Thursday, May 15, 2008
JUDICIAL ELECTIONS: Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 94
Deputy Public Defender Contends With Two Deputy District Attorneys
Three candidates with long-term experience in criminal law—two prosecutors and a deputy public defender—are seeking the seat now held by Judge Michael Duggan, who is expected to retire before his term ends in January.
Deputy District Attorneys Michael J. O’Gara, a 17-year veteran of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, and Eduard R. Abele, a 20-year veteran of that office, will each be making a first run for judicial office, and will both appear on the June 3 primary ballot as “Criminal Prosecutor.” Deputy Public Defender C. Edward Mack, who has been with the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office for 17 years and has previously run for judicial office twice, will appear on the ballot as “Criminal Trial Attorney.”
Prosecutor Who Wanted to Work in Television Now Seeks Judgeship
Michael O’Gara, 43, once wanted to work in television production, but now he says he is ready to be a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.
O’Gara has spent his entire legal career of 17 years in the District Attorney’s Office.
He came up through the ranks, did misdemeanor prosecutions and preliminary hearings in Pasadena and Glendale, tried dozens of jury trials, and became a calendar deputy in a downtown trial court. He now works on complex insurance fraud cases involving companies accused of trying to lower their workers’ compensation premiums by understating payroll or misclassifying employees.
In a case he handled last year, for example, the owner of a company that did demolition work at construction sites allegedly misrepresented the business as one that does construction cleanup, so that 15 to 20 employees were classified at a lower premium rate. O’Gara negotiated a no-contest plea that resulted in a three-day jail sentence and payment of $100,00 in restitution to the insurance carrier.
O’Gara is a lifelong resident of Los Angeles County. He attended Los Angeles public schools as well as UCLA, where he was a drum major with the marching band.
At the time, he explains, he expected to work on television shows like his father. But after working weekends and summers during high school and college, helping set up game shows, telethons, and the like, he decided he’d rather do something else, he says.
He went to Southwestern Law School and clerked for the district attorney’s Jailhouse Informant Litigation Team, leading him to apply for a permanent position. His wife of 13 years is a high school Spanish teacher in the Glendale Unified School District and they have two young children.
His family is a priority, he says, acknowledging that he has limited his involvement in bar activities in favor of family dinners and youth sports. But he will be actively involved with the community if he becomes a judge, he assures.
He is popular with colleagues, judges, and defense lawyers. He is part of a group of eight prosecutors—seven from his office, plus a deputy attorney general—who have endorsed each other’s bids for election.
The Association of Deputy District Attorneys has endorsed both O’Gara and fellow deputy Ed Abele, as has District Attorney Steve Cooley.
Judges whose courts O’Gara has appeared in, both recently and early in his career, have endorsed him. Orange Superior Court Judge James Rogan, who was a Glendale Municipal Court judge when O’Gara was a prosecutor there, gives him a “double thumbs up.”
Praise From Judges
While it has been more than a dozen years since O’Gara has appeared in front of him, Rogan says he “wasn’t the least bit surprised” to learn that he is running for judge. “It was very clear to me from an early stage in his career he was very hardworking, very conscientious,” the jurist and former congressman says.
The only reason he has not endorsed O’Gara, Rogan explains, is that he also likes Deputy Public Defender C. Edward Mack, who worked in his courtroom at the same time.
“I have very fond memories of both of them,” he says. “They were both very good lawyers, and very ethical.”
Judge Marsha Revel is effusive in her praise of O’Gara, who spent five years as the calendar deputy in her courtroom before moving to his current assignment.
“He is definitely judicial material,” the judge says. “I would love to have him as my colleague.”
He was a “wonderful” trial lawyer, skilled both in handling witnesses and in argument. And he was the perfect calendar deputy, the kind who makes the judge’s job easier, she comments.
“Not one time in five years did defense counsel say, ‘we didn’t get the discovery,’” Revel explains. “He was always honest, always prepared, always professional.”
