Court referee who complained about Meyer’s candidate statement. A copy of the letter was obtained yesterday by the MetNews.
Meyer is a candidate for the seat being vacated by Judge James Wright. Her opponents are Deputy District Attorney Carol Najera, Superior Court Commissioner Donna Groman, Department of Industrial Relations attorney P. Michael Erwin, and trial attorney Mitchell Roth.
Reviewed by Subcommittee
According to the letter, Friedenthal’s complaint was considered by a subcommittee consisting of Johnson, attorney Johnny Griggs, retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Philip M. Saeta, and screenwriter/producer Victoria Riskin. The subcommittee’s findings were approved by the full committee, the letter said.
Meyer yesterday defended her statements and claimed the complaint was part of a “backhanded smear campaign” orchestrated on behalf of Groman. She noted that Friedenthal is a Groman campaign contributor, and that the copy of her campaign statement that was attached to his complaint bore an indication it had been faxed to him by Evelyn Jerome, who is Groman’s campaign consultant.
Friedenthal complained of three assertions in the statement, which Meyer spent $65,000 to have included in the official ballot pamphlet mailed to all voters.
In addition to the “Special Victims Unit” claim, Friedenthal charged that it was misleading for Meyer to state that she was “a Volunteer Judge...for Los Angeles County Superior Court” and that she “worked for the United States Attorney’s Office Organized Crime Strike Force.”
The committee found that Meyer had actually been a volunteer temporary judge at the Inglewood Municipal Court prior to unification, but concluded that the statement was not misleading.
Worked as Extern
The committee did, however, conclude that “an ordinary reader of the ballot statement would assume that” Meyer had worked at the strike force as an attorney, when in fact she was a student extern, and that it was misleading for her to claim to have “worked” there.
Meyer explained yesterday that she referred to her unit as “a Special Victims Unit” in order to make it clear what she does—prosecuting defendants accused of sexual assault, child molestation, kidnapping, and serious crimes of domestic violence.
She said she had never seen the television program referred to by the committee, “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” which deals with a fictional police unit that solves violent sex crimes, and that in any event “I don’t see how this misleads the voters” if it accurately conveys the nature of her assignment.
She also defended her use of the word “worked” to describe what she did at the strike force, saying she spent 12 hours a day at the position and that many people do pro bono or volunteer work for which they receive no compensation.
She noted that neither Friedenthal nor anyone else challenged the candidate statement during the public inspection period, when any voter could have brought a legal challenge.
Friedenthal told the MetNews that the County Bar committee was an appropriate forum in which to bring a challenge, and that doing so was preferable to spending money on a writ proceeding.
He said he had been voting in judicial races for 30 years, “and as a voter I have a right to expect that the statements made in a ballot statement are truthful” without his having to file a lawsuit. There was, he said, no doubt in his mind that Meyer’s statements were “calculated to mislead the voters.”
“I have no animus toward Judith Levey Meyer. I just want a level playing field.”
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company