Friday, May 25, 2012
JUDICIAL ELECTIONS: Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 114
Deputy District Attorney, Two Civil Practitioners Compete
A Los Angeles deputy district attorney and two civil practitioners are in a tussle for election to a Superior Court open seat.
Ben M. Brees is identified on the ballot as “Consumer Attorney,” Deputy District Attorney Eric Harmon as “Gang Homicide Prosecutor,” and Berj Parseghian as “Environmental Attorney.”
Brees has been found by the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. to be “qualified” for a judgeship, while Harmon and Parseghian have been termed “well qualified.”
Harmon and Parseghian each received a letter from LACBA which advises that the Judicial Elections Evaluation Committee found that he possesses “the professional ability, experience, competence, integrity and temperament considered worthy of special note and indicative of fitness to perform the judicial function with a high degree of skill and effectiveness.”
The letter to Parseghian—who regularly acts as a volunteer judge pro tem—says:
“The Committee also felt that you have demonstrated pro-active efforts to gain experience that is important for the office that you seek, and that in areas of skill and experience for which all judicial candidates must continue to grow, particularly new judicial candidates, you have demonstrated a strong desire accompanied by affirmative past actions and preparation to acquire the necessary skills and experience for the office that you seek.”
Harmon, who is on the majority of the slate mailers, has the endorsement of the Los Angeles Times.
BEN M. BREES
Drapery Salesman Suddenly Finds Himself Enrolled as Law Student
Benjimin Brees would likely not be a judicial candidate today—because he wouldn’t be a lawyer—had it not been for his acting on an impulse and a whim one day in 1986. The event might be described by a term used in a song in Disney’s “Happiest Millionaire”: “fortuosity.”
Brees recounts that he was driving along Sepulveda Boulevard. He was a salesperson for May Company, and was between calls. He was “successful” in that pursuit, selling draperies, shutters and blinds, but “it wasn’t satisfying—it was just a job,” he says.
It is understanding that the activity would not have been fulfilling. Brees had graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1972, expecting to become a high school French teacher, but couldn’t find a position. Instead, he took various jobs. He drove a bus in Los Angeles, was a probation officer, ran unsuccessful drapery business. Now, he was a salesman.
There on Sepulveda, north of Roscoe, he spotted the San Fernando Valley College of Law.Brees notes:
“I remember there used to be signs on the 405 near Roscoe identifying the exit for SFV College of Law….So I had been aware of the existence of the school….”
But he had never been there, he says, recounting:
“I…just pulled in, and was talking to the gentleman there who was the registrar, the dean or something. I forget.”
Summer classes were to start in about two days. Bees was told he could start classes, but would be admitted conditionally—the condition being that he pass the Law School Admission Test.
“So, I started night school two or three days later, in the law school,” Brees says. “And the rest is history.”
He passed the LSAT, and graduated second in his class in 1990 (by which time the law school was owned by the University of LaVerne). Brees passed the bar exam that same year.
For about 10 years, he handled insurance defense work for Thomas & Price in Glendale (now Thomas & Thomas). He then formed Louis and Brees, LLP, with Bonnie Louis (now an Irvine sole practitioner), an association that lasted about eight-and-a-half years. They represented plaintiffs.
He now works for the mid-Wilshire law firm of John Ye, still handling plaintiffs’ actions.
Would Be Courteous
The lawyer says that over the years, he has observed such conduct on the part of judges as “during closing arguments, turning and facing the wall.”
“I see in court sometimes, judges get angry at people. Bad moods. Going to court can be a very unpleasant experience. There’s no reason for that, I think.”
Bees goes on to tell of one of his “pet peeves,” saying:
“If you go to the courthouse, usually in the afternoons—and there’s not much going on. I don’t know why. But I’m going do my best that if I’m in a courtroom, mine is not going to be like that. It’s going to be busy all the time.”
He says he will “take to the bench a strong middle-class work ethic.”
Looking at the economic crisis faced by the courts, he offers a suggestion:
“There’s a lot of cuts going on right now…and we’re going to have to learn to do things a little differently, I think. They’re talking about five years, going back to five years to get to trial….I don’t think that’s really necessary. Cases settle, at least in the civil arena, when they get a trial date. That’s the pressure to settle the case. You still set them—you might have a bigger trial calendar—but you still set them to get the cases resolved.”
