Friday, June 9, 2006
Colleagues Bemoan Janavs’ Defeat, Want Governor to Appoint Her
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court judges yesterday bemoaned the election defeat of longtime colleague Dzintra Janavs, with some calling on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to appoint her to a vacant seat.
The governor “is in a position to rectify the very real wrong that has taken place, in that he holds the power to reappoint...Janavs to the Los Angeles Superior Court, and I urge him to do so,” Judge Abe Khan told the MetNews.
Janavs lost on Tuesday to Lynn Olson, who left law practice more than 12 years ago to concentrate on private business, including a Manhattan Beach bagel bakery she operates with her husband, Hermosa Beach Councilman Michael Keegan.
Khan noted that he was in a similar situation 14 years ago, when he lost his seat on the old Citrus Municipal Court to a political unknown, Patrick Murphy, who later resigned from the bench while on the verge of removal for abandoning his judicial duties for over four years.
Many observers attributed Khan’s defeat to his surname, and some suggested that the judge may have caused unnecessary difficulty for himself by running under his full name, Abraham Aponte Khan.
Khan later returned to the bench as a commissioner, then was unopposed for election to the Los Angeles Municipal Court before being elevated to the Superior Court.
In his comments yesterday, he bemoaned the defeat of “a distinguished jurist” at the hands of “a misguided and misinformed electorate.”
A spokeswoman for the governor did not rule out a Janavs appointment.
While the Governor’s Office “does not comment on hypothetical situations,” Sabrina Demayo Lockhart said, it had been made aware of the election result. The governor, she said, applies the same standard to every judicial appointment decision—”who is most qualified to serve the people of California.”
Presiding Judge William MacLaughlin said that he speaks to the Governor’s Office regularly about judicial appointments, but did not want to go into the specifics of any particular decision. If Janavs were to apply, however, “I think she would get serious consideration because she is a seriously qualified candidate with widespread support throughout the entire court.”
Several of Janavs’ colleagues voiced great upset, not only at the end of her tenure, but at the process that brought it about.
Judge Elizabeth A. Grimes called the election outcome a “nightmare from which I kept trying to wake up.”
“I was revolted by the outcome in the literal sense of that word: I felt physically ill when I first saw the election returns in the newspaper and continue to feel sick whenever I think about it. Judge Janavs is one of the best judges on our court. She is widely respected for her fairness, intelligence, dignity, and conscientious attention to the most unrelentingly demanding assignment on the court. There is no doubt in my mind that she was targeted for a challenge solely because of her name. To know that the judicial election process can be so manipulated and distorted by a candidate who has been rated unqualified by her peers is deeply disturbing to me as a citizen.”
‘Exceptionally Well Qualified’
The Los Angeles County Bar Association’s evaluating panel gave Janavs its highest possible rating, “exceptionally well qualified,” and rated Olson “not qualified” after she declined to meet with the committee.
LACBA President Edith Matthai said she was “disappointed that it is so difficult to educate the voters about the judicial candidates,” noting that it was “very difficult to get this information to the majority of voters.” The bar, she said, is looking for solutions to this problem with the hope that we can contribute to a better education of the voters in future elections.”
Judge Richard Neidorf suggested that the law be changed so that County Bar ratings would appear next to the judge’s names.
Sheldon Sloan, a former LACBA president who serves on the State Bar Board of Governors and is active in Republican circles, suggested that LACBA “needs to consider a mailing or some other way to get their ratings before the public than a simple ‘press release,’” adding:
“I, like many others, hope that the Governor will rectify this mistake by the voters and appoint Judge Janavs back to the court as quickly as possible, at least before her term expires in January.”
Judge Joseph DiLoreto expressed some sympathy for the successful challenger.
“We have a system of justice that calls for the election of judges every six years,” he said. “For better or worse, thats what we have. In any system the one who gets the most votes, barring fraud, wins. Judge-Elect Olson is the winner and I for one am not going to look behind her motives. Being a judge is a coveted job, which only 5% of the applicants who apply are ever appointed, so if you cannot get an appointment your only avenue to the judiciary is by way of election. Lets wish both judges well.”
Judge Lance Ito, who planned for an expected election challenge that never came after presiding over the O.J. Simpson criminal trial 11 years ago, noted that he moderated a panel on judicial elections at last year’s California Judges Association meeting. That panel included both Fred Huebscher, Olson’s campaign adviser, and Hal Dash of Cerrell Associates, which handled the Janavs campaign.
“We may get more attendees next time around,” Ito speculated.
More than 30 judges responded to a MetNews request for comments on the election. Some of their responses:
“It is frustrating as a bench officer to see an incumbent who is...admired by her fellow bench officers for her intelligence and demeanor defeated in what appears to be a simple battle of the dollars.”—Judge Elizabeth A. White.
“The defeat of Judge Janavs is great loss to our court. There must be a better way of handling judicial elections than letting offices go to the highest bidder as appears to be the case here.”—Judge Marjorie S. Steinberg.
“The tragic defeat of Judge Dzintra Janavs should be a clarion call for judicial electoral reform in California....Judicial elections, with its corrupting influence on judicial independence, is outmoded. Before the advent of the Commission on Judicial Performance, the only manner in which wayward jurists could be removed was by means of the electorate. Now with the Commission active in disciplinary matters, it would seem that the only policies supporting judicial elections are either improper attempts to intimidate bench officers, or special interest groups lobbying for decisions based on influence rather than the merits, or bigotry, based upon the name of an incumbent judge or his or her racial, ethnic, religious or gender background....I would humbly suggest the following reform: Jurists appointed to the bench in California should be given lifetime tenure subject to (1) disciplinary action by the Commission of Judicial Performance and (2) recall by the voters.”—Retired Judge Howard Schwab.
”We are in mourning. We have lost one of our finest.”—Judge Mary Ann Murphy.
“The legal profession as a whole needs to take a deep breath and think about the manner in which Judge Janavs has been treated and the impact this has on the entire system of justice to which both lawyers and judges have dedicated their professional lives.”—Assistant Presiding Judge J. Stephen Czuleger.
“The skill, experience, and grace of Judge Janavs are simply irreplaceable. We are all most distressed by losing on of the best judges on our court. She is a wonderful judge, and wonderful person.”—Judge Charles Horan.
“She is a very smart, able, skillful, and hardworking judge who has made some of the most difficult decisions to come down road. Above all, she is a very nice and classy lady. Here’s hoping that the governor will re-appoint Dzintra Janavs to our bench!”—Judge Robert J. Higa.
“Judge Janavs is brilliant and an outstanding judge. She supervised as first assistant Chief of the Civil Division of the United States Attorneys’ Office so many former assistant U. S. attorneys who are now judges, such as Judges Kathy Stoltz, Fumi Wasserman, Steve Peterson, George Wu, Mary Ann Murphy, and myself....She should continue to serve on our court and I hope that the governor will re-appoint her to our bench.”—Judge Shari K. Silver.
“Judge Janavs is among our finest and it is a tragedy to see her lose the election, maybe it is time for the Legislature to reconsider retention elections for trial courts as they do for the loftier positions.”—Judge Victor Chavez.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company