Monday, May 15, 2006
JUDICIAL ELECTIONS: Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 18
Six Candidates Battle It Out for Open Seat
With six candidates in the race for Office No. 18, two propositions appear to be near-certainties:
•That no candidate will win the seat in the June 6 primary; and
•That Deputy District Attorney Daviann Mitchell, as the only woman in the race, will be one of the contestants in the run-off.
“If I were handicapping the race,” candidate Richard Loomis, a deputy Los Angeles city attorney, said Friday, “that’s how I would handicap it.”
Mitchell said Friday that she would anticipate being in a run-off with Workers Compensation Judge John Gutierrez—an expectation others share. A Hispanic surname, once a political detriment, now means extra points for the candidate, and the word “Judge” in the ballot designation is a definite advantage.
Others in the race include a man arrested for fraud in 2003 and a candidate who is apparently relying on the similarity of his name to that of a deceased president of the United States.
DAVIANN L. MITCHELL
Deputy District Attorney Has Been Police Officer, Is Breeder of Rottweilers
Daviann Mitchell has served as a judge.
She did not wear a black robe while doing so, however.
She was a judge on three or four occasions in the East, and thrice here in California—in dog shows.
For the past 25 years, Mitchell has been breeding and showing Rottweilers. In 2003, she handled a Rottweiler—the son of one she owned—who was named Best of Breed at the American Kennel Club’s Westminster Show in Madison Square Garden.
Mitchell, a deputy Los Angeles district attorney since 1994, bemoaned practices in the breeding of Rottweilers such as “breeding dogs that are unhealthy, breeding dogs that are mentally unsound…, putting dogs in homes where they don’t belong where people can’t properly care for them, and just pumping out dogs to make money.”
This does segue into why Mitchell wants to be a judge of another kind…one who sits on the Superior Court. She said:
“There’s so much unethical behavior going on in dog breeding with Rottweilers, and there are so many problems. For me, the integrity is so important, and that is just me. And that’s what I think about why I want to be a judge. That’s what I think about—just doing the right things for the right reasons, and it doesn’t always make everybody happy, it doesn’t always make your friends happy, but you just gotta do it.”
Judges of the Los Angeles Superior Court who do the right things in her book include David Wesley, William Pounders, Ann Jones, Michael Pastor, and Trish Bigelow.
“They treat everybody the same, they’re fair, they’re honest, their decisions are based on the law, and not off the cuff, they treat everybody appropriately,”she said.
The candidate vowed that if she does become a judge, she will pattern herself after those jurists, and not judges who are “short tempered, unwilling to be open-minded, not allowing the attorneys to both have their piece…, [and] disregard the defendant as if he’s a non-entity in the whole matter….”
Mitchell was a police officer in Sacramento (being retired based on an injury, a torn ligament in her left foot) prior to attending Southwestern University School of Law. She served as a law clerk to the chief justice of Nevada after graduating from there in 1992, and spent a short time practicing civil law in Los Angeles prior to going to work as a prosecutor in 1994. Becoming a judge, she said, is “just the next step for me.”
She’s applied for appointment to the bench by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and, Mitchell said, the application is pending. So was her application to Gov. Gray Davis at the time he was recalled, she disclosed.
She said she her name was sent to the State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation, and she was interviewed by two of the commissioners. Prior to interviews, the commissioners are required to apprise a candidate of any “negatives” brought to their attention by persons responding to a questionnaire. Mitchell declined to say what the negatives were which she faced.
“They asked to have that remain confidential, and I’ll respect that,” she said.
Rules as to confidentiality are binding upon the members of the commission, but not the applicants.
Two Bar Complaints
She did disclose, however, in response to a question, that two complaints had been made about her to the State Bar in about 1995 when she was a “baby DA.”
Mitchell noted that “there was no misconduct found and I received no discipline,”
The complainant both times was the defense attorney, Eugene Osko, practicing in what was then the Citrus Municipal Court, of which he had been a judge (a considerably controversial one) some years earlier. As Mitchell recounted it, Osko maintained that she had committed prosecutorial misconduct, alleging that “I was disrespectful to the court and insisted on getting a fair trial.”
In one of the instances, she said, Osko made a motion for a new trial based on prosecutorial misconduct which was denied, and there was a reversal. In the other case, she recounted, the conviction stood.
That case involved domestic violence, the first type of case Mitchell handled. She went on to handle sex crimes, then back to domestic violence, and is now prosecuting hardcore gang cases.
Mitchell has a campaign consultant, Evelyn Jerome. The candidate bagged the endorsement of the Los Angeles Times which said that “she earns top marks for fairness and integrity from defense lawyers who have squared off against her and judges who have presided over her cases.”