He says he’d like to see a push to get more lawyers involved in volunteer alternative dispute resolution efforts. Brees has, himself, acted as an arbitrator and mediator for the Los Angeles Superior Court Alternate Dispute Resolution Office and as a settlement officer.
Endorsement by Judge
Bees acknowledges that only one Los Angeles Superior Court judge has endorsed him. He elaborates:
“Judge [Deborah] Sanchez. She’s a female judge. She’s in El Monte. She’s the only judge I have.”
Sanchez did not respond to an e-mail seeking her reasons for endorsing Brees.
Four Democratic clubs and two unions recommend his election, as do some political office-holders.
Brees relates that he is a member of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn., the San Fernando Valley Bar Assn., the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles, and the Lesbian & Gay Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, as well as “several gay organizations.”
His website presents this picture of him:
“Ben is fluent in Spanish, which has been helpful to his clients, plaintiffs who, like Ben, come from hard-working, modest-income, immigrant, and underserved communities. Ben’s favorite memories are helping impoverished, homeless individuals recover from injuries, and seeing them stabilize their lives with funds awarded them as a result of Ben’s assistance.
“Ben will bring to the bench…a progressive point of view. Ben possesses an unwavering commitment to impartiality and fairness to all persons who will appear in his courtroom, because he believes the playing field has to be level. During Ben’s career he has, unfortunately, encountered courts that demonstrated undisguised bias against his clients/consumers which is not widespread but exists nonetheless. M.L. King said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’ Ben believes judges have an opportunity to hammer that ‘bending’ with each decision.”
Prosecutor Draws Plaudits In Intra-Office Evaluations, Also From Sitting Judges
Deputy Los Angeles District Attorney Eric Harmon, in conversation, is soft spoken. Nonetheless, before a jury, he is said to be a dynamo. Harmon is a magnet for accolades, within his office and outside of it.
A recipient of a law degree from the University of Texas in 1998, he was admitted to practice in California on Dec. 3 of that year. Harmon clerked for a federal magistrate before going to work for the District Attorney’s Office in August, 1999.
Now attached to the elite Major Crimes Division, Harmon has been the prosecutor, by his count, in 61 felony jury trials and 23 misdemeanor jury trials, and has secured 19 life sentences, in addition to four sentences of life without possibility of parole, and three death sentences.
“I’ve totally immersed myself in trial work,” Harmon says, commenting:
“That trial experience: there’s no substitute for it.”
By contrast, civil practitioner Benjimin Brees has handled seven jury trials and Berj Parseghian has been co-counsel in one.
‘Far Exceeded Expectations’
Harmon’s performance as a deputy is viewed by his office as being of the highest caliber. In his latest annual performance evaluation—for the period from July 3-July 2, 2011—he was rated “far exceeded expectations (outstanding).”
Out of 896 deputies evaluated last year, one was said to be needing of improvement, 410 were found to “meet expectations (competent),” 409 were determined to “exceed expectations (very good)” and 76 were told they “far exceed expectations (outstanding).” Eight percent of the deputies landed that top rating.
Major Crimes Division Head Deputy Gary Hearnsberger prepared the written report on Harmon, in which he says:
“Mr. Harmon is a rising star in the District Attorney’s Office. Given his abilities both inside the courtroom and out, it is easy to forget he is a Grade III deputy. Mr. Harmon consistently performs at levels far above the average deputy, and he takes on tasks that would burden the most veteran among us. He displays innovation, creativity and tactical agility that he consistently combines with highest levels of ethics and integrity. Mr. Harmon consistently exceeds expectations, and this division and this office are lucky to call him one of our own.”
Harmon subsequently attained the “Grade IV” level, the highest plateau outside of management.
Hearnsberger terms Harmon “a truly committed prosecutor who works countless hours on his cases,” a “highly adaptable attorney,” and “a team player [who] is always available to assist others in the division.”
The report says:
“Mr. Harmon consistently and frequently researches the legal issues in his cases and maintains a system to retrieve his references. As such he is a resource for others with similar legal issues. He is very familiar with the latest technology for presenting his evidence in court and has created some excellent, persuasive and well organized presentations.”
Hearnsberger notes that Harmon “gets along well with his staff and also with law enforcement and other expert professionals in preparing his cases.”
He presented two complicated cases to the Grand Jury, the report says.
Praise From Dixon
Harmon’s evaluation in 2010 was prepared by the then-head of Major Crimes, Patrick R. Dixon, now assistant district attorney.
