Monday, May 5, 2008
Lori-Ann C. Jones
Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 84
Lance E. Winters
Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 95
Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 154
There are three judicial contests on the June 3 ballot that present difficult choices.
Four persons are running for Office No. 84, and none of them would be in serious contention for appointment by a governor of either party.
By contrast, both candidates for Office No. 95 and two of the three aspirants for Office No. 154 are very much qualified.
The Los Angeles Times, in expressing difficulty in choosing between Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Patricia Nieto (for whom it opted) and Deputy Attorney General Lance E. Winters, observed, glumly: “[V]oters only get to pick one.” True—and unfortunate.
A better system, we think, would be to lump all the candidates for open seats together, and permit as many votes in any given year as there are open seats. This is akin to the system used in selecting members of political parties’ central committees, and would lend itself well to judicial contests other than those where an incumbent is being challenged.
This year there are 10 open seats; if such a system were in place, our endorsements would be as follows, in alphabetical order: Kathleen Blanchard, Marc Alain Chomel, Rocky L. Crabb, Michael V. Jesic, Jared D. Moses, Serena Raquel Murillo, Patricia Nieto, Michael J. O’Gara, Thomas Rubinson, and Lance E. Winters.
This would include both candidates for Office No. 95 and two of those seeking Office No. 154. It would exclude Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Lori-Ann C. Jones, whom we endorse today for Office No. 84, and another commissioner, James N. Bianco, whom we have endorsed in two separate editorials because he is infinitely superior in his credentials to his rival, attorney Bill Johnson—a white supremacist who has, in the past, adopted fanatical stances.
A system something similar to what we propose went into effect in 1912, under the new State Primary Law enacted during the gubernatorial administration of reformer Hiram Johnson, who urged the measure. Under that law, judicial elections became non-partisan, and names of all candidates were grouped on the ballot in a single list. There were 27 candidates in the September primary and five seats that year. A voter had 10 votes. The top 10 vote-getters went on the November ballot, and from that field, five were chosen. This system was utilized through the 1926 election.
The system, as it existed then, would be unmanageable today. Every sitting judge whose term was expiring and who wanted to be returned to office was among those listed. This year, there are 138 judges up for election. Keeping judges who aren’t challenged off the ballot obviously makes sense.
So would a system under which the 28 candidates this year for 10 open seats would be bunched together on the primary election ballot, with each voter having 10 choices, and the 10 top vote recipients being elected.
Given that this system is not in place, we proceed to return to reality and explain our endorsements for Offices 84, 95, and 154.
When Lori-Ann C. Jones ran for the Superior Court in 2004, we endorsed Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey S. Gootman in the primary. Gootman did not win favor with voters. Jones, then a deputy district attorney, wound up in a run-off with a Glendale city councilman who lacked trial court experience. We endorsed her, saying she was “level-headed, and able to do the job.”
Now that Jones has been performing judicial duties as a commissioner for two years, some would question the accuracy of our assessment. She has experienced difficulties on the bench, and for a time, the Office of Public Defender declined to stipulate to her.
Nonetheless, we believe she is growing into the job of a judicial officer, and is intent on putting controversy behind her. In any event, she is, in our view, the least objectionable of the contenders.
One of her opponents, Deputy Attorney General Bob Henry, is also someone we have endorsed in the past, though not in the primary. Two years ago, we had hoped that Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Alan Friedenthal would win a three-way race, but he was eliminated in the primary. In the general election, we opined that neither Henry nor his adversary was an “ideal” candidate, but in choosing between the two, we picked him. Henry has never exactly been known as a workaholic, but through the years has become more and more of a slacker. As a judge, it is doubtful he would pull his load. This is Henry’s fourth try for a judgeship through election; he has also tried, unsuccessfully, to gain appointment.
A workers compensation judge, running as John “Johnny” Gutierrez, was unfit when he ran six years ago, was unfit when he ran four years ago, was unfit when he ran two years ago, and is unfit now. He lacks legal knowledge outside the area of workers compensation.
Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Pat Connolly is a bright and able lawyer with a high conviction rate. But he’s disputatious in the extreme. On the bench, he would, predictably, be a terror.
That leaves Jones.
Winters and Nieto are both of unquestionable fitness for service on the Superior Court. Not only the Times and this newspaper found the decision of whom to endorse a tough one, so did the committee whose recommendations were adopted by the Democratic County Central Committee. It said: “The Committee notes that this was a difficult choice and that both are qualified.” It made no such comment in connection with any of the other races. (Its support went to Nieto.)
Those who support Nieto have good reason for doing so. The candidate, who was in law practice for 25 years, is a highly regarded judicial officer. Nieto became a part-time referee in 2001, hearing dependency cases, and a commissioner last year, presiding in a family law courtroom. She is articulate, caring, down to earth, and skilled.
A member of the Attorney General’s Office for 15 years, and at the supervisory level for the last decade, Winters has argued five times before the California Supreme Court and handled more than 250 appeals. He is known for his keen analytical abilities.
As to either candidate, no concern emerges as to temperament or industriousness.
In the end, our endorsement goes to Winters because we view his potential as so high as to transcend service on the Superior Court.
Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Rocky Crabb is well regarded in the Pomona area where he practiced law for 25 years and, since 2005, has heard family law cases. He draws plaudits from both judges and practitioners.
Without questioning in the least Crabb’s proficiency as a jurist, we lean toward his opponent, Deputy District Attorney Michael Jesic.
Jesic does not have judicial experience, as Crabb does. At 39, he does not have the background in law that Crabb, 53, has. He’s been a prosecutor for more than 12 years and has never handled a civil case. Yet, based on his intelligence, demeanor, forthrightness, integrity, sense of fairness, and sterling reputation, we favor him.
Also running in that contest—but not hard—is Deputy Attorney General S. Paul Bruguera, in his second attempt. He is running as Paul “Pablo” Bruguera. He is known in the legal community as “Paul Bruguera”; he is not known as “Pablo.” Bruguera makes no secret of why he is using the name “Pablo,” saying that it is to “emphasize that I’m Hispanic and I’m interested in diversity.” In our view, ethnicity—like religion or sexual orientation—is not a relevant factor in judicial elections, and drawing attention to it, whether in a negative manner with respect to an opponent or a positive manner in connection with oneself, is inappropriate.
It is our hope that whichever candidate prevails in the Winters-Nieto match, and whichever, as between Jesic and Crabb, grabs the prize in that contest, the loser at the polls will pull a swift appointment by the governor.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company