However, she drew only a “qualified” rating from the Los Angeles County Bar Assn.
She was asked during her interview with the MetNews, which took place even before the LACBA interviews, what negative assessments might come out. Mitchell said:
“I would say, fairly speaking, that when I was a young DA, I was very enthusiastic and I was a vigorous advocate and, through maturity, and time, as we all experience, I have learned a softer approach—equally as strong and equally as adamant—but it’s a softer approach to doing that.”
Mitchell returned a call on Friday from Lancaster, Pa. where she is showing Rottweilers at a national show. She attributed the “qualified” rating to “long memories” as to the matters which Osko complained of in 1995 and to the fact that “some defense attorneys take exception to my presenting my cases aggressively.” She said that her lack of appreciable civil experience “could be a factor.”
But she said her campaign has momentum, that she’s on numerous slate mailers, and is optimistic of winning.
Mitchell, a divorcee, was in Pennsylvania with her daughter, who turned 6 on Tuesday.
JOHN C. GUTIERREZ
Workers Compensation Judge Now Offers Answers to Questions Posed in 2002
Workers Compensation Judge John C. Gutierrez is making his third bid for election to the Los Angeles Superior Court. This time, he’s come up with the funds to be represented by the premier campaign consulting firm of Cerrell Associates, Inc.
And this time, when he came to meet with the MetNews for a possible endorsement and to be interviewed for this profile, he was, unlike four years ago, clad in a suit, rather than shirtsleeves, and had materials to hand out.
He had made an effort to prepare.
On that prior occasion, he had made some gaffes of a sort not expected of a person in the legal field, and was consequently quizzed on some basics—an atypical occurrence at such sessions. He didn’t have the answers.
A 2002 profile on him noted:
“When asked recently, Gutierrez could not name any justices of the Court of Appeal, or the state attorney general.”
An editorial commented:
“Gutierrez…has not kept up on California law outside of the area of workers’ compensation. He protests that this would not impede his performance as a Superior Court judge because he could look up the law as the occasion arose. ‘I can read the law just as good as anybody else could,’ he insists. We do not believe he is qualified for the post he seeks.”
In 2004, he declined to be interviewed.
But now, he’s a Cerrell candidate, and Cerrell candidates don’t duck interviews. None has in the 26 years this newspaper has been intensively covering judicial races. So, Gutierrez showed up.
He brought print-outs of one of his Monday conference calendars to show how the variety and numbers of matters he handles.
The administrative law judge ticked off five California codes which he said “we have to deal with.” He mentioned the Penal Code. How are there criminal law aspects to workers’ compensation cases? In some of the cases in which a worker’s compensation judge finds a claim to be fraudulent, Gutierrez explained, “the insurance company or the defendant will initiate the complaint procedure with the District Attorney’s Office.” So, he doesn’t actually apply the Penal Code? “No,” he acknowledged, “but we do apply the…elements of fraud.”
Given his desire to become a Superior Court judge, has he, over the past four years, sought to familiarize himself with law outside the area of workers’ compensation, as by voluntarily taking any MCLE courses?
He has racked up MCLE credits, he replied, but said there’s nothing voluntary about it.
“I have to comply with MCLE requirements,” Gutierrez declared, because he has chosen to be on active bar status.
But as a fulltime administrative law judge, is he not exempt from MCLE requirements?
“No, I’m not exempt,” he said.
Contrary to his notion, he is exempt.
Business and Professions Code Sec. 6070 sets up the basic MCLE requirements. It provides: “Full-time employees of the State of California, acting within the scope of their employment, shall be exempt from the provisions of this section.”
Rule 6.1 of the MCLE Rules and Regulations spells out “prescribed exemptions” from the requirements. A subparagraph specifies that the phrase “ ‘full-time employees of the State of California acting within the scope of their employment’ shall refer to members employed by the State of California as…Administrative Law Judges….”
Gutierrez went on inactive status on Jan. 1, 1995, and resumed active status on Jan. 26, 2004. He said he chose that status because “it’s not prohibited.”
So far as Superior Court judges being on active status, he said: “They don’t have to be if they don’t want to be.”
They can’t be. Business and Professions Code Sec. 6002 provides: “The members of the State Bar are all persons admitted and licensed to practice law in this State except justices and judges of courts of record during their continuance in office.”