O’Gara also understood the difference between cases that called for prison time and those that called for some other disposition, like probation or a drug program, she adds.
“He was willing to give someone a break, but if somebody was violent he would always stand up for the People,” she explains. O’Gara has a strong knowledge of the law and “good common sense,” she adds, and “really should be on the bench.”
Julie Taschetta, a deputy alternate public defender who worked in Revel’s courtroom for more than two years of the five that O’Gara was there, said she “absolutely” believes he will be a good judge.
“He’s a terrific guy, very upstanding and conscientious…not biased in any way,” she says. While they didn’t always see eye-to-eye, she explains, O’Gara “doesn’t really have that nasty meanness that a lot of prosecutors do.”
As someone who worked with him on a daily basis for a couple of years, Taschetta says, she has an “overwhelming sense” that O’Gara is “a very steady guy, who wants to do the right thing” and has a realistic sense of how to resolve cases.
O’Gara, a Republican, says he applied for an appointment as soon as Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor, with the encouragement of Revell and fellow lawyers from both the prosecution and defense sides. But he never heard from the governor’s office.
“I think my application is lost somewhere in the back of a file cabinet,” he says with a smile. “That’s why I’m going this route, I guess.”
He says he is prepared to put about $50,000 of his own money in the race, and hopes to raise more in order to be viable. He has been endorsed by the MetNews and Los Angeles Times, and is rated “well qualified” by the County Bar.
C. EDWARD MACK
Deputy Public Defender Says He’s Undaunted by Prior Losses
Declaring that he is “tenacious” and not a quitter, Los Angeles Deputy Public Defender C. Edward Mack is again asking voters to give him a seat on the Superior Court. He ran two years ago—coming in last in a field of three candidates—and four years ago, attaining the lowest number of votes out of six contenders.
A quiet candidate in the previous races, he has raised a fuss this time around, railing not about his opponents, however, but about this newspaper.
A 2006 MetNews profile on Mack pointed out:
“Mack, who has been a deputy public defender since September, 1990, claims in his hand-out to have ‘five years legal experience in the civil field,’ a claim he also made in an interview. However, he was not admitted to practice until July, 1989, meaning that he was a lawyer in the civil arena for only 14 months before becoming a criminal defense attorney.”
During those 14 months, he was a Superior Court research attorney.
‘Smart Voter’ Website
Information he posted in 2006 on the League of Women Voters’ “Smart Voter” website credited him with this background:
“•Five years of civil experience.
“•Fifteen years of criminal experience as a Los Angeles County Public Defender.”
A May 10, 2006 MetNews editorial said that what Mack “obviously intends to communicate is that he practiced law in the civil arena for five years before becoming a criminal defense attorney,” noting:
An editorial the next day remarked:
“To many, experience in both civil and criminal law is a definite plus for a judicial candidate or applicant....
“The candidate obviously knows that he was not in civil practice for five years and knows that his words were aimed at creating the impression that he was.”
In 2004, he had similarly claimed on the League’s website:
“•Occupation: Trial Attorney
“•18 years of legal experience, 5 Civil, 13 Criminal.”
This year, the candidate has against posted his credentials on the website of the League of Women Voters. He is now using this wording:
“•Five years of civil experience as a Judicial Law Clerk.
“•Seventeen and a half years of criminal experience as a Los Angeles County Public Defender.”
On the South Los Angeles Voters Guide website, Mack says:
“More than 20 years of legal experience (15 years criminal experience as a trial attorney and five years legal experience in the civil field). Experience includes clerkship for presiding Municipal Judges.”
(Mack has never had his own campaign website.)
