Tuesday, May 2, 2006
JUDICIAL ELECTIONS: Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 95:
Two Lawyers From Same Government Law Office Compete
Two members of the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office are in competition for election to Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 95.
Both are highly regarded by colleagues. If either Susan Lopez-Giss or Richard Kraft were were in a race with someone from outside the office, support from coworkers would no doubt be heavy. But with both in the same race—it’s ticklish.
City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo won’t choose up sides.
Neither will Terree Bowers, now an attorney with Howrey LLP, who was chief deputy city attorney during Delgadillo’s first term. Bowers, also a former U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, said of the election rivals:
“Both are unflappable and are very fastidious and tenacious in their approach.”
Lopez-Giss, he said, is “very experienced and has a great temperament.” He termed Kraft—whom he noted is being honored by the Los Angeles County Bar Assn.’s Criminal Justice Section as “Prosecutor of the Year”—a “truly outstanding attorney.”
Others are also shying away from stating a preference. Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley and a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, Michael Kellogg, have endorsed both candidates. The Los Angeles Assn. of Deputy District Attorneys has also made a dual-endorsement.
Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney Daniel J. Lowenthal offered words of support for Lopez-Giss (quoted in the profile on her) but only after prefacing them with praise of Kraft:
“I prosecuted cases for several years alongside her opponent, Richard Kraft. I hold Mr. Kraft in extremely high regard—he is an outstanding prosecutor, deeply committed to his work, a stickler for details, and a person of unquestionable integrity.”
Lopez-Giss said the clash of two lawyers from the same office was not by design. Each took out nominating papers for Office No. 95 the same day (March 8) not knowing that the other had staked out that seat, she explained.
“I think he’s a very qualified person,” Lopez-Giss said of Kraft, adding however:
“I just think that my experience is far broader.”
Kraft said of Lopez-Giss:
“Although I do not know her personally, she is well-regarded in her supervisory position at the Department of Water and Power and has significant experience as a legal administrator.”
“My background is in the area that is critically important to a trial judge, heavy courtroom trial experience doing both high volume and difficult criminal trials. Ms. Lopez-Giss has not spent most of the past 10 years primarily in court trying cases. I have.”
Both have been mentioned in news stories in recent years that were carried internationally. Lopez-Giss investigated and litigated the case in which the public relations firm of Fleishman-Hillard last year agreed to pay $5.7 million to settle an action based on fraudulent over-billings of the city. Kraft prosecuted Paul Reubens (TV’s “Pee Wee” Herman) for possession of a plethora of pornographic materials, ending in a 2004 plea bargain under which the defendant would register as a sex offender, pay a $100 fine, and be on one-year probation with a condition of psychological counselling.
SUSAN L. LOPEZ-GISS
DWP’s Assistant General Counsel Claims Breadth and Length of Experience as Her Assets
In her role as assistant general counsel to the Department of Water and Power, Los Angeles Assistant City Attorney Susan Lopez-Giss is a legal advisor to those who run the nation’s largest municipal utility, is an active litigator, and is the person to whom other lawyers in the office come for guidance.
One member of the City Attorney’s Office who stepped forward to enumerate Lopez-Giss’s attributes is Daniel J. Lowenthal, himself a candidate for the Los Angeles Superior Court (seeking election to a different office).
In an e-mail, he labeled Lopez-Giss “quite simply, a remarkable person,” declaring:
“I worked with her and for her from September 1997 through February 2006. When she moved into a managerial role a few years ago (which included managerial responsibility for a staff of 75 lawyers and clerical staff), she continued with a full caseload, including the ‘prosecution’ of several significant False Claims Act cases.
“As a manager, her office used to feel like a morning calendar—attorneys would wait in line to get her feedback and input on cases across the spectrum: employment litigation, transactional, regulatory, environmental and personal injury. She raised the bar on the caliber of work product that her subordinates produced. She led by example—her work ethic and unflappable moral compass became infectious.”