It was recounted to Gutierrez that four years earlier, he could not name the attorney general of California. Could it be assumed he could do so now? He said:
“And as I recall, I was being asked, too, how many Supreme Court justices on the Supreme Court, both U.S. and the California Supreme Court, what appellate district we belong in, which U.S. District Court are we in, what circuit are we in. All these questions were being asked of me. The attorney general, if I’m not mistaken, is Bill Lockyer. We’re in the Ninth Circuit, the Second Appellate District in Los Angeles, okay?”
That drew the response, “Okay,” and Gutierrez persisted:
“Excuse me, I’m not finished. There are four [U.S.] district courts, Central, Northern, Eastern and Southern. We’re in the Central. And there are nine justices on the Supreme Court and six on the California Supreme Court.”
He said he was “nervous” four years ago and couldn’t remember these matters at the time.
Subsequently, he recited the surnames of six members of the California Supreme Court, after remarking, “I hope you don’t ask me the first names.”
There are seven members of that court. Gutierrez omitted the name of Justice Carol A. Corrigan, having apparently concluded that there were six justices and having memorized the names of those six based on looking at a court directory prior to Corrigan filling a vacancy.
Court of Appeal
Gutierrez was reminded that four years ago, he was asked about members of the Court of Appeal in Los Angeles and, with no question pending, stated:
“Court of Appeal. Second District, Second Appellate District. I believe the presiding is William MacLaughlin. And the supervising judge is Czuleger.”
He was asked: “And what court are you referring to?” His answer:
“The appellate court, Second Appellate, in Los Angeles.”
The candidate was queried as to who would decide what his assignment would be, were he sworn in as a Los Angeles Superior Court judge in January. He said:
“Well, I would imagine that would be the presiding judge of Los Angeles.”
And who is that?
“That would be Presiding Judge MacLaughlin, I would assume.”
MacLaughlin will not be presiding judge in 2007. Advised of that, Gutierrez said the presiding judge at that time will make the assignments, and speculated it might be “Czuleger.” (Stephen Czuleger is, in fact, the current assistant presiding judge and heir apparent as presiding judge.)
But didn’t he just say that MacLaughlin was the presiding judge of the Court of Appeal?
“I did say that,” Gutierrez acknowledged. “I meant to say that Judge MacLaughlin is presiding judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court.”
He was then asked a trick question: “Do you know the presiding justice of the Court of Appeal?” (There are eight divisions in the district, each with a presiding justice.) Gutierrez said:
“I don’t recall his name.”
He was then told: “Well, actually there’s more than one presiding justice in this district,” evoking the response:
“Well, there’s six appellate districts. We’re in the Second. I don’t recall who the presiding judge is in the Second Appellate District.”
Question: “How many presiding justices would there be in the Second Appellate District?”
Answer: “There’s only one.”
In stating that he didn’t know who the presiding justice is, Gutierrez had said he doesn’t know “his” name. He was asked how he knows it’s a male.
“I don’t know if it’s a he or she,” the administrative law judge said.
Next question: “Who’s Richard Mosk?”
Next answer: “He used to be a former Supreme Court justice, I mean the California Supreme Court justice.”
(Richard Mosk is a justice of the Court of Appeal; his late father, Stanley Mosk, was the longest-serving member of the California Supreme Court in the court’s history.)
According to information posted by him on the League of Women Voters’ website, “smartvoter.com,” Gutierrez obtained his law degree from the San Fernando Valley College of Law in 1978. His posting continued:
“After obtaining his law degree, Judge Gutierrez began his legal career in the County of Los Angeles as a Deputy District Attorney where he prosecuted misdemeanor and felony cases.”
Bar Exam Failures
There was, however, a five-year hiatus between Gutierrez attaining his law degree and gaining admission to the State Bar. He was admitted on May 17, 1983. In 2002, he acknowledged having taken the bar exam “about four times, maybe five,” commenting, “It’s not an easy bar to pass.”
His stint in the District Attorney’s Office was brief. He left the office in 1984 to go into private law practice. On May 3, 1993, Gutierrez became a workers compensation judge.
He expressed the view that he is better qualified than any of his five opponents because:
“I have more judicial experience than all of them put together.”
RICHARD H. LOOMIS
Deputy City Attorney Boasts Highest County Bar Rating Among Those in His Race
Deputy Los Angeles City Attorney Richard Loomis has the distinction of being the only candidate in his race with a “well qualified” rating by the Los Angeles County Bar Assn.
Last Friday marked 26 years since he became a lawyer.
“I’ve worked at large firms, I’ve worked at small firms, and now I’m in the public sector,” he said, noting he has represented clients ranging from indigents to major corporations.
