Thursday, October 26, 2006
Los Angeles Times’ Coverage of Judicial Races Is Lacking
The Los Angeles Times’ news coverage of judicial election contests is traditionally meager—and this year is no exception. Its summary yesterday of the four races on the Nov. 7 ballot was, well, unedifying.
The article was comprised of 916 words, plus a box in which the eight contenders were listed, with their official ballot designations. It focused cursorily on only one race—the one between private practitioner George Montgomery and Deputy District Attorney Hayden Zacky. A reader would inevitably conclude from the piece that Montgomery, in being socked by the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. with a “not qualified” rating, was the victim of age discrimination.
Montgomery is 74. That factor most certainly does not render him unqualified for a judgeship. His lack of integrity does. LACBA’s Judicial Elections Evaluation Committee undoubtedly discerned that the cagey Montgomery will not give straight answers to straight questions, that his ballot designation in the primary which included the word “teacher” was bogus—he tried to justify it by saying he sometimes gives advice to young lawyers—and that his vague claims of having been an FBI and CIA operative were unconvincing. The committee was surely also aware that his law practice has substantially dwindled.
None of the true negatives about Montgomery were reflected in the superficial Times piece...only his baseless whimpering about age discrimination.
None of the negatives or positives about any of the candidates was reflected. The only two who were mentioned within the article were Zacky—the reader is told that he “comes from a family with ties to the well-known brand of chicken”—and Deputy District Attorney David Stuart who is quoted as saying that to win a judicial race, it’s essential to be listed on slate mailers.
The headline on the story read, “Politics creeps into judge races.” The article observed that “some say” that judicial races “are becoming more political.”
The theme was undeveloped. “Some” would also say that partisan politics is creeping in. Janis Barquist—Stuart’s opponent—is banking on Democratic Party support. Endorsements of her listed on the League of Women Voters’ website include those of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and 26 local Democratic clubs, along with Americans for Democratic Action and scads of labor unions. No Republican clubs are listed, though Stuart is also a Democrat so that Barquist could, conceivably, have bagged some GOP support (just as Democrat Bob Henry has in his race against fellow Democrat Deborah Sanchez).
Two years ago, Democratic organizations were mobilized in support of Donna Groman’s successful bid for the Superior Court, and orchestrating the campaign was Evelyn Jerome, who this year is steering Barquist’s effort.
Yet, the Times’ story, which raising the subject of the politicizing of judicial contests, did not touch on the emergence of partisan political campaigning in supposedly nonpartisan judicial races.
The composition of the bench in our county matters—it matters a great deal. The lives of many are much affected by the outcome of controversies in courtrooms. To state the obvious, the more knowledgeable and skillful a judge is, the greater will be the prospect that justice will prevail.
We regret that the lay public is entrusted with biannual determinations in judicial contests, the folly of our system being reflected by the election in June of the “Bagel Lady,” Lynn Olson, over incumbent Dzintra Janavs. But given that the lay electorate does have decision-making powers in judicial races, it would be hoped that the newspaper with the largest circulation in the county would provide voters with concrete, meaningful information about the candidates.
While the Times did, in the primary, provide an editorial with insightful endorsements, its news coverage of the judicial races has been scant. The token summing up in yesterday’s edition was pathetically inadequate.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company