Lopez-Giss would hardly dispute any of that—except, perhaps, to point out that she supervises a staff of 85 attorneys.
In June, the candidate will have been with the City Attorney’s Office for 30 years. The first city attorney she worked for was Burt Pines, now a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, and one of her endorsers.
It was Pines who appointed her to set-up the office’s pioneering domestic violence program—which he said recently was “a very responsible task” which included training others in the office.
She drafted a domestic violence manual and set up guidelines and procedures with respect to filing cases.
“That was in 1978,” Lopez-Giss said, recalling that back then, “nobody wanted to prosecute these cases.”
“In those days, I got cases that had been referred by the District Attorney’s Office that were attempted murders but were referred at the misdemeanor level because the victim didn’t want to cooperate.”
Lopez-Giss counselled victims to secure their cooperation. But pledges of cooperation often were succeeded by the recanting of allegations, she noted.
“One minute they would tell you exactly what happened,” she said, and the next minute would take it all back.
The lawyer recounted:
“The victim would come into court and say she wanted to stop the charges. I would stand up and say, ‘But she didn’t file the charge, your honor—I filed the charge.’”
In one case, she said, she secured a conviction even though the victim did not show up. The neighbor who telephoned the police was a witness to what was heard, the police testified as to the injury they saw, and they had photographs. After the prosecution presented its case and the court denied a defense motion for a judgment of acquittal, the defendant changed his plea to guilty, Lopez-Giss related.
In 1979, she said, she developed the first domestic violence diversion program. That required legislation. She got it, through a bill carried by then-state Sen. Robert Presley, D-Riverside.
“I remember sitting in his office writing the diversion statute,” Lopez-Giss said, noting that with no like statute from another jurisdiction to copy, it was modelled after California’s drug diversion law.
In 1981, Ira Reiner became city attorney (later district attorney). The domestic violence program lost its funding and its structure—though the guidelines and manual remained in force. Lopez-Giss said she “rode circuit” in prosecuting such cases “as a specialist.”
Jim Hahn became city attorney in 1985. A domestic violence program reemerged, with deputies specifically assigned to that program, the candidate said.
After 14 years of handling those cases, she said, she needed to make a change, and went to the office’s civil side, working for the DWP.
A year-and-a-half ago, there was an opening for assistant general counsel, and she applied. When she was interviewed, Lopez-Giss recounted, she specified that if she got the job, “I still want to be a litigator.”
Historically, the post was exclusively administrative.
She got the job—and retained charge of a major case, indeed: an action against Fleishman-Hillard, a public relations firm which had massively over-billed the city for its efforts to boost the public image of DWP.
The story of the over-billings broke in the Los Angeles Times on July 15, 2004. A former employee of Fleishman-Hillard blew the whistle as to falsification of time sheets, and other ex-employees confirmed the allegation.
“I read the Times article,” Lopez-Giss said, “and I called up the front office and said, ‘If any of this is true, we have to sue.’ ”
She interviewed the whistle-blower that day, she related, noting:
“I got enough information that I had the complaint written that afternoon and filed the next morning.”
The defendant wound up settling the civil fraud action for $5.7 million, with Lopez-Giss playing a key role in the settlement. (Criminal proceedings in connection with the over-billings are still in progress.)
Married to Judge
If Lopez-Giss is elected to a judgeship on June 6, there will be, when she is sworn-in in January (or earlier if awarded an interim appointment), two judges in the family. She is married to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Harvey Giss.
The “Lopez” in her name was the surname of her late husband, Richard Lopez, a police officer.
She said her husband is “so supportive” of her campaign, remarking:
“He’s not worried about me taking the spotlight away from him.”
Lopez-Giss twice applied for appointment to the bench. The first time was when Pines was city attorney—“he recommended me,” she said—and the second was when Pines was judicial appointments secretary under Gov. Gray Davis.
