Thursday, May 3, 2012
CJA Political Action Committee Moves to Help Incumbents
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A political action committee established by the California Judges Association has sent checks to 16 challenged judges, including all three of the challenged incumbents in Los Angeles County, the committee chair said yesterday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Vicencia said the committee would give $2,000 to Judge Sanjay T. Kumar, $1,000 to Judge James Otto, and $250 to Judge Lynn Olson.
Vicencia said Judicial Excellence Together Political Action Committee, or JetPAC, which CJA voted to form last September, would contribute over $22,000 in response to “a disturbing trend of more and more judges being challenged.” Twenty-one of the approximately 500 judges up for re-election this year are facing challengers, compared to 13 two years ago, he said.
CJA commented in a release:
“Judges in California face a troubling dilemma: they must raise campaign funds while maintaining the appearance of impartiality required by the Code of Judicial Ethics. For example, whenever a judge receives a campaign contribution of $100 or more, he/she must disclose that contribution in open court every time the donor appears before him/her. If the contribution is $1,500 or more, the judge is disqualified from hearing that person’s case. While these rules help maintain California’s high standards of judicial ethics, they also discourage those who know the judge’s performance best—the litigants and lawyers who frequently appear before the judge—from contributing to the judge’s campaign for fear the contribution will bar the judge from hearing their case.”
“The judge’s dilemma is compounded by the fact that while the judge is under a continuing ethical obligation to disclose and disqualify, the attorney challenger, who is not presently hearing cases, may receive contributions from virtually anyone without the disclosure obligation.”
Vicencia, a former CJA president, acknowledged that committee’s fundraising, mostly from other judges, is small by PAC standards. The hope is that more can be raised through broader outreach to the legal community, although there is little time to do that this year, with the primary set for June 5, he said.
Of the 16 recipients, only one—Warren Stracener of El Dorado Superior Court—faces a possible runoff, as he drew two opponents, while the others each face a single challenger.
While the judges who have given have done so “enthusiastically,” he added, the late and slow start—the committee reported raising less than $3,000 in its first three months of existence—have limited overall fundraising, especially during a period in which the individual candidates and their supporters have been raising money on their own.
Kumar, for example, reported raising over $150,000—including $100,000 he personally loaned the campaign—through March 17, the end of the last reporting period, and more than $20,000 in major donations since. Only donations of more than $1,000 have to be reported between the end of one period and the reporting deadline for the next.
The next comprehensive reports are due May 24, for the period March 18 through May 19.
The decisions regarding how much to donate to each candidate, Vicencia said, were based on several factors, including the perceived difficulty of each candidate’s race and the candidate’s other fundraising. The decisions were made by a seven-member committee, which included Vicencia and retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gregory O’Brien.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joanne O’Donnell is serving as liaison between the PAC and CJA.
Of the 13 judges in other counties who received funds, five received $2,000 each, the maximum the committee gave to any one judge, Vicencia said.
In other election-related news, Los Angeles Superior Court candidate Ben Brees reported that he had been rated “qualified” by the County Bar’s Judicial Elections Evaluation Committee and would not appeal. Brees is running for an open seat; the METNews previously reported that both of his opponents, Deputy District Attorney Eric Harmon and environmental lawyer Berj Parseghian, were rated “well qualified.”
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company