Thursday, September 4, 2008
Judge Orders Changes to Cynthia Loo’s Candidate Statement
Juvenile Court Session Is ‘Criminal,’ but Not a ‘Trial,” Jurist Rules
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge yesterday ordered changes to a Superior Court candidate’s ballot pamphlet statement, although not all of the changes her opponent asked for.
Judge James Chalfant held that Referee Cynthia Loo cannot say that the juvenile delinquency proceedings she presides over are “criminal trials,” but may refer to them as “criminal juvenile adjudications.” The judge also ruled that Loo’s opponent, Deputy District Attorney Thomas Rubinson, failed to debunk her claim that she has presided over “nearly one thousand” such sessions.
Loo and Rubinson received 39 and 36 percent respectively, in the June 3 primary for the Los Angeles Superior Court seat recently vacated by Judge Wendell Mortimer. Deputy District Attorney Mark Lee received the remaining 25 percent, so Loo and Rubinson will be in a runoff Nov. 4.
In her candidate statement submitted for circulation with the sample ballot, Loo wrote:
“Known for being tough and fair, Loo has presided in both family law and juvenile courts, and has heard nearly one thousand criminal trials.”
In his petition for writ of mandate, Rubinson, who represented himself, argued that juvenile delinquency cases are not “criminal,” that the hearings in such matters are not “trials,” and that “the mathematics” of Loo’s claim to have heard 1,000 cases in eight years “make it difficult to believe.”
Regarding the number of hearings, Rubinson did not offer any evidence with the original petition, but argued that “[a]s it would be impossible for Petitioner to ever disprove such a claim, no matter how preposterous it was on its face, the court should insist that Loo provide evidence that she handled that many hearings.”
In response to that argument, Loo—who is represented by Stephen Kaufman and Steven Reyes of Kaufman Downing LLP—estimated that she had presided over approximately two to four “trials” per week, or “approximately 832-1664 trials over the eight-year period.”
Personal Case Notes
While the court lacks a case management system that could produce precise data, she said, the estimate is based on her personal case notes, which she said she has kept on a laptop computer since 2005; an extrapolation of data compiled by the Administrative Office of the Courts for one week early last year, which Loo called “the most accurate accounting thus far of the number of trials...that has occurred” in her department; the court’s estimate that juvenile court filings average close to 80 petitions per judicial officer per month, and the declaration of her clerk that her courtroom has long been the site of between two and five trials weekly.
The parties disputed the conclusion to be drawn from “daily sheets” compiled by courtroom deputies.
In response to California Public Records Act requests made by both candidates, the District Attorney’s Office said that it kept the sheets for only a short period of time, and provided those for most days between May 1 and July 31. Sheets for five days in May and June were missing, perhaps “due to the reports having been discarded or [as] the result of inactivity in the court on those dates.”
Based on the number of trials or adjudications taking place on the days covered by the sheets, Rubinson argued, it can be extrapolated that Loo handled about 440 such proceedings over her career.
Context of Evidence
Reyes, however, argued that the data sheets, if considered at all, could only be viewed in the context of the evidence as a whole. Chalfant, placing the burden on the petitioner, agreed.
Noting that one of the parties will be colleague of his in a few months, he commented that for a bench officer, “honesty is paramount.”
Loo, he declared, “says nearly 1,000, and I’m not going to dispute it.”
With respect to whether juvenile cases are “criminal,” Chalfant acknowledged that juvenile prosecutions have unique procedures, nomenclature, and impact on the accused. But Loo’s use of the term “criminal” to describe the nature of the cases is fair, he concluded, reasoning:
“We’re not talking about the minor. We’re talking about the referee....What she does is adjudicate juvenile crimes....That’s what a voter would want to know.”
Both sides pronounced themselves satisfied with the result outside the courtroom. Rubinson said he was primarily focused on the fact that Loo does not conduct “trials,” while Loo’s campaign consultant, Evelyn Jerome Alexander, said her client had “won on two of three issues.”
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company