Given Pines’ high regard for Lopez-Giss, her chances of appointment were seemingly high—but before it could occur, Davis was recalled by voters.
Pines said that Lopez-Giss has “an enthusiasm and interest” as a lawyer, and that as a judge, “I know she will treat people with great dignity and respect.”
Lopez-Giss’s campaign consultant, Evelyn Jerome, predicted that her client would win.
However, Lopez-Giss seemingly faces the same burden that Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Judith Meyer had, and could not meet, in her election bout two years ago with then-Los Angeles Superior Court Referee Donna Groman, who was represented by Jerome. Groman then, like Lopez-Giss’s opponent now, had solid support from the Democratic Party and from the lesbian/gay community.
Jerome did not discount the significance of those factors, but questioned how hard the lesbian/gay community, while endorsing Deputy City Attorney Richard Kraft, would work for him.
“I haven’t seen Richard Kraft say that he’s gay,” Jerome said, commenting that if he is, he is less likely to inspire determined efforts on his behalf than a candidate, like Groman, who is “out of the closet.”
She added that Kraft does not have a monopoly on endorsements from that community. She drew attention to the endorsements of Lopez-Giss by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor, who she said is openly gay, and past California Women Lawyers President Angela Bradstreet and domestic violence community leader Cecilia Estolano, who are self-declared lesbians.
Jerome pointed to certain campaign advantages which Groman had, and Kraft doesn’t.
Groman, she noted, had the endorsement of the Los Angeles Times—which Lopez-Giss has bagged—and gained grass roots support through speaking before community groups, which she said Lopez-Giss is now doing.
Lopez-Giss, born in 1949, earned her undergraduate degree from UCLA, and her law degree from Loyola. She was admitted to the State Bar on Dec. 20, 1974.
Deputy City Attorney Says His Time Is Spent in Court, Trying Cases
Recent trial experience. That’s what Deputy City Attorney Richard Kraft is underscoring in his campaign as an asset that he has, and his opponent hasn’t.
The opponent, Assistant City Attorney Susan Lopez-Giss, has been a lawyer seven years longer than Kraft, and is no stranger to a courtroom—but, as assistant general counsel to the Department of Water and Power, can’t match his claim of being engaged in the day-to-day trial of cases.
Being in the courtroom, according to Kraft, is what counts.
The League of Women Voters’ “smartvoter.org” website contains this contention on a page bearing matter that was posted by Kraft:
“TRIAL EXPERIENCE IS A SIGNIFICANT QUALIFICATION FOR A JUDGE. RICHARD KRAFT HAS TRIED MORE THAN 40 JURY TRIALS OVER THE PAST 5 YEARS AND MORE THAN 100 JURY TRIALS OVER THE PAST 10 YEARS.”
A link on the website leads to information on four cases he has recently tried. One is said to have resulted in a restitution fine “of more than $375,000 for the victim’s mother,” another to “mandatory lifetime registration as a sex offender,” a third to like registration and nine moths in jail, and a fourth to the fate of a man who abused his wife physically and photographed her and his daughter in the nude. With respect to the fourth case, Kraft said:
“As a result of this conviction, defendant is required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. Defendant was sentenced by two separate judges to combined sentences of 6 years in jail on this and several probation matters Mr. Kraft prosecuted concurrently.”
‘Pee Wee’ Herman Case
There’s no mention of the case he prosecuted that received the widest news coverage: the possession-of-pornography case against Paul Reubens (once known as “Pee Wee” Herman, host of a children’s show). Reubens’ collection included numerous photographs of nude children, many of them engaged in sexual conduct.
The prosecution of that case riled some members of the gay community, who saw art value in the erotica. The Village Voice, a New York alternative newspaper, contended in a front-page article that the prosecution “dramatically expands the parameters of what is considered child pornography...that should trouble us all.”