In his current campaign, Mack asserted in a press release—with a link to an electronic version of it on the League of Women Voters’ website—that the MetNews has mistreated him, saying, in part:
“I can only conclude what the Met-News is saying is that I have no right to say I have 5 years of civil experience, and to do so is misleading. I worked in the Municipal Court in the Legal Processing Department; first as a law clerk while in law school as a part-time employee (though I worked 40-hours per week), then about 2 years later as a full time law clerk with benefits. After graduating from law school and passing the bar, the Municipal Court promoted me to a Supervisor of Court Defaults then to a Research Attorney. The Met-News is saying that the civil experience as a law clerk doesn’t count as civil experience, even though I was responsible for reviewing and evaluating cases for entry of civil default judgments and ex parte orders for the presiding Municipal Court Judges. Evaluations included such cases as breach of contracts, common counts, torts, promissory notes, Unruh’s, mechanic’s lien, auto leases, Rees-Leverings, claim and deliveries, civil and unlawful detainer stipulations, and unlawful detainers. The Met-News is saying that the civil experience as a law clerk doesn’t count as civil experience even though I was also responsible for reviewing ex-parte applications and orders, such as writs of attachments and possession and stay orders for writs of execution, and noticed motions, such as demurrers, motions to strike and summary judgments.
“Why in the world is this misleading, and why can’t this be considered as civil experience?”
Mack went on to say:
“The Met-News mentioned that I was rated qualified for the Superior Court twice by the LA County Bar, but didn’t mention that in the last election I was rated exceptionally well qualified by the Langston Bar Association. I was also given an outstanding rating by the Black Women Lawyers of Los Angeles which ranged from exceptionally well-qualified and well-qualified, ‘having a noted degree of experience and training, skill, leadership, integrity and several abilities to serve competently in the role of judge, based on an extensive review’ in an endorsement for appointment that was made for me to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger just a few months ago. The Met-News always concludes that I have little or no chance to win an election because I don’t have much money, and no political advisor or consultant and that I am basically wasting my time...the implication....that I should quit. Our country is built on the foundation of government by and for the people, not by and for only those who can afford to pay for it. What the Met-News obviously doesn’t understand about me is that I have never been a person of privilege or connections, and I am use [sic] to working hard for what I want, and that I am undaunted by the difficulties I always face along the way to each objective and ambition. They don’t appreciate and can’t understand my character for being tenacious and having a never say die work ethic and that I will overcome the odds of their negative predictions because I refuse to quit. Quitters never win, and winners never quit.”
Receives ‘Qualified’ Rating
Mack was this year again rated “qualified” by the County Bar.
The latest campaign financial reports show that through March 17, Mack had more money in his campaign coffers than his rivals in the race, amounting to about $69,000, mostly in loans from himself. Deputy District Attorney Eduard Abele reported receipt of $52,000, mostly in the form of a loan from himself, and Deputy District Attorney Michael O’Gara said he had taken in $4,000.
Mack, 53, received his law degree from the University of West Los Angeles on June 7, 1987. Before law school, he served in the U.S. Air Force, was in the film industry and worked as a chemist.
EDUARD R. ABELE
Veteran Prosecutor Touts ‘Experience And Versatility’
Deputy District Attorney Eduard R. Abele, 47, says he is making a first run for a seat on the Los Angeles Superior Court to “expand on more than 20 years of courtroom accomplishments as a criminal prosecutor.”
A self-described “proud first generation American,” he says that voters should choose him because of his “experience and versatility.” In support of this assertion, he points to the more than 100 felony jury trials and numerous sex crimes cases he has handled while in adult felony court and in the Sylmar juvenile court, and his previous service in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office Psychiatric and Major Fraud units.
Abele, the son of Latvian immigrants, attended college at California State University, Northridge before graduating from law school at Pepperdine University in 1986. He was admitted to the State Bar of California in 1987, and then worked briefly for a private attorney before becoming a member of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office later that year.
He has been a member of the office since then, and is currently assigned to the North Valley District courthouse in San Fernando.
