Monday, February 6, 2006
Northridge Practitioner, Prosecutor Plan Bids for Superior Court Open Seats
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A Northridge civil litigator and a deputy district attorney said Friday they plan to run for open seats on the Los Angeles Superior Court.
John W. Hurney, a sole practitioner, said he plans to run for the Los Angeles Superior Court seat being vacated by Judge Thomas A. Peterson, who is slated to retire March 3. Deputy District Attorney David Stuart said he is keeping his options open and took out papers Friday to run for five different seats.
Election laws allow candidates to pull papers for multiple seats, but once nomination documents are returned for a specific race, the candidate cannot remove his or her name or shift to another race.
Hurney, 39, said he does not plan to accept financial contributions or buy newspaper advertising.
“If it happens, it happens,” Hurney said of his prospects in the June 6 primary balloting. “If it doesn’t, maybe next time.”
Hurney said he learned of the potential open seat from a story published in the MetNews Jan. 20. He filed signature-gathering papers with the county registrar of voters Wednesday.
Hurney said he also heard rumors after filing his paperwork that Peterson might change his mind and seek re-election. If so, the attorney said, he will run for a different seat or abandon his planned candidacy.
“I might look for another one or I might not, but I won’t run against a sitting judge,” Hurney explained.
Peterson is one of four judges who are scheduled to retire during the candidate qualification period, which begins Feb. 13 and ends March 10, but would be automatically extended for five days for other candidates for any seat for which an incumbent judge does not file. The others are Judges Ruth Essegian, Michael E. Knight and Richard G. Kolostian.
For each of those seats, if a candidate qualifies before the governor makes an appointment to fill the resulting vacancy—by either paying a $1,491 filing fee or collecting 5,967 signatures of qualified voters and by filing a candidate’s oath and other nominating documents—then the seat will be filled by election. But a gubernatorial appointee, if there is one, could run as an incumbent.
Should the governor make an appointment before any candidate for a particular seat qualifies, no election would take place.
In addition to the four judges who plan to retire, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles G. Rubin told the MetNews last month he is “almost certain” he will not seek re-election.
Hurney is a 1992 graduate of Pepperdine University’s School of Law. He told the MetNews his class was the first to have to opportunity to earn, along with a law degree, a certificate from the school’s Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution.
He now teaches at the institute, he said, noting that it now offers LL.M. and Master of Dispute Resolution degrees as well as the certificate he earned.
Hurney said his background in civil litigation and dispute resolution—he noted he also serves on an arbitration panel for the San Bernardino Superior Court—would serve him well if he became a judge.
“I think the bench could use some attorneys coming from the civil background as opposed to the criminal background,” he said. “I don’t feel that there’s many of those judges out there.”
His litigation practice has been on the defense side, Hurney said, pointing out that in addition to his own practice he has large-firm experience with Kirtland & Packard, which at the time he worked there had more than 100 attorneys.
“I’m no stranger to the courtroom, but I have not had any jury trials,” the lawyer said. “I’m not embarrassed by it. The wave of the future is alternative dispute resolution. We don’t have enough courtrooms in the county to have every case that’s filed go to trial.”
He added that the Superior Court has some judges “who forget what it’s like to practice law.”
Hurney said he is not currently a member of the Los Angeles County Bar Association—an organization whose ratings of judicial candidates are considered influential by some—but has been in the past, and is not active in other bar groups. He is, he said, a member of the Pepperdine University Alumni Association Board.
“I don’t think bar activity has anything to do with how good a judge is going to be,” he commented.
Asked how he planned to campaign for the job, Hurney said he is “just going to do grass roots,” adding he might put up a Web site. He noted that he was a founding member of the North Hills West Neighborhood Council.
Hurney earned his undergraduate degree at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H.
He said that if the governor names someone to replace Peterson after he or another candidate has already qualified, he will likely defer to the governor’s choice—though if Hurney is the candidate who has qualified, he would not be able to avoid having his name appear on the ballot.
Nominating petitions are due Feb. 23.
Stuart, 40, said he had taken out papers for the seats now held by Knight, Kolostian, Essegian, Rubin and Judge Marion Johnson.
Johnson, 72, has been away from the court recently due to illness, and sources said they do not expect him to run. Stuart is the first potential candidate to take out papers for that seat.
This would be the second judicial race for Stuart, who ran in the old Los Angeles Municipal Court District in 2000, the last time judges were elected by district. Another prosecutor, David Mintz, finished first in that race—Stuart ran fourth—and won the seat in a runoff with attorney Vicki Roberts.
Stuart spent about $50,000 in that race, most of it from his own funds and from family and friends. He said he is prepared to put $100,000 of his own money into the contest this time.
Stuart received his undergraduate degree from California State University at Northridge and his law degree from Loyola. He graduated law school in June 1993 and worked as a research attorney for U.S. District Judge Manuel Real of the Central District of California from August 1993 to August 1994. He was in private practice from September 1994 until he joined the District Attorney’s Office in March 1995.
He is currently assigned to a felony trial court in Van Nuys. “After 11 years as a prosecutor, I hope to continue my public service on the bench,” he said Friday.
Five other non-incumbents have taken out signature-in-lieu papers for various judicial seats.
Richard A. Nixon of North Hills took out papers for the seats now held by Knight, Kolostian, and Judges John P. Farrell, Burt Pines, and Melvin Sandvig.
Encino attorney Stephen M. Feldman took out papers to run for the Knight seat, while Robert Davenport of Los Angeles and Deputy Public Defender C. Edward Mack took out papers for Kolostian’s seat.
Davenport also took out papers to run for Judge John Reid’s seat, but said he did so only because he had heard a rumor that Reid would not run. Reid said he intends to run.
Woodland Hills lawyer Stephen H. Beecher took out papers to run against Judge Mary Ann Murphy, but said he did so only because he believed she was not seeking re-election. He said he will run for Essegian’s seat instead, and has taken out papers for that contest.
Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney Daniel Lowenthal has not taken out petitions but said he intends to run for an open seat. Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioners Bobbi Tillmon and Alan Friedenthal are also moving towards possible candidacies.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company