Thursday, May 11, 2006
State Bar Should Publicly Rebuke Montgomery, Mack, Kraft
The State Bar has within its powers an untapped means of deterring lies in judicial elections.
Rule 1-700 was added to the Code of Professional Conduct on Nov. 21, 1997. Under it, lawyers who enter judicial contests are bound, like judges, by the requirements of Canon 5 of the Code of Judicial Ethics. That canon provides, in part, that a judicial candidate shall not “knowingly, or with reckless disregard for the truth, misrepresent the identity, qualifications, present position, or any other fact concerning the candidate or his or her opponent.”
We are unaware of any discipline ever having been meted out under that rule.
This year, violations of the rule are occurring in Los Angeles County judicial races, as they have with frequency in the past. Imposition by the State Bar of public discipline on candidates who have violated the rule this year would be an incentive to candidates in future elections to stick to the truth.
Yesterday we endorsed Deputy District Attorney Hayden Zacky for Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 102. Each of his two opponents, George C. Montgomery and C. Edward Mack, has falsified his own qualifications. Last week, we endorsed Assistant City Attorney Susan L. Lopez-Giss. Her opponent, Richard Kraft, has claimed credit for originating a program she pioneered years before.
•George C. Montgomery has chosen the ballot designation “Trial Lawyer/Teacher.” Under Elections Code §13107, his designation must depict “either the current principal professions, vocations, or occupations of the candidate, or the principal professions, vocations, or occupations of the candidate during the calendar year immediately.”
Montgomery is a lawyer—but he is not a trial lawyer. He’s handled one bench trial in the past year. He does not try cases in courtrooms for a living.
Some might dismiss Montgomery’s use of the term “trial lawyer” as merely being imprecise. However, there’s no way to explain away the deceptiveness of his claim to being a “teacher.” In no way can he legitimately claim to be a member of the teaching profession. Lamely, he seeks to justify the use of that designation on the basis of occasionally giving advice to young lawyers and sometimes (he doesn’t state how often) charging them.
It cannot be doubted that in claiming teaching to be one of his principal professions when he is not a member of that profession and where the mentoring does not even approach being a “principal” activity, Montgomery is seeking to deceive voters. He is “knowingly, or with reckless disregard for the truth, misrepresent[ing] the…qualifications” he has for judicial office, in violation of rule 1-700. That breach should trigger public discipline by the State Bar if that body does, indeed, take seriously its duty to enforce the rule.
•C. Edward Mack is a deputy public defender who is described on the ballot as being an “Attorney/Counselor.” It’s not his designation that should attract State Bar discipline, but a claim he makes. As posted by him on the website of the League of Women Voters:
“Edward C. Mack [sic] has the following qualifications:
“•Five years of civil experience.
“•Fifteen years of criminal experience as a Los Angeles County Public Defender.”
Mack also contended:
“Clerked for the presiding judges of the Los Angeles Municipal Court from December 1985 to September 1990.”
What conclusion would anyone draw as to his experience? That he’s been in law practice for 20 years, the first five spent as a law clerk to judges, the past 15 years in criminal. To many, experience in both civil and criminal law is a definite plus for a judicial candidate or applicant.
But Mack, who was not admitted to practice until July 5, 1989, does not have the background he implies. Included in the “[f]ive years of civil experience” are three-and-a-half years as a deputy court clerk, not a law clerk, as he intimates.
His employment in the Clerk’s Office was “civil” and it was a work “experience.” Yet, unmistakably, Mack’s intent was to create the impression—one which would indeed inevitably be drawn—that he had five years experience as a lawyer in civil law.
Mack made the same bogus claim in campaign literature and in an interview with this newspaper.
The candidate obviously knows that he was not in civil practice for five years and knows that his words were aimed at creating the impression that he was.
In light of rule 1-700, the State Bar should not countenance such trickery.
•Richard Kraft is a deputy Los Angeles city attorney, billed on the ballot as a “criminal prosecutor.” On his website, he boasts:
“Started 1st Domestic Violence Prosecution Team for City.”
When Kraft first uttered that claim, he might well have been oblivious to the origination of such a program in 1978 by his opponent. However, he has since learned that his was not the “1st,” that his claim is false. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Burt Pines, who was city attorney in 1978, corroborates Lopez-Giss’s contention.
Obdurately, Kraft declines to remove the falsehood from his website, and continues to spread it in his campaign.
He thus misrepresents a fact concerning himself, and by inference a fact concerning his opponent. His violation of rule 1-700 is blatant.
The State Bar should act.
There is not enough time to do so before June 6 and, in any event, imposition of discipline on a candidate while a contest is in progress could well be perceived as an effort to interfere with an election. The State Bar should never even appear to be engaged in political partisanship.
By the same token, it should not appear to be, or be, derelict in its responsibility to take action where lawyers in judicial elections violate rule 1-700.
As we see it, Montgomery, Mack, and Kraft clearly have violated that rule and, when the dust settles and the election results are in, each should incur public State Bar discipline.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company