Most of his practice has been in the civil arena, but he’s handled some criminal cases, as well, Loomis noted, particularly from 1980-84 and 1994-2002. During the earlier of those periods, he provided a defense in approximately 100 misdemeanor cases, Loomis reckoned.
At present, he represents the city—and the Los Angeles Police Department, in particular—in employment law litigation, which includes the handling of complex trials.
But even if his qualifications are impressive, the question remains whether he can make it into a run-off given that his campaign is virtually lifeless.
Loomis has no campaign consultant, will have his name on no slates, has no website up yet, has not posted information on the League of Women Voters’ website, did not win the Los Angeles Times endorsement, and has scant endorsements from judicial officers or attorneys.
The candidate said that buying endorsements by paying to be on slate mailers “rubs me the wrong way.” He commented:
“It shouldn’t be who buys the slate mailers wins.”
He questioned whether campaign consultants actually do their clients any good.
As far as having a website, Loomis said:
“I’m working on getting one up.”
He defends his lackluster campaign, saying:
“My work comes first.”
And he makes no concessions as to the fate of his campaign.
“I think I have a pretty good shot at making it to the next round,” he said.
There will be “word of mouth” campaign, he said, which will include lawyers he knows sending out e-mails urging votes for him.
Loomis—who is working toward a Masters in Divinity degree, on a part time basis, at Fuller Theological Seminary—said he has “support from churches.” He made particular reference to support from World Impact and the Watts Christian School; he serves on its board and provides pro bono legal services to it.
With high credentials but low political savvy—he says he hasn’t run for any office since losing the race for sixth grade homeroom president—does he have a better chance of gaining a judgeship through an appointment, rather than election?
Loomis, a Republican, said he applied when Pete Wilson was governor, and was rated by the State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation, but his bid “died on the vine.” He has applied for appointment by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, he related.
The deputy city attorney, who is 53, earned his undergraduate degree at Swathmore College and his law degree from the University of California at Berkeley.
STEPHEN M. FELDMAN
Encino Lawyer’s Recent Past Includes Tax Liens, Prosecution for Fraud
The past few years have been rocky for Encino attorney Stephen M. Feldman.
The State of California filed a tax lien against him in 2001 in the amount of $46,855. Around the same time, the IRS filed a tax lien against Feldman in the amount of $53,602.
His wife and campaign manager, Katharina Feldman, fielding questions for her husband, said the liens “are over four years old” and declared:
“I’m not going to comment on it—nor do I think it’s an appropriate question.”
On Oct. 9, 2002, Feldman was arrested in Denver by U.S. Customs and Secret Service agents. He and three others were accused of attempting to sell 250 phony bonds, each with a face value of $1 billion.
A federal judge on Nov. 5, 2003, threw out the charges against Feldman and two of his co-defendants, finding that the prosecution had failed to prove that they knew the bonds were bogus. A fourth defendant had pled guilty on the eve of trial.
Feldman, 55, said in an interview:
“I have more experience than any of the other five people running.”
Of the six contestants, he has held a law license the longest. Feldman was admitted to practice on Dec. 18, 1975.
He also holds a license as a real estate broker.
Feldman holds an ungraduate degree from USC and a law degree from Southwestern.
The only endorsements listed by Feldman on his campaign website are those of attorneys Steven J. Eichberg and Charles Rubel.
RICHARD A. NIXON
Phantom Candidate Avoids Newspapers, County Bar, League of Women Voters
Appearing on the ballot as “Attorney/Business Owner,” Richard A. Nixon is an obscure lawyer who apparently fancies himself as having a shot at election based on the familiar ring of his name. Richard M. Nixon was the nation’s 37th president—and candidate Nixon has the e-mail address of “firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Nixon has been doing no campaigning, has not met with editorial boards of newspapers, is the only one of the 28 candidates in contested judicial races in the county who has declined to provide biographical materials to the League of Women Voters for a booklet it’s published, and declined to meet with the Los Angeles County Bar Assn.’s evaluation committee.
The photo of Nixon was e-mailed by the candidate. He spurned the request of a MetNews photographer to take his picture.
Nixon received his undergraduate degree from Wayne State University in Detroit and his law degree from San Fernando Valley College of Law in Woodland Hills. He was admitted to practice in 1981.
Sues ‘Judge Judy’
Ann W. O’Neill said in her “Court Files” column in the Los Angeles Times on June 6, 1999:
“It’s bad enough to share a name with a dead president whose most famous quotation is ‘I am not a crook!’ But wait, it gets worse for Richard A. Nixon. He charges in a lawsuit that acid-tongued Judge Judy made him look like a bad lawyer on television.