Dixon found Harmon “exceeded expectations.”
His report says:
“Mr. Harmon’s professional and interpersonal interaction with others in this division and in this office is marked by his ability to get along with everyone. 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.”
Dixon tells of how Harmon “kept an accused killer behind bars during a time she was surely expected to flee the jurisdiction.” Although a judge ordered her release on bail in the amount of $3.5 million, Harmon blocked the posting of bail by showing “a fraud that was being attempted by one of the defendant’s collateral providers,” Dixon recites. This was accomplished, he says, after Harmon “culled through hundreds of pages of financial statements, doing much of this work while he was on vacation out of the state.”
The report goes on to say:
“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. He is a strong advocate and an impactful speaker….”
“He is likable, approachable and pleasant, but also serious and focused Mr. Harmon is possessed with those qualities that are essential to a valued deputy district attorney. His ethical compass is exceedingly well calibrated and he is, above all else, a fair prosecutor.”
2009 Performance Evaluation
Harmon was also found in the 2009 performance evaluation to have “exceeded expectations.” The rater was Phillip Glaviano, assistant head deputy in the Hardcore Gang Division, of which Harmon was then a member.
Glaviano’s report says:
“During the rating period, Eric has been assigned to Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN). This is a federally funded task force designed to target violent gang related activity involving the use of firearms. The position is funded by the US Department of Justice and the funds are awarded based on a competitive application process. This past years funding was severely limited due to economic cutbacks. Eric’s position was in jeopardy or at the very least could be drastically cut. Eric made a power point presentation to The awarding body and despite competition from agencies in 4 different counties, he was able to secure the single highest award handed out to any of the competing parties. This was no small feat given the number of agencies and the very limited amount of funds available. Eric secured $100,000.00 for the Los Angeles County District Attorneys Office, more than double any other award.”
The report also mentions:
“Eric has developed solid and long lasting relationships with law enforcement agencies at the federal, state and local level….Eric has served as the Mason between the various agencies and as a resource on gun and gang related filing and prosecution issues. He has created an atmosphere of cooperation between agencies where none had existed in the past. His talents and dedication have resulted in his recent placement in the Major Crimes Division of the District Attorney’s Office.”
Praise From Judges
Twenty seven Los Angeles Superior Court judges have endorsed Harmon, and some, contacted by e-mail, responded to a query as to their reasons.
“I could not endorse him more enthusiastically,” Judge Craig Veals writes, adding:
“I have known Mr. Harmon professionally for about eight years. He has appeared in my court many times for trial as well as to handle various calendar matters. At all times that I have dealt with him, in and out of the courtroom, he has been a consummate professional. He is extremely knowledgeable regarding legal matters and is always well prepared to handle his cases. It is these characteristics along with his keen intellect, abiding respect for the legal system, and genuine concern for others that will make him a wonderful addition to the judiciary.”
Judge Stephen Marcus recalls that Harmon tried a case before him “and made numerous court appearances.” He reflects:
“I found him to be an outstanding trial attorney and very ethical.”
Marcus says he doesn’t recall the “the exact circumstances” that triggered his respect for Harmon’s sense of ethics—he says it might have been in connection with a discovery dispute—but that he does “remember thinking” at the time that Harmon “was acting with integrity.”
These words come from Judge Ruth Kwan:
“Mr. Harmon had tried a number of cases before me and I found him to be an excellent trial attorney with very good demeanor and temperament.”
An assessment of Harmon by Judge Barbara Johnson is in accord with what her colleagues have observed. She writes:
“Eric Harmon has been the Deputy District Attorney in several serious and violent felony trials in my court. I have found him to be well prepared, courteous to opposing counsel, witnesses and the Court. To my knowledge he is always forthcoming with discovery requests and is straightforward in his communications with the jury, counsel, and the Court. He has integrity and a great courtroom demeanor….”
She notes that she is not familiar with the other candidates in the race.
Judge Judith Meyer, a former deputy district attorney, notes that she endorsed Harmon “based upon reputation only.” She says that his reputation “throughout the DA’s office” is “outstanding” in the areas of honesty and integrity, and adds:
“I hear he is an outstanding trial attorney. I have some friends who vouched for him as well. And, on the day of filing at the County Registrar I met him. Incredible first impressions.”
