Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Vote for Kumar—and Do More Than That
The most significant contest on the June 5 ballot in Los Angeles County is the one for Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 10. Unless those who care about the courts and justice do something—something more than just voting in the race—the wrong outcome could occur.
Incumbent Sanjay T. Kumar, a stellar jurist, is being challenged by a crusty, foul-mouthed assistant Hawthorne city attorney whose legal prowess is modest and whose sense of ethics and fair play is decidedly wanting.
Kumar is hailed by the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. as “exceptionally well qualified.” And he is. As a deputy attorney general, as a Superior Court judge, as a pro tem justice of the Court of Appeal, he has excelled. Manifestly, he deserves reelection.
The challenger, a former deputy district attorney, is branded “not qualified” by LACBA—again, an accurate assessment.
And yet, there is a possibility, a very real possibility, that Kumar will lose.
HERE IS A SIGNIFICANT FACTOR militating against Kumar and in favor of the challenger: their respective names. Kumar’s name has a foreign ring to it. (His father was born in India.) The challenger is named Kim Smith. “Smith,” a name originating in England, is the most common surname in the United States.
“Kumar” is an unfamiliar name among the general populace here, as is “Sanjay.” Given the common tendency to resort to stereotypes, his names are apt to conjure up the image of a man in need of a shave, in a turban, leading a camel.
On the other hand, “Smith” is associated with such persons as the late Kate Smith, who can be readily pictured (at least by those old enough to remember her) belting out “God Bless America” in front of an American flag.
Famous Smiths, past and present, include model Anna Nicole Smith; television stars Jaclyn Smith of “Charley’s Angels,” Roger Smith of “77 Sunset Strip,” and Buffalo Bob Smith of early television’s “Howdy Doody”; presidential candidates Alfred E. Smith and Margaret Chase Smith; and journalists Howard K. Smith and Harry Smith.
It might well be that “Kumar Brothers’ cough drops” would not have become a familiar national product and that “Mr. Kumar Goes to Washington” would not have become a highly popular, indeed now-classic, movie.
But will a foreign-sounding name like “Sanjay T. Kumar” prove so repulsive to voters that a judge of extraordinary talents and commitment will be dumped in favor of a doofus whose name is Smith? It is surely to be hoped that the answer is “no.”
Yet, it is a fact, a regrettable fact, that six years ago, a respected Los Angeles Superior Court judge named Dzintra Janavs, rated “exceptionally well qualified” by LACBA, was turned out of office, and elected in her place was a woman in the bakery business, Lynn Diane Olson, who was found “not qualified” by the County Bar. The respective names of the candidates—coupled with last-minute, surprise spending by Olson—brought about a stunning result that drew national attention.
EMBERS OF THE BENCH AND BAR this year have provided Kumar with funds, staving off a replay of the 2006 scenario where Janavs was caught off guard. Yet, Smith is on some slate mailers (with no picture, of course, since there are voters who are prone to favor female candidates and might just assume that Smith is a she).
And he does have the name “Smith” on the ballot; the incumbent does have the name “Kumar.”
If Kumar were to be defeated, it would be, plainly and simply, the product of bigotry. Los Angeles County would be seen nationally, indeed internationally, as a bastion of intolerance.
The message would be that in this county, hard work and attainment and quality mean less than sporting an Anglo Saxon surname.
We would be ridiculed and demeaned—and would deserve it.
HE LOS ANGELES COUNTY BAR ASSN., in its feistier days, would have overtly backed Kumar and placed ads in newspapers heralding its support. It does not take sides, anymore, not since the early 1970s. It does rate candidates, and posts the ratings on its website, but leaves it to others to make effective use of those ratings—which generally have little effect. Perhaps it will be different this year given that the Daily News, as well as the mutually owned Torrance Daily Breeze, have abdicated their journalistic responsibility by announcing in editorials that they won’t endorse in judicial races this year, deferring to the LACBA ratings, which they list.
The Los Angeles Times has endorsed Kumar, as have the Pasadena Star News, San Gabriel Valley Tribune and Whittier Daily News (as well as the MetNews and, in tomorrow’s edition, Nuestra Comunidad).
Kumar has the more prestigious ballot designation, “Superior Court Judge.” Smith’s designation—“criminal prosecutor”—is not a shabby one, however. He’s apt to be perceived as somebody who gains convictions of slayers and rapists, rather than the purse-snatchers and other misdemeanants his municipal office actually prosecutes.
Perhaps Kumar is, as we would hope, destined to win handily. Yet, that is far from a certainty. The prospect is a realistic one that he will be stripped of his judgeship by voters who lack cognizance of, let alone interest in, LACBA ratings, who have no inkling as to the incumbent’s record, and who will instinctively be drawn to a candidate with the “solid” name of Smith over someone named Kumar.
HAT CAN BE DONE? If lawyers and judges who care about the outcome of this race were to send an e-mail to every person in their address books of voting age, and who reside in the County of Los Angeles, urging a vote for Kumar, it could conceivably make a difference.
Personal messages from lawyers and judges to those they know, persons who trust in their opinions, would surely have more impact than slate mailers or robo-calls or ads.
Not that long ago, hand-writing letters and hand-addressing envelopes to 100 persons would have taken the better part of a day, if one’s fingers held up that long. In but minutes, it is now possible to reach 100 with a message, or 1,000—and without the cost of postage, and instantaneously.
To show support for a judge with exceptional abilities and dedication to his job, to thwart a judicial candidacy reliant upon voter bigotry, and to deter such efforts in the future, we urge that you not only vote for Judge Sanjay T. Kumar, but do more.
Spread the word, via e-mail, that Kumar is an outstanding judge, highly worthy of election to Office No. 10.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company