Thursday, October 28, 2010
Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 28
In the primary, we endorsed mediator/private practitioner Mark Ameli in an 8-way race. Los Angeles Superior Court Referee Randy Hammock was our second choice.
The two are now in a run-off.
Looking anew at both candidates, this time through a stronger lens, we see warts that were not in focus before.
We are disappointed to learn of Ameli’s lack of candor in dealing with the Los Angeles County Bar Assn.’s Judicial Elections Evaluation Committee, failing to disclose lawsuits against him. We regret his ill-fated effort to change his ballot designation to “Superior Court Litigator,” implying a position with the Superior Court. We bemoan his deceptiveness in likening his own bench experience—which is comprised of serving every now and then as a volunteer pro tem—with that of Hammock, a paid subordinate judicial officer since July, 2007.
Hammock was an as-needed referee from that point until June, 1, 2008, when he became a fulltime referee, hearing juvenile dependency cases; his status reverted to that of an as-needed referee at the end of March, 2009, when a judge was moved into the courtroom in which he had sat; although his status remained that of an “as-needed” referee, he was, as it turned out, needed every court day from October, 2009 until recent weeks, presiding over Department 405 in the dependency court.
It is by no means to Hammock’s discredit that he no longer sits day-in, day-out. He had been filling in for a judge, Emily Stevens, who was on a leave of absence; she has now retired; a judge who was recently appointed now presides in her former courtroom.
What is, however, to Hammock’s discredit is that he has a video on his newly revamped campaign website, in which he declares: “Every day, I hear cases....” Hammock now sits some days of the week—not every day, as he claims.
ammock brings to our attention that slate mailers on which Ameli has purchased space include these words: “15 years as Judge Pro Tem.” The Los Angeles County Bar Assn.’s “Guidelines for the Conduct of Campaigns for Judicial Office” contains this provision: “Campaign material and statements referring to a judicial candidate’s services as a volunteer temporary judge shall use the phrase ‘Temporary Judge’ and shall not use the phrase ‘Judge Pro Tem,’ and shall state that the services are voluntary.”
The rule makes sense since the meaning of “pro tem” is not apt to be grasped by most voters, and use of “Judge Pro Tem” is destined to convey that the candidate has held an actual judgeship. The words “Temporary Judge” (or, better yet, “volunteer temporary judge”) are obviously preferable, from the standpoint of avoiding misconceptions. Although some portions of the guidelines mirror ethics standards of a mandatory nature for all lawyers running for judgeships, adherence to the particular LACBA stricture in issue is voluntary. Hammock says that he has agreed to be bound by the guidelines, but acknowledges that he doesn’t know if Ameli has.
Given Hammock’s vow, it is regrettable that he fails to take note of, and adhere to, the provision immediately following the one which Ameli appears to have breached. It says: “Only full-time judges and full-time subordinate judicial officers may be pictured wearing judicial robes in campaign materials.” On his new website, Hammock is pictured on all six of the pages in a judicial robe. As noted, Hammock has not been a fulltime referee since the end of March of last year; even if it were rationalized that he was, in fact, sitting fulltime recently while an “as-needed” referee, that is no longer so.
Another provision of the guidelines is a proclamation that “[a]ny material presented in connection with a campaign for judicial office...shall reflect the dignity and integrity of that office.” Ameli has failed to abide by that restriction. Ameli placards can be seen in a wide area of the county, unlawfully tacked to public sign posts and fences around vacant lots.
lthough—contrary to what Ameli seeks to portray—Hammock has significant judicial experience and Ameli’s own is inappreciable, there is the further issue as to the quality of Hammock’s judicial performance.
He is a bench officer who is highly intelligent, hard-working, and conscientious. On the other hand, he is an individual who is “hyper”; he comes on so strong as to render some persons appearing in his courtroom ill at ease. Ameli, by contrast, is subdued, possessing ideal judicial demeanor. But that, in light of other factors, is not enough.
We have come around to the County Bar’s view that both Ameli and Hammock warrant no rating higher than “qualified.”
Our enthusiasm for Ameli’s candidacy is diminished, but we find insufficient justification to switch our endorsement to Hammock.
We’re sitting this one out.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company