Thursday, June 7, 2012
Prosecutors, Incumbents Sweep Local Superior Court Contests
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Three Los Angeles Superior Court judges were returned to office by large margins in primary voting, while three prosecutors won open seats.
Returns from all of the more than 4,000 county precincts in Tuesday’s primary show that Judges Lynn D. Olson, Sanjay T. Kumar, and James D. Otto will receive new six-year terms, beginning in January. Deputy District Attorneys Sean Coen, Andrea Thompson, and Eric Harmon will succeed judges who have retired or are scheduled to retire.
The Registrar-Recorder’s Office reported that 765,000 votes were counted on Tuesday night. Another 43,411 provisional ballots, 60,797 mailed ballots turned in at polling places on election day, and 57,891 vote-by-mail ballots received from the Postal Service before the polls closed remain to be counted, but there is no realistic possibility they would change the outcome of any judicial race.
Several long-time election observers said they could not recall a previous year when not a single Los Angeles County judicial election went to a runoff.
One of those observers, political consultant David Gould, ran the campaigns of Coen, Thompson, and Kumar. He said those races went about as he expected, but that he was surprised that Coen’s race did not go to a runoff, given that the candidate had three opponents.
Coen spent over $400,000, the most of any judicial candidate in the county this cycle, and wound up with a little more than 51 percent of the vote.
To do that well, Gould postulated, “you need to do everything right.” In Coen’s case, that included spending about $100,000 to purchase a candidate statement for inclusion in the sample ballot pamphlet, which Kumar did as well.
The candidate also benefited from his ballot designation,
Coen—who defeated fellow Deputy District Attorney Craig Gold, attorney/ musician/legal commentator Joe Escalante, and civil lawyer Lawrence Kaldor—said he was prepared for a runoff but “knew there was a slight chance” of avoiding it.
The decision to purchase a candidate statement, he added, was not linked to thoughts of winning outright. Since the decision was made before the field of candidates was finalized—fellow Deputy District Attorney Shannon Knight mulled the race but wound up running against Thompson instead—we “wanted to make sure that we would be in the top two,” Coen said.
The prosecutor also benefited from his ballot designation, Hardcore Gang Prosecutor. Harmon had the same designation, as did Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson, who surprised many by outpolling Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich in the contest for district attorney, although he now faces what may be an uphill battle against the frontrunner, Chief Deputy District Attorney Jackie Lacey.
Coen said he would be interested in an appointment to complete the term of Judge Deborah Andrews, who is retiring July 5.
None of Coen’s opponents could be reached for comment on the outcome, and Gold’s campaign consultant, Ray Bishop, declined to talk about the campaign.
Olson, who received almost 70 percent of the vote to defeat perennial candidate Douglas Weitzman, said she felt confident of winning but “I don’t think you ever want to take an election for granted.” Olson’s candidacy was controversial largely because of the way she won her previous race, ousting Judge Dzintra Janavs six years ago, a result attributed in part to the incumbent’s unusual name.
This year’s campaign “was a little better organized,” she said. While much of the media coverage of her race centered on the previous election and not her performance on the bench, Olson thanked her “colleagues in Compton and El Monte [where she previously sat] who supported me and know my commitment to the office of Superior Court judge.”
She added that she was particularly thankful to Presiding Judge Lee Edmon for her endorsement, and that the results of yesterday’s balloting proved that a candidate who works for the endorsement’s electorate will get it, even in the case of candidates with “foreign-sounding names.” The electorate showed by their retention of the three judges on yesterday’s ballot “that they will choose the best candidates,” she said.
Weitzman did not return a phone call for comment.
Kumar, who retained his seat with more than 60 percent of the vote, was not available for comment, but Gould said he avoided Janavs’ fate by taking the challenge of Hawthorne prosecutor Kim Smith seriously.
Gould said Janavs “was blindsided” when Olson, who originally filed a short form saying she did not intend to spend more than $1,000 on the race, wound up spending about $120,000, nearly all of it on slate mail. Kumar, by contrast, “ran a real campaign” against Smith, Gould said.
The challenger avoided all media interviews and requests for comment, and spent little money, relying, observers said, on his common surname, the uncommon name of his opponent—whose father is of Indian descent—and his ballot designation.
Otto was not available yesterday, but his campaign consultant, Fred Huebscher, said he was surprised by the large margin of victory. The consultant had predicted victory, but had said the margin would be most likely in the 10-20 point area.
In hindsight, he said, Hughey’s ballot designation of “Retired Criminal Prosecutor” was not as potent as Huebscher had feared. Instead of giving the image of a crime-fighter, he said, it may have conveyed to voters that the challenger was older—which he was—and no longer vigorous, particularly in contrast with an incumbent judge.
He expressed amazement that Hughey “spent $140,000 on a race that wasn’t winnable,” focusing not on Otto’s record as a lawyer and a judge but on his administrative decision to reassign judicial duties within the Long Beach courthouse, where he serves as supervising judge.
And now that the election is over, he said, “virtually no more voters know of Judge Otto’s alleged transgressions” than before Hughey entered the race.
Hughey did not return a phone call. His consultant, Patrick Furey, said:
“I don’t think there’s much to say. When you’re running against an incumbent judge in L.A. County, nothing surprises me.”
In the case of Thompson, who defeated Knight and Deputy City Attorney Matt Schonbrun, Gould said it was his candidate’s ballot designation of Child Molestation Prosecutor that “trumped everything,” even Knight’s Hardcore Gang Prosecutor. Thompson was also on many slate mailers.
Gould said he focus-grouped Thompson’s ballot designation among his employees, all of whom are woman, and all of them agreed that if they had to choose a candidate based solely on ballot designation, Thompson’s would be the one they would choose.
Thompson will succeed Judge Judith Vander Lans, who has slated retirement for Aug. 1..
Harmon, another Hardcore Gang Prosecutor, received 61 percent of the vote in a three-way race. He described himself as “elated and overjoyed” at the outcome.
He said he was “humbled and flattered” not only at the vote total, but with the support he received from family and friends, as well as from fellow prosecutors and judges.
Harmon will succeed Judge Anita Dymant, who has already retired. He said he intends to research the prospect of an appointment, explaining that he had not had much time to think about taking the bench early, but that he was “eager to get started.”
His opponents, environmental attorney Berj Parseghian and personal injury attorney Ben Brees, could not be reached for comment.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company