Change in LACBA Judicial Ratings Report Draws Fire
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The decision of a County Bar panel to exclude from its final report its specific reasons for rating eight candidates “not qualified” has drawn fire from two of them.
Deputy District Attorney Edward Nison and Department of Industrial Relations lawyer P. Michael Erwin took issue Friday with panel chairman Gerald Chaleff’s contention that the new procedure was “fairer” to the candidates who got the lowest ratings.
Chaleff said the change was made out of concern that the specific reasons provided in the past were subject to misinterpretation.
“I felt it was fairer to do it this way,” Chaleff, who heads Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Judicial Elections Evaluation Committee, said.
Chaleff noted that candidates rated “not qualified” still receive a letter citing specific shortcomings. But he said the committee decided not to include the specifics in their report to the public.
“People can read into the language that we were using in the past things that may or may not be true,” Chaleff said.
Erwin, who is one of five candidates seeking to succeed Judge James Wright, countered that the new procedure does little to address that problem. The language in the committee’s report could lead to speculation that candidates were downgraded for “less savory reasons” than was actually the case, Erwin said.
“Yes, it is less fair,” he declared.
Both candidates also voiced other criticisms of the process.
“I hope they’re not too embarrassed when it turns out I am able to excel as a superior court judge,” Erwin commented, adding:
“If I knew then what I know now I wouldn’t have participated.”
Nison said the reservations expressed to him about his qualifications were vague, making it difficult for him to address them. He also complained that the committee failed to give him advance noticeóas required under its rulesóof the concerns which led to his “not qualified” rating, and that the subcommittee which evaluated him had a different membership from the subcommittee that evaluated his opponents.
Chaleff said the committee might reconsider the issue of specificity in preparing future reports, adding that he thought the committee “did a great job” of reviewing 36 candidates for nine judicial offices in the short period of time available before the March 2 primary.
“We came up with fair and just results,” he said.
Chaleff conceded that the proportion of candidates rated “not qualified” was greater this year than in 2002—about 22 percent, as opposed to just under 10 percent—but declined to attribute any significance to the statistic.
“That’s probably something that goes up and goes down depending on who decides to run and what their reasons are for running,” he said.
In this year’s report, “not qualified” ratings were explained only as reflecting “the committee’s opinion that these candidates do not adequately possess one or more of the following attributes necessary to perform the judicial function satisfactorily.” The report continued by listing the factors it considers, under its rules, in evaluating judicial candidates.
Those factors are: integrity and character; judgment and intellectual capacity; fairness; experience; industry and diligence; judicial temperament, including whether the candidate would be courteous and considerate of counsel, parties, witnesses and jurors, and whether the candidate is even-tempered; professional ability and knowledge of the law; absence of health problems that affect the ability to serve as a judge; and positive professional reputation in the community.
In the last election cycle two of 21 candidates were rated “not qualified.” The committee’s report declared that one of them he was “evaluated as ‘Not Qualified’ because in the committee’s opinion at this time he does not possess the depth of professional experience indicative of fitness or superior fitness to perform the judicial function with a high degree of skill and effectiveness.”
The report said the other was “evaluated as ‘Not Qualified’ because in the committee’s opinion at this time there are questions pertaining to his integrity and character, and he does not possess the depth and breadth of professional experience indicative of fitness or superior fitness to perform the judicial function with a high degree of skill and effectiveness.”
The committee also departed from past procedure this year in attaching asterisks to two of its “well qualified” ratings, noting that the candidates were themselves members of the committee during the last election cycle.
Chaleff said that was done in the interest of “full disclosure,” and was not intended to be understood as creating a new ratings category.
Neither of the candidates involved criticized the panel’s decision.
Deputy District Attorney Daniel Feldstern, who is one of four candidates seeking to replace Judge Marcus Tucker, said the committee was just “being accurate.”
Deputy District Attorney Judith L. Meyer, who is running for the seat being vacated by Wright, commented:
“I trust Jerry Chaleff. I’m not going to second guess his position on this.”
Both pointed out that there has been substantial turnover in the committee since the 2002 elections. Only 16 of the committee’s 45 members are holdovers.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company