Displeasure over the prosecution of that particular case has not, however, dampened support for Kraft within the gay/lesbian community. He has been endorsed by the Stonewall Democratic Club, the West Hollywood Democratic Club, Los Angeles Superior Court Judges Stephanie Sautner and Zeke Zeidler, and West Hollywood City Council members John Duran and Jeffrey Prang.
He has also drawn support from the county Democratic Party, the New Frontier Democratic Club (African-American), Sheriff Lee Baca, the Mexican American Bar Association and the Teamsters Joint Council 42.
Kraft, 49, who has been prosecuting misdemeanors for 17 years, is listed on the ballot as “Criminal Prosecutor”—a designation viewed as potent by campaign consultants. Lopez-Giss, by contrast, has the descriptor “Assistant City Attorney.”
‘Prosecutor of the Year’
Providing a further boost to his campaign is the award he is to receive on Thursday night from the Los Angeles County Bar Assn.’s Criminal Justice Section as “Prosecutor of the Year.” The Executive Committee of the section decided to bestow the honor on Kraft at its Jan. 25 meeting.
One member of the committee, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that “no one mentioned a word” about the prospect of Kraft being a candidate for the Superior Court, and speculated that “if we had known,” the selection of him “wouldn’t have happened.”
Another member said it was Deputy City Attorney Deborah L. Sanchez, secretary of the section, who pushed for the selection of Kraft.
Sanchez is a candidate for a different Los Angeles Superior Court seat, and she and Kraft are trading endorsements. Whether she knew at the time of the Executive Committee meeting that Kraft was planning to be a candidate is unknown. Efforts since Thursday afternoon to reach her for comment have been unsuccessful.
(She did meet with this newspaper’s editorial board on March 24, at which time she termed Kraft “one of the best attorneys in the office.”)
As to whether there will be reference at Thursday night’s program to Kraft’s candidacy, the section chair, Deputy District Attorney Thomas Rubinson, said: “Not by me.” He said he will be presiding over the meeting.
The selection of Kraft as well as the other honorees was reviewed and approved by LACBA Executive Director Stuart Forsyth on Jan. 26, and an announcement of the meeting was posted on the LACBA website March 2, according to a LACBA spokesperson. Kraft took out nominating papers on March 8.
Correspondence by E-Mail
It was on that date that Kraft provided comments to a MetNews reporter—saying, among other things: “I wouldn’t trade these 17 years [in the City Attorney’s Office] for anything, but I think I have something else to offer.” Although he had agreed to a meeting with the editorial board on April 5, he cancelled on April 3 saying that “[p]reparation for my upcoming trials and other commitments” precluded getting together. Since then, he has been unavailable for interviews. He did, however, respond to questions by e-mail.
One subject upon which he has corresponded was the claim on his campaign website that he “Started 1st Domestic Violence Prosecution Team for City.”
That’s a distinction Lopez-Giss has claimed, and it’s been corroborated by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Burt Pines, who was city attorney in 1978 when she set up the program.
Kraft said in an e-mail:
“Although I am not familiar with Ms. Lopez-Giss’ work as a prosecutor, I would be genuinely interested in reviewing the materials she authored which are described by her as ‘the first statewide domestic violence diversion/counseling program’ and ‘the first domestic violence prosecution manual.’ The materials I wrote for the California District Attorneys Association on the prosecution of domestic violence have been used statewide by prosecutors for the past 8 years.”
That e-mail was shared with Lopez-Giss, who responded:
“[T]he City Attorney’s Office did a 25 year commemoration of its efforts in the area of Domestic Violence two years ago. Tracy Webb, one of Mr. Kraft’s endorsers was involved in the event. I was featured in a film and participated in the event. I have a 1981 proclamation from the Los Angeles City Council recognizing my efforts. Finally the County Bar evaluation committee has a copy of the City Attorney’s Office First Prosecution Manual.”
“I don’t doubt that Mr. Kraft has prosecuted domestic violence cases. However, I am surprised that he is so unaware of the history of the program in the City Attorney’s Office.”