Former Colleagues Comment
Some of the judges endorsing Harmon are also former deputy district attorneys but, unlike Meyer, do know him personally. One of them is Judge Jared Moses, who comments:
“What always struck me about Eric Harmon are his demeanor and temperament, which ideally suit him for the bench. He is serious and earnest, yet affable and easygoing. No matter how much success he achieved in his career, he always seemed to maintain a sense of humility, which is one of the most important qualities for a judicial officer.”
Another former prosecutor, Judge Thomas Robinson, has this to say:
“Eric Harmon has demonstrated all the qualities that we as a community should want in a Superior Court judge. He is very smart, honest, and fair. When Eric makes a representation, everyone can count on its accuracy. He understands the importance of what is going on in the criminal courts and understands the power inherent in the position of Deputy District Attorney and how important it is to exercise that power with discretion and with sensitivity. I am certain he will bring the same approach to the bench, and will create a courtroom environment in which all who enter feel that they will be heard and will receive a fair hearing of his or her case.”
Judge Alan Schneider says of his former colleague:
“Eric is very bright and the type of prosecutor who will be fair to all sides on the bench. He has a great demeanor—I’ve known him professionally for over a decade and never seen him angry or rattled.”
Here’s the view of Judge Kathleen Blanchard:
“I worked with Eric in the Hardcore Gang Division of the DA’s office. I am proud to endorse him, because he is the consummate professional. Not only is he very intelligent, experienced, and hard working, but he also has a personality that is highly suitable for the bench. He has the perfect judicial demeanor. He is likeable, engaging, unflappable, and treats everyone with respect.”
Plaudits come also from Judge Michael Jesic:
“Eric and I worked together in the District Attorney’s office in the Hardcore Gang Division. I’ve known him on both a personal and professional level. Based on his knowledge of the law, work ethic and demeanor, I couldn’t think of a better person for the bench. Eric is extremely smart and always level headed. I’ve never known any defense attorneys who have ever had any issue with him. He seems to get along with everyone he comes into contact with. There is little doubt in my mind that if he were not to win this election, that he would eventually be appointed to the bench. But at this point, I get the feeling that he’s well on his way to winning.”
Harmon is endorsed by Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley and other local government office-holders; by the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and seven Democratic clubs; and by five labor unions.
He is married to movie producer Sarah Aubrey, a classmate at the University of Texas School of Law, admitted to law practice in California the same time as he. They have two children, aged 2 and 9.
Civil Attorney Seeks Support for Judgeship Bid Based on ‘Quality’ of Experience
“I think there is a real quality to the experience that I’ve had.”
That’s how Berj Parseghian justifies his bid for election to a judgeship on the Los Angeles Superior Court despite a dearth of trial court experience.
He’s been a lawyer for some prestigious outfits that have their pick and would not be apt to put up with mediocrity.
Parseghian was a litigation associate for Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton—now abbreviated “Sheppard Mullin”—in 1999-2000. Former Los Angeles County District Attorney Robert H. Philibosian, then a partner in that firm (now “of counsel”), attests to Parseghian’s industriousness and integrity.
After serving as a litigation associate in the Los Angeles office of the international firm of Winston & Strawn from 2000-2003, handling complex matters, Parseghian was hired by Southern California Edison, where he worked for five years.
“I was in the regulatory practice there, which involved proceedings of the Public Utilities Commission,” he recites.
SCE’s assistant general counsel, Frank J. Cooley, endorses Parseghian, explaining:
“I worked with Berj here at Southern California Edison for many years. He is a very smart and thoughtful advocate. He could be depended upon to develop sound positions and was viewed by management as a trusted and knowledgeable confidant and thought partner. He handled some of the most sensitive and complex cases on behalf of the Company and was successful in whatever he was assigned. Berj has the evenness of temperament to be a truly outstanding judge.”
Parseghian has been an attorney with Bingham McCutchen since 2008, specializing in environmental law.
“I’ve done plaintiff’s side work as well as defense side work,” he says.
His major client, he says, is seeking to shift some of the clean-up costs on a site it previously owned to the current owner. He says the efforts are “definitely protecting the environment.”
Deukmejian, Baxter Endorsements
Parseghian has drawn support from some Armenian Americans who are notables in the legal community: former Gov. George Deukmejian, California Supreme Court Justice Marvin Baxter, former California Supreme Court Justice Armand Arabian, retired U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian, and Philibosian. He is also endorsed by former Supreme