Thursday, March 4, 2004
Four Judges Cruise to Victory, Five Open Seats Go to Runoffs
Women, Hispanics, Prosecutors Show Strength in Superior Court Races
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
All four challenged incumbents easily won re-election to the Los Angeles Superior Court yesterday, while contests for five open seats headed for runoffs.
Judges Dan Thomas Oki and David Wesley each polled better than 55 percent of the vote in four-way contests, while Judge Richard Van Dusen defeated his sole challenger by better than 3 to 1.
The fourth judge on the ballot, Judge Chesley McKay Jr., illustrated the value of incumbency by defeating opponent Stella Owens-Murrell by a 3 to 2 margin, even though Owens-Murrell had a string of newspaper endorsements, including that of the Los Angeles Times, and McKay did not campaign.
McKay has been off the bench for six months and has applied for disability retirement. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will appoint his replacement if the application is granted.
Candidates who will compete in runoffs Nov. 2 include Superior Court Referee Mildred Escobedo and Deputy District Attorney Patrick David Campbell for the seat now held by Judge Marcus Tucker, Deputy Attorney General/Glendale City Councilman Gus Gomez and Deputy District Attorney Lori Jones for the seat of Judge Richard Hubbell, and Deputy District Attorney Laura Priver and Workers’ Compensation Judge John Gutierrez for the seat from which Judge Nancy Brown recently retired.
Also, Superior Court Referee Daniel Zeke Zeidler faces Deputy District Attorney David Lopez for the right to succeed Judge Rosemary Shumsky, while either Deputy District Attorney Judith L. Meyer or Superior Court Commissioner will be elected to succeed Judge James Wright.
Consultants for Wesley and Oki said the results vindicated the incumbents, who were vilified by some prosecutors and victims’ groups who claimed the two had endangered public safety by releasing certain defendants who could not be arraigned by court closing time after last year’s Memorial Day weekend.
Oki, then supervising criminal courts judge, said the action was necessary for budget reasons, and that he anticipated that the defendants would be re-arrested immediately rather than allowed to go free. Wesley, the assistant supervising judge at the time and now the supervising judge, was targeted because it was he who delivered Oki’s directive to the commissioner sitting in the arraignment court.
Hal Dash of Cerrell Associates, the consulting firm retained by Wesley, said the judge’s victory was the “most satisfying result of the evening,” although all three of the firm’s local judicial candidates—Wesley, Zeidler, and Meyer—finished first in their races. The firm also did work for Santa Barbara Superior Court candidate James Rigali, a trial lawyer who finished first in his race and is headed for a runoff against a local prosecutor.
The campaign against Wesley, Dash said, was “totally misdirected.” Dash said he was pleased that Wesley attracted strong financial support, much of it from fellow judges as well as lawyers, predicting that the judge’s total spending will reach close to $180,000 when all the bills are in.
Oki and Wesley’s chief antagonist, Association of Deputy District Attorneys President Steven Ipsen, could not be reached for comment. Fred Huebscher, who ran Oki’s campaign, said that Ipsen and his ADDA colleagues had lost credibility.
“Do you think it’s going to help them that they caused all this grief to these two guys?” he asked rhetorically.
Dash and Huebscher both said the races came out about as they expected, although Dash said Los Angeles Police Dept. Sgt. Kevin Burke did better than he expected, finishing second with about 20 percent of the vote. Dash attributed that to Burke’s having a candidate statement in the ballot pamphlet, “even though it was written in fourth grade English,” the consultant said.
The victories of the other incumbents were also expected, Huebscher said. He ran the campaign of Van Dusen, who defeated civil attorney Daniel K. Dik.
As for the open seat contests, Dash and Huebscher both noted the strong showings by prosecutors, women, and candidates with Spanish surnames, a continuation of trends appearing in past elections, although one candidate fitting all three categories, Deputy District Attorney Carol Najera, lost out to Meyer and Groman.
Najera may have been handicapped by a lack of fundraising and endorsements, a “not qualified” rating by the County Bar, and the fact that there were two other women and two other candidates with the designation “Deputy District Attorney” or “Criminal Prosecutor” in the race, Huebscher suggested.
Huebscher did not have a candidate in that race. Besides Oki and Van Dusen, he represented Jones, Campbell, Priver, and Deputy Attorney General Bob Henry.
Both Huebscher and Dash commented that the Los Angeles Times endorsement seemed to possess far less impact than in the past.
Two years ago, every Times-endorsed candidate finished first in the primary.
This time, the Times backed Oki, Wesley, and Van Dusen, but also supported Owens-Murrell. And none of their choices for open seats finished first—Groman and Priver both trailed the frontrunners, while Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Gootman finished behind Gomez and Jones; Deputy District Attorney Craig Mitchell finished behind Zeidler, Lopez, and Henry; and Deputy District Attorney Daniel Feldstern trailed Escobedo and Campbell.
Janet Clayton, who edits the Times editorial pages, suggested that the paper’s endorsements might have meant less this time because they did not come out until a week before the election.
“By then, many people may have already voted absentee,” Clayton told the MetNews in an e-mail message. “We had to wait until we were finished interviewing a large number of candidates, and we wanted to consider the ratings from the LA County Bar, which also weren’t complete until recently.”
There was one unopposed candidate on the ballot. Judge William Pounders had to run because a petition filed by 100 registered voters was filed within 10 days after qualifying closed, requesting an opportunity for write-in votes.
Pounders got more than 500,000 votes. The total for write-in candidate Marguerite “Marge” Buckley won’t be known for several days, but is not expected to be significant.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company