Friday, August 20, 2004
Court Asked to Block Use of ‘Judge’ in Candidate Statement
Commissioner Donna Groman’s Assertion She Performs Work of a Judge Is Challenged
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
A commissioner running for Los Angeles Superior Court judge should be barred from twice using the word “judge” in her candidate statement, a lawyer for a friend of her opponent said yesterday.
Veteran election law litigator Bradley W. Hertz of the downtown firm Reed & Davidson said he filed suit Monday seeking changes in the candidate statement Superior Court Commissioner Donna Groman has submitted for inclusion in materials mailed to voters in the Nov. 2 election. Hertz represents Darlene M. Dameron, a voter whom he described as a “friend” of Groman’s runoff opponent, Deputy District Attorney Judith Levey Meyer.
The matter is set for a hearing Sept. 7 before Judge Dzintra Janavs, Hertz said.
The second paragraph of Groman’s candidate statement declares:
“Superior Court Commissioner Donna Groman is the only candidate performing the work of a full-time judge, currently presiding over a criminal courtroom.”
The following paragraph says Groman is “recognized as a strict and fair judge.”
Both references must be changed, Hertz asserted.
Though Hertz conceded that the primary case cited in his petition for writ of mandate—Luke v. Superior Court (1988) 199 Cal.App.3d 1360—involved a ballot designation, not a candidate statement, the attorney said he was “arguing by extension” that a similar limitation should apply. In Luke, this district’s Court of Appeal barred a commissioner from using the ballot designation “Judge, Los Angeles County (Acting),” ruling it was misleading.
“She’s trying to really stretch her commissioner position by bolding the term judge and twice referring to the word judge,” Hertz said. The work Groman does differs in several ways from the duties a judge performs, the attorney pointed out, noting that a commissioner can hear matters only by stipulation of the parties.
In papers supporting the writ petition, Hertz also argues that by calling herself the “only” candidate doing the work of a judge Groman is impermissibly commenting on the Meyer’s qualifications in violation of Elections Code Sec. 13308.
“By calling yourself the ‘only’ of something you’re referring to your opponent as not being that,” Hertz explained, though he added that the argument based on Sec. 13308 was “just an alternate rationale” for striking Groman’s first use of the word “judge.”
In his court papers, Hertz cited Clark v. Burleigh (1992) 4 Cal.4th 474 in connection with the Sec. 13308 contention. That case upheld the constitutionality of a predecessor code section, which was found to have been violated by a Monterey Municipal Court judge running for the Superior Court who made multiple specific references to the incumbent by name and criticized his performance in office in his candidate statement.
The writ petition asks that Groman’s candidate statement be modified to read that she “performs the work of a full-time commissioner” and that she “is recognized as strict and fair.” Hertz described that as the “narrowest way possible” in which the statement could be changed to meet his objections.
In a declaration filed on behalf of the county registrar, Election Preparation Division Manager Priscilla Smith said Sept. 9 would be the last day on which “clerical or other changes to the text of the ballot” could be made. Ballot materials are scheduled to go to the printer on Sept. 11, Smith declared.
Hertz declined to say whether Meyer’s campaign is paying for the litigation.
Stephen J. Kaufman of Smith Kaufman, who represents Groman, said the candidate statement “not only accurately describes the work that Ms. Groman does as a commissioner, but she has in fact been appointed as a temporary judge by the court.”
“The arguments that we will present to the court will establish that Ms. Groman is absolutely entitled to make the statements that are contained in her candidate statement and will refute the arguments put forth by plaintiff’s counsel in their moving papers.”
He noted that his response brief is not due until Aug. 27.
Meyer and Groman were the top finishers in a field of five candidates seeking to succeed Judge James Wright in the March 2 primary. Meyer got just over 247,000 votes, or 32.6 percent, while Groman received just under 221,000, or 29 percent.
Runoffs are also slated in four other races.
Superior Court Referee Mildred Escobedo and Deputy District Attorney Patrick David Campbell will compete 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, Deputy District Attorney Laura Priver and Workers’ Compensation Judge John Gutierrez for the seat from which Judge Nancy Brown retired, and Superior Court Referee Daniel Zeke Zeidler faces Deputy District Attorney David Lopez for the right to succeed Judge Rosemary Shumsky.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company