Monday, June 4, 2012
Summary of Endorsements in Tomorrow’s Election
Los Angeles Superior Court Races
Office No. 3
OS ANGELES DEPUTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY Sean Coen is a skilled prosecutor. He’s just completed his 101st jury trial.
Coen is convivial, quick-witted, and committed to staying current on the law.
The Los Angeles County Bar Assn. finds him “qualified.” He could well be viewed as being on the high end of “qualified” or low end of “well qualified.”
What is determinative is that of the four candidates in this race, he is the only one who is ready for a judgeship.
While pro bono attorney Laurence Kaldor is not, we anticipate that he will become so. He does lack courtroom experience, accounting for his “not qualified” rating by the County Bar, but is now getting that experience as a volunteer pro tem deputy city attorney. Too, he has served as a volunteer pro tem judge. In light of his resolve, his mental acuity, and his compassion, we believe he will be ready for a judgeship not long from now.
Deputy District Attorney Craig Gold isn’t and won’t be. He claims on the ballot to be a “Criminal Trial Prosecutor.” While several candidates this year have submitted ballot designations that are a shade or two off from dead-on accuracy, Gold goes beyond creativity; he is out and out lying. He does not handle trials and does not prosecute criminals. He handles civil asset forfeitures, an assignment he’s had for 10 years, an assignment would not be given to any top-notch deputy. A judge must be able to organize thoughts and communicate effectively; Gold can’t. We believe that LACBA, in finding him “qualified,” was charitable.
Radio talk show host Joe Escalante was asked early in the campaign what LACBA rating he anticipated receiving. He shot back, jokingly: “Is there an ‘extremely unqualified’?” There isn’t. If there were, he would warrant it. (He got a “not qualified” rating, LACBA’s lowest.) Escalante meets the state constitutional requirement for the office—10 years of licensure by the State Bar—but is otherwise lacking in credentials.
Sanjay T. Kumar
Office No. 10
ANDIDATE KIM SMITH, who works for the Hawthorne City Attorney’s Office, is counting on the electorate showing itself to be a band of bigots who will gravitate to his name on the ballot over the foreign-sounding name of the incumbent, Sanjay T. Kumar.
As it happens, Kumar is one of the most conscientious and brilliant judges on the trial bench, and really ought to be on the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court. Smith, a crusty cuss, an opportunist, and a legal lightweight, is patently devoid of qualifications for judicial service.
LACBA made the right call in hailing Kumar as “exceptionally well qualified” and branding Smith “not qualified.”
Lynn Diane Olson
Office No. 38
MITH WOULD PROBABLY NOT be running this year had Lynn Diane Olson not demonstrated, six years ago, the power of an American-sounding name on the ballot over a foreign-sounding one.
The “Bagel Lady”—as some denominated her in the South Bay where she and her husband have a bread and bagel shop, and as she has come to be known within the legal community—challenged a respected judge, Dzintra Janavs, and won. Olson’s name pitted against Janavs’ was crucial to her victory.
So was her last-minute heavy spending which caught the Janavs camp off-guard. That was because Olson had filed a form at the outset of the campaign declaring she would not spend more than $1,000—something she confessed after her victory was a political ploy.
The judiciary and the bar have not forgiven Olson for her despicable conduct in 2006. Yet, if she is viewed as a devil, let us give the devil her due. She has buckled down, kept a low profile, and is, by all accounts of which we’re aware, doing an adequate job as a jurist.
We suspect that the current “not qualified” rating of her by LACBA was based more on retaliation—for her 2006 election conduct, as well as her refusal to participate this year in the rating process—than on an objective assessment of her present qualifications. Olson now has judicial experience; she has advanced twice in her assignments; she’s trying hard to do her job well.
Her opponent, real estate broker Douglas Weitzman, a perennial candidate who claims to have a law practice (though evidence of that is lacking), was also found “not qualified” by LACBA. In his case, that’s accurate; indeed, if LACBA did have a rating of “extremely unqualified,” Weitzman would deserve it.
Andrea C. Thompson
Office No. 65
NDREA C. THOMPSON has been a deputy district attorney for 27 years.