Lopez-Giss’s e-mail was, in turn, forwarded to Kraft who did not respond. The claim that he established the first domestic violence program remains on his website.
Backtracks on Claim
He did, however, make one change in response to an e-mailed inquiry. The website originally said:
“200+ Criminal Jury Trials – All Convictions Affirmed.”
This query was made:
“[T]here can only be an affirmance if there has been an appeal—and it is difficult to imagine that there was an appeal in all 200+ cases. 1.) How many affirmances were there? 2.) Does the phraseology not imply affirmances in all 200+ cases? (Would it not be more accurate to say that none of the convictions was reversed on appeal?)”
The claim on the website was re-worded:
“200+ Criminal Jury Trials - No Conviction Ever Reversed.”
Kraft said in his e-mail to the MetNews:
“As to your comment regarding convictions ‘affirmed,’ you are quite correct that not every conviction was appealed and that the point was that none of the convictions appealed has ever been reversed. I agree that a better description is ‘no conviction ever reversed’ and appreciate your suggestion in that regard.”
The e-mail also included extensive biographical matter. Boiled down and combined with information from other sources:
Kraft received his undergraduate degree from Brandeis and his law degree from USC. He was admitted to practice Dec. 1, 1981.
He first worked in the Los Angeles office of Severson, Werson, Berke & Melchior, a firm headquartered in San Francisco.
“I liked the people and the practice but, when the Los Angeles office was closed, I did not want to leave Los Angeles and move to San Francisco,” Kraft said. “Although the firm offered me a position in the San Francisco Office, I chose to work for another firm (Adams, Duque & Hazeltine) so I could remain in Los Angeles.”
In working for the two firms, he said, he was involved in “personally handling all types of complicated and complex civil litigation matters against major law firms.”
Amplifying on that, Kraft wrote:
“At Severson, Werson, Berke & Melchior, I had a general civil litigation practice, including bad faith insurance defense, professional liability insurance, business litigation, probate and bankruptcy. At Adams, Duque & Hazeltine, I had a general civil litigation practice emphasizing business and real estate litigation, and including civil trial and arbitration experience. I also drafted appellate briefs, one of which resulted in a written opinion on an issue of first impression favorable to our municipal client.”
From 1985-89, he noted, he was a member of the executive committee of the State Bar’s California Real Property Law Subsection on Real Estate Litigation, and was Southern California chair from 1987-89.
“In that capacity,” Kraft said, “I reviewed and provided analyses on pending legislation and promoted continuing legal education programs.”
Real estate has apparently continued to interest Kraft. He obtained a license as a real estate broker on Nov. 8, 2004.
“After joining the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office in 1989, I handled a wide range of cases covering virtually all areas of misdemeanor and ‘wobbler’ offenses….I also assisted with Office training, mentored new attorneys in our Office, and taught at private firm training programs providing simulated trial experience.”
In the March 8 interview, conducted shortly after he had taken out nominating papers, Kraft said he had intended to work for the City Attorney’s Office for only one month, as a volunteer, under a program sponsored by LACBA. He remained, he said, because he liked the work and “wanted to make a difference.”
Among those who express the view that Kraft has been an asset to the office is Jodi Galvin, who joined the office around the same time as Kraft. She said in an e-mail:
“Richard Kraft is one of the best attorneys I’ve had the privilege to work with. He has handled some of the toughest cases in our office with the highest quality skill, ethics, effort and resolution possible. I recall many an evening Richard staying late either helping a fellow City Attorney or comforting a child abuse victim with her Spanish speaking mother, enabling them to be empowered to testify and be supported in the courtroom. His commitment to fairness and justice is exemplary. He is friendly and respectful to all. He is the ‘go to guy’ when you have a legal issue you want to consult on. He’s a top trial attorney, legal scholar, calm, professional and all around nice guy—it doesn’t get any better than that for qualities of a great judge!”
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company
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