Thursday, November 6, 2008
Prosecutors Appear to Sweep Los Angeles Superior Court Runoffs
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The five deputy district attorneys who qualified for runoffs for open seats on the Los Angeles Superior Court appear to have won Tuesday.
Subject to a count of absentee and provisional ballots, the five—Hilleri Grossman Merrit, Thomas Rubinson, Pat Connolly, Michael J. O’Gara, and Michael V. Jesic—won with percentages varying from 51.02 for Rubinson to 63.49 for O’Gara.
Sources said yesterday there were approximately 615,000 absentee and provisional ballots to be counted, raising the possibility that Rubinson’s lead of about 40,000 votes could be obliterated.
History, however, suggests that late-counted ballots do not result in significant variances from the final results on Election Day.
Rubinson did not return a phone call seeking comment, but Loo held out little hope of reversal. She said she was “honored and grateful” to be a Superior Court referee and added:
“I understand that Mr. Rubinson is a fine attorney and will make a fine judge. I wish him the best.”
The results suggest that ballot designations involving some combination of words including “Criminal” and “Prosecutor” continue to have a significant impact on judicial elections, Superior Court Commissioner Rocky Crabb told the MetNews.
“I’m not terribly surprised that the prosecutors seemed to do well,” Crabb—who lost to Jesic by 500,000 votes out of more than 1.9 million cast in the race to succeed retired Judge Jack Hunt—commented.
Prior to the November 2004 election, it was virtually unheard of for anyone with a prosecutor designation to lose a judicial contest to anyone other than a sitting judge. In those 2004 runoffs, however, three prosecutors were defeated by subordinate judicial officers.
In addition, then-Deputy District Attorney Lori Jones was defeated that time by then-Deputy Attorney General Gus Gomez. Jones was later appointed a Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner and ran again this year, losing to Connolly, who received more than 61 percent of the vote.
The five deputy district attorneys elected yesterday will join former colleagues Jared Moses and Kathleen Blanchard, who won open seats in the June primary and were subsequently appointed to the court by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Unless they too receive early appointments from the governor, the five will take office Jan. 5 along with Commissioner Harvey Silberman, who defeated Deputy District Attorney Serena Murillo in the June primary.
Jesic suggested yesterday that the prosecutors’ success yesterday might be due in part to an unprecedented pact in which theyengaged in various forms of joint campaign activity.
The candidates coordinated their campaign schedules, linked to each others’ websites, formally endorsed each others’ candidacies, extolled each others’ qualities in e-mail blasts, and negotiated package pricing for placement on slate mailers, usually the most expensive aspect of judicial campaigning in the county.
The five similarly aligned in the primary, along with Murillo and state Deputy Attorney General Lance Winters, who ran as a “Criminal Prosecutor” in the June primary but lost to then-Commissioner, now-Judge Patricia Nieto.
Jesic noted that most of the prosecutors knew each other before they ran. He added that he developed a tremendous appreciation for Connolly, who he didn’t know before, over the course of the campaign.
Jesic said the numbers surprised him, but that the size of the victory could be attributed to the endorsement of the Los Angeles Times, which backed all of the prosecutors except Rubinson.
The victory, Jesic added, is “bittersweet” because he will be leaving the District Attorneys’ Office, where he said he still loves working. In particular, he said, he will be sad to leave his current assignment in the courtroom of “a great judge,” Peter Espinoza, who will become supervising judge of the criminal courts in January.
Jesic added that he is disinclined to ask for an appointment for the two months until his term begins Jan. 5, saying that as the father of a two-month-old child, he would rather spend the time with his family.
His opponent, Crabb, said he was “not anxious to run again” for a judgeship. Schwarzenegger has previously sent his name to the State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation for a possible appointment.
He added that now that the election is over, “its nice to be able to focus 100 percent on doing my job here” as a commissioner.
Merritt, who polled more than 53 percent in her race against civil lawyer Steven Simons, said she, like Jesic, was pleased with the joint campaign.
“”There’s strength in numbers,” she said. “You can only be in one place at a time.”
She added that she had not thought about whether to ask for an appointment to the seat that she won. The incumbent, Judge Francis Gately, will be officially retired as of Nov. 30, although he has already left the bench.
“My only plans are to try and get a good night’s sleep tonight,” Merritt explained.
Simons, one of only three judicial candidates to buy a candidate statement—Rubinson and Loo were the others—said it was “obvious people wanted to put a deputy district attorney into a judicial position.”
He said he had not thought about the possibility of running again or applying for appointment as a judge or commissioner.
O’Gara, like Jesic, credited the Times endorsement with a major impact on his race. He received more than 63 percent of the vote in defeating Deputy Public Defender C. Edward Mack.
He said he “would love to have an early appointment” to the seat, from which Judge Michael Duggan retired over the summer, but that his first priority is to “take some time to be with my family during the holidays.”
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company