“Nixon’s Los Angeles Superior Court suit seeks damages of $200,000 from Judge Judy Sheindlin, a production company and Spelling Corp. It alleges defamation and slander.
“According to the suit, on her May 28, 1998, show, Sheindlin sarcastically asked Nixon questions like ‘Where did you go to law school?’ and ‘Where do you practice law?’
“Nixon says he appeared on the show as a witness for a friend, and not as a lawyer. Judge Judy’s chiding words are defamatory, court papers charge, because ‘they tend to show [Nixon] is incompetent in his capacity as a lawyer.’ Several audience members said, in effect, ‘That attorney doesn’t know what he’s doing,’ according to the suit.”
Nixon took issue with an opinion piece in the Daily News which encouraged judicial activism. In a letter to the editor that appeared Jan. 17, 1998, he wrote:
“Courts usurp the power of the people every day....
“The idea that the Supreme Court was designed to protect the individual from the big bad government is another sophomoric sophism. The Supreme Court is part of the very government our Founding Fathers feared.
“I put my faith in the people, not the government.
“Let’s hope the power of the judiciary continues to shrink and the power of the people expands.”
In a letter to the editor that appeared in that newspaper on Oct. 26, 1997, Nixon expressed this view:
“It is clear beyond dispute that Congress has the power to limit the extent to which the courts may review acts of Congress. The people must demand that Congress do exactly that—prohibit the courts from frustrating the will of the people expressed in legislation enacted by the people’s duly elected representatives.”
On Aug. 3, 1997, this letter from Nixon appeared:
“Your editorial of July 27 (‘Money scavengers; Democrats and Republicans are showing that everyone in Washington is a scoundrel and campaign funding laws should be changed’’) and its clear liberal bent could have been written by Tom Brokaw or Peter Jennings or some other leftist.
“You have bought, and are now reselling, the spin that the Democrats have put on these hearings...everyone does it, let’s just scold each other, draft some legislation and get on with the people’s business.
“Sorry but that’s not what these hearings are about. They are about bringing appropriate charges against those who have violated existing laws. Were I a Democrat, I would be attempting to do exactly what your paper is doing—convince the American people that they are all scoundrels.”
Nixon has listed a home number, not an office number, with the State Bar of California. However, the recording that’s heard when the phone is answered announces: “You’ve reached the law offices of Richard A. Nixon.”
DAVID CRAWFORD III
Lawyer/Mediator Undertakes Second Effort to Gain Election to Bench
David Crawford III is making his second try for election to the bench. He ran in 2002, coming in fourth in a four-person race.
His ballot designation then was the same as now: “Trial Attorney.”
“I’ve had 29 trials, jury trials,” he said recently, including two last year.
He conceded that he spends most of his time as a mediator, but said he did not consider using “Mediator” as his designation.
“Nah,” he said. “I prefer ‘Trial Attorney.’ ”
When he ran last time, the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. rated him “qualified.”
He explained the low rating by saying:
“They said I hadn’t gone and done any criminal type things, sitting in the courtrooms.”
To remedy that, he said, “I sat in on some criminal trials to learn how they handle their cases and their courtrooms.”
His rating this year has not yet been ascertained.
Crawford had this self-assessment:
“I think I’d make a good judge because I’ve got a good personality for it. I listen. I try not to make judgments ahead of time. I do look at both sides of the question, even when preparing my cases.”
In 2002, he spent his money—about $25,000—primarily on slate mailer. “This time,” Crawford said, “I’m thinking about doing more yard signs, bumper stickers, going to meetings, that kind of thing.”
He has no campaign consultant and has not posted information on the League of Women Voters’ website, “SmartVoter.com.” He does, however, have his own campaign website. In this election, that’s the rule rather than the exception, while four years ago, his was one of the few such websites. This year, as then, it’s at www.dcIII.com.
Crawford, a Democrat, said he has not sought appointment to the bench.
“I was considering doing it and then I was thinking maybe a Republican governor wouldn’t really appoint me,” he said. “I hadn’t worked on his campaign or donated any money.”
He also did not apply under the previous governor, Gray Davis, a Democrat, Crawford said.
Crawford, 51, received an undergraduate degree from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas in 1977 and his law degree from Pepperdine in 1980. He was not able to pass the bar exam until 1985.
He has handled mostly insurance defense, working for a number of law firms and as in-house counsel. In 2001, he went to work for Pollard, Harrell & Googooian—now known as Pollard, Cranert, Crawford & Stevens—and is in-house defense counsel for Zurich North America Insurance Co.
—Roger M. Grace
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company
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