Longevity, by itself, does not evidence fitness for higher office. By way of example, an obscure deputy district attorney with a tenure of 43 years is running for DA but the mention of his name, John L. Breault III, evokes the reaction, “who”?
On the other hand, where a judicial candidate’s longevity as a local prosecutor is coupled with high attainment in that capacity, and with enjoyment of widespread respect within and outside the DA’s Office, the extensiveness of that candidate’s experience must be regarded as a highly impressive factor.
Thompson has that factor going for her.
Her office performance evaluations show that she is regarded as possessing maturity, judgment, legal knowledge, tenacity, pliability, dedication, industriousness, ideal temperament, and a willingness to assist colleagues.
LACBA says she is “well qualified,” and we conclude that she deserves at least that rating.
Deputy Los Angeles District Attorney Shannon Knight is bright, energetic, and able. She handles one successful murder prosecution after another. She has a sharp wit and a sense of humor. We believe that Knight has the capacity to be a judge, but her experience and abilities are outweighed by Thompson’s.
Deputy Los Angeles City Attorney Matthew Schonbrun’s potential for judicial service is high. His credentials, at present, aren’t.
LACBA finds both Knight and Schonbrun “qualified.”
James D. Otto
Office No. 78
ENNETH R. HUGHEY, a part-time lawyer, has challenged Judge James Otto because Otto, as supervising judge in Long Beach, assigned veteran Judge J.D. Lord to tasks that used to be performed by a commissioner.
Hughey, a war hero, sees sinister motivation in that and discerns a failure to accord Lord the respect a Vietnam veteran ought to receive. Otto explains that he was under orders to close one of four courtroom handling felony trials and closing Lord’s would have had the “least impact”—a polite way of saying that Lord was the least productive of the four judges. Somebody had to fill in for the commissioner who was given a golden handshake, and that turned out to be Lord.
Even if Otto made a bad call, that relates to Otto’s prowess as an administrator, not a judge. He is an able jurist—no one contends to the contrary—and the reason for the challenge is asinine.
Nonetheless, four generally responsible newspapers that are part of the Los Angeles Newspaper Group—the Long Beach Press-Telegram, Pasadena Star News, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, and the Whittier Daily News—have published an editorial saying:
“Retired prosecutor Kenneth R. Hughey is running an unusual campaign, citing everything from his folksy country judge father to his service to his country in Vietnam, where he spent over four years in a prison camp. But we liked Hughey’s folksy outrage at sitting Judge James D. Otto’s apparent reassigning to lesser trials of a fellow judge in the Long Beach courthouse for fairly capricious reasons. Otto failed to defend his actions very well in our meeting. Hughey [age 80] would be one of the oldest judges ever elected to the bench in the county, but he’s still sharp and passionate about the law, and we like that.”
The Daily News, the major LANG newspaper, along with the Daily Breeze, earlier published an editorial which merely recited the LACBA ratings.
Incredibly, the four newspapers favor folksiness of a man who was in the aerospace industry for 40 years and served 13 years as a deputy city attorney, and has a LACBA rating of “not qualified,” over the ability and experience of a man who was in private practice for 29 years, often handling complex litigation, has been a judge for nine years, and was found by the County Bar to be “exceptionally well qualified.”
The Daily News/Daily Breeze editorial in which no position is taken on judicial candidates explains: “The editorial page staff has neither the resources nor the expertise to weigh candidates and make endorsements in judicial races.” That’s interesting. The respective LANG newspapers formerly had separate editorial boards. Now, there is just one for all the LANG newspapers, all of which customarily run the same editorials. Judging from the four newspapers’ endorsement of a crackpot candidate over a sitting judge whose juridical abilities are unquestioned, it appears the Daily News and the Breeze are right; LANG’s “editorial page staff” lacks “the expertise to weigh candidates and make endorsements in judicial races.”
The Times, by the way, has made all the same calls in judicial races this year as the MetNews. We made four of our endorsements before the Times announced theirs, and two after. Our endorsements and theirs are in accord with how LACBA’s Judicial Elections Evaluation Committee viewed the candidates; none of those endorsed by the Times or by us has a lower rating than any other candidate in the race.