Abele writes on his website that the most rewarding part of his career has been prosecuting sex offenders. He was named Deputy District Attorney of the Month by the District Attorney’s Office in February 2002 for his work on two related sexual assault cases, and also received the 2008 Justice for Homicide Victims Memorial Medallion from the Association of Deputy District Attorneys.
A registered Republican, he says he previously sought a judgeship by appointment, but that his name was not forwarded to the State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation.
Abele remarks that he has thought about becoming a judge for some time, noting that he thinks he would have made a good judge 10 years ago, but he says that he is glad that he has had the opportunity to gain more experience.
“I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was,” he comments.
He also says that he is “more easygoing” than he used to be, and that he thinks his courtroom would be a “pleasant place,” and “as comfortable as possible for witnesses and victims.”
In campaign reports filed with the Registrar-Recorder’s Office, Abele reported having raised a little over $52,000 between Jan. 1 and March 17 of this year. However, all but $1,000 was a loan from the candidate, who reported spending less than $300 during the same period.
He was rated “qualified” by the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Judicial Elections Evaluation Committee and has been endorsed by Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy D. Baca, 23 sitting Los Angeles Superior Court judicial officers, and other elected officials at the local, state and federal levels.
Abele has also been endorsed by Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, but Cooley has similarly endorsed O’Gara.
Although Abele is one of a number of prosecutors seeking a seat on the court in the June 3 election, he is not one of the eight who have cross-endorsed one another. Deputy Attorney General Lance Winters and Deputy District Attorneys Serena Murillo, Hilleri Merritt, Thomas Rubinson, Jared Moses, and Kathleen Blanchard have all endorsed O’Gara, and have, in turn, been endorsed by him in their respective races.
Controversy in Office
Abele concedes that some of his colleagues at the District Attorney’s Office “don’t like” him but says that “others do,” remarking that “sometimes…you get your harshest judgment from your colleagues.”
He has been the subject of a whisper campaign within the District Attorney’s Office alleging that he embraces and has expressed anti-Semitic views.
Abele says he became aware of the allegations earlier this year, but vehemently denies them as “preposterous,” saying “nothing could be further from the truth.”
Although he says that the allegations are “personally hurtful” to both him and friends who know him, and that it “puts me in a situation I shouldn’t have to defend,” he agrees that such an allegation, if true, would be relevant in assessing a candidate’s judgment.
Nevertheless, he says, the allegation is the “complete opposite of who I am and what I believe,” and he notes that his fiancé—who, he says, conducts marketing and training for Farmers Insurance, and whom he met through volunteering—is Jewish by ethnicity.
Abele has also been the subject of gossip within the District Attorney’s Office alleging that he is “pushy” when it comes to women in a dating context. Saying that this charge is “news to me,” he similarly rejects this allegation as “not true” and maintains that he has “been with the same woman for five years.”
Endorsed by Others
One of the jurists who have endorsed Abele, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Philip Soto, says that he believes Abele has the temperament and demeanor, as well as the knowledge and experience, to make a good judge.
Soto previously worked in the District Attorney’s Office, and says he has known Abele for 20 years because the two started in the office at the same time and trained together.
Although Soto says he never worked directly with Abele, he notes that the candidate has appeared before him in court and he calls Abele a “fine lawyer” and a “very just man.”
Recalling a “serious sex case” that Abele prosecuted before him, Soto says that Abele was “always punctual, always ready, and well versed in the legal and factual aspects of the case.” He also notes that he “could always rely on [Abele] being fair.”
Abele has declined to release his performance evaluations from the District Attorney’s Office, but he told the MetNews that he has “received ‘outstanding’ ratings in each category of all performance evaluations I have received the past decade.”
He is a member of the Los Angeles County and San Fernando Valley Bar Associations, as well as a member of his local police department foundation board, school bond oversight committee and neighborhood council.
Abele was also part of a group of volunteers that helped to open a safe harbor facility for sexual assault and child abuse victims, and he is a supporter of the Children’s Assault Treatment Services program at Northridge Hospital Medical Center.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company
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