Office No. 114
OS ANGELES DEPUTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY Eric Harmon and civil practitioner Berj Parseghian are both described by LACBA as “well qualified” and plaintiffs’ attorney Ben M. Brees is said to be “qualified.”
LACBA’s committee has traditionally favored candidates with a balance of civil and criminal experience, and it is probably Harmon’s relative lack of work in the civil arena that deterred the panel from finding him to be “exceptionally well qualified.” We believe that he is.
What matters most, in our view, are deftness in legal reasoning and the abilities to ascertain, comprehend, and articulate what the law is, and not the particular area of law in which a candidate has been practicing.
In his latest office performance evaluation, Harmon received the highest and rarely bestowed rating of “far exceeded expectations (outstanding).”
In 2010, Patrick R. Dixon, then head of Major Crimes Division (now assistant district attorney) said in evaluating Harmon’s performance:
“He is liked by his peers, respected by his superiors and is praised by the bench….
“Mr. Harmon is one of the finest writers and legal researchers in this division. He stays abreast of the latest case law, and when confronted with legal issues, he will commit himself to original research in order to present concise and well-reasoned legal arguments….
“Moreover, Mr. Harmon’s skills with pen and paper are matched only by his in-court presentation. He is at once respectful and polished, yet assertive and determined. His arguments are pointed and direct without being curt or terse.”
While we have high regard for Parseghian, and believe he has the makings of an excellent judge, we are bewildered by the Press-Telegram/Star News/SGV Tribune/Whittier Daily News endorsement of him. The editorial says:
“Berj Parseghian is an environmental attorney who switched to the law after time as a Caltech graduate student in chemistry. ‘I really like to dig in and find out what the reasoning is’ in his cases, he told us. ‘When you’re presenting material to a jury, you want to break it all down so it’s understandable to everyone.’ The La Crescenta resident has the endorsement of former local Rep. Jim Rogan, now on the Orange County bench, among many others, and would be a refreshing voice on the bench. This one’s a close call, as gang homicide prosector [sic] Eric Harmon is not only the more conventional choice, but a very good one.”
It is puzzling why the four LANG newspapers would endorse Parseghian, in part based on his view as to how to present material to a jury. Was its inquiry so shallow that it failed to ascertain that he has tried only one case to a jury, and in the capacity of second chair? Harmon, by contrast has handled 61 felony jury trials and 23 misdemeanor jury trials.
Without disrespect to Rogan—who years ago was the Glendale Municipal Court presiding judge and who, as prosecutor of President Bill Clinton in the House of Representatives, succeeded in gaining an impeachment—he is not a judge in this county and Parseghian has never tried a case in his courtroom.
Looking at endorsements by sitting Los Angeles Superior Court judges, Harmon is endorsed by 27 of them and Parseghian by one—a judge who supports him simply because it appears to him that a deputy DA will win each of the other two open seats and he’d like to see a civil practitioner bag the third one.
Politically, we are philosophically in tune with Rogan and Parseghian. We differ with Harmon on certain issues—including his support of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys becoming a union, our own view being that membership in a labor union by persons who are a part of any learned profession is utterly demeaning to that profession. But taking all factors into account, we perceive as overwhelming the indications that Harmon is the candidate most worthy of support in this contest.
Unflappable, articulate, succinct, sincere, dedicated, giving, and knowledgeable, Harmon is ideally suited for a judicial career.
HERE ARE SIX CANDIDATES in the race. Deputy District Attorneys Bobby Grace, Danette Meyers, and Breault have no appreciable support.
The most likely scenario is that Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich will be in a run-off with either Chief Deputy District Attorney Jackie Lacey or Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson.
We favor Jackson, an accomplished prosecutor possessed of integrity and judgment. Articulate, persuasive and reasonable, we believe he would lead the office well.
Lacey has shown a high degree of competence in running the day-to-day operations of the DA’s Office. She is mature and level-headed, and is our second choice.
Jackson and Lacey are the cream at the top of the barrel; Trutanich is the sludge at the bottom of it.
Trutanich is a “B” boy: a bully, braggart, bloviator, blowhard, bamboozler, beguiler, buffoon, and bulls—er.
We supported him for city attorney in 2009. Like many, we were taken in by him. So was District Attorney Steve Cooley, who pushed for Trutanich’s election back then, and is opposing his candidacy for DA now, endorsing Lacey.
Also fooled was Deputy DA David Berger who also ran for city attorney in 2009, lost in the primary, backed Trutanich in the run-off and, on loan from the DA’s Office, became City Attorney Trutanich’s special assistant—exiting that post abruptly. On Fox 11 on Wednesday night, Berger aptly labeled Trutanich “an extremely good con man.”
Http://losangelesdragnet.blogspot.com is the address of Berger’s anti-Trutanich website.
RUTANICH WENT SO FAR as to sign a pledge in 2008 that if elected city attorney, he would serve out his four-year term, not run for higher office, would seek a second term and, if elected, would serve out that term—and if he violated the promise, he would take out a full-page ad in Los Angeles daily newspapers proclaiming: “I am a liar.” He has breached his vow; he hasn’t placed those ads. Nor has he fulfilled his other promise, to donate $100,000, from personal funds, to an after-school program. His excuse is that his run-off opponent, then-City Council member Jack Weiss, did not also sign the pledge. Hogwash. His own pledge was absolute and was not dependent on Weiss also signing it.
Trutanich made a bid to portray himself on the ballot as “Los Angeles Chief Prosecutor,” implying that he was the incumbent DA, and that Lacey, listed as “Chief Deputy DA,” was his underling. Hurray for retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joseph Kalin, sitting on assignment, who disallowed that attempted deception, and Jackson, who challenged it. Trutanich is on the ballot listed as “Los Angeles City Prosecutor” (truthful, though “Los Angeles City Attorney” would be more precise).
In a blatant effort to mislead, a press release pointed to the 725,000 hits on Trutanich’s YouTube campaign video, proclaiming that this evidenced “broad support behind Trutanich’s candidacy.” A March 3 Times article reports that “the campaign statement left out a key detail: It paid for many of those YouTube views.”
N A CAMPAIGN VIDEO, there’s a claim that Trutanich, as a deputy DA some years back, was shot at by gang members during a crime-scene investigation. A former LAPD investigator declares on the video that Trutanich wasn’t afraid and that this incident strengthened Trutanich’s crime-fighting resolve. The Times unearthed the apparent falsity of Trutanich’s representation. There’s no LAPD report of the alleged shooting. In a 2008 deposition about the investigation, Trutanich mentioned nothing about being shot at.
“It’s been 30 years, guys, cut me a little slack,” he’s quoted as telling the Times.
Was the alleged shooting mentioned in his District Attorney’s Office personnel file? Files from that era had not been maintained, the office stated. Trutanich shot off a letter to Attorney General Kamala Harris declaring:
“This statement is shocking. The fact that the district attorney’s office admitted to losing custody and control over my records is bad enough. The possibility that records have been removed, tampered with or stolen in the course of a political campaign merits your office’s immediate review.”
In truth, Trutanich could not have been shocked. In 2008, he hired a firm to investigate his background so he could see what he might have to explain away. A Nov. 26, 2008, report to him says:
“We have requested all releasable portions of Trutanich’s personnel file from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, along with a listing of the cases Trutanich handled. We have been informed through a written response that the requested information is no longer maintained by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.”
N KEVIN JAMES’ RADIO SHOW, Trutanich claimed to have originated the Administrative Code Enforcement (“ACE”) program, entailing use of citations for minor code violations rather than criminal charges being brought. Chief Deputy City Attorney William Carter admitted that Trutanich had not conceived the program, declaring: “[W]e saw other cities were already doing it.”
Plainly, Trutanich is a serial liar. He is unfit for his present city post. He would be unfit for the county post he seeks.
Jackson is fit. Lacey is fit.
It is our view that as between them, Jackson would be a stronger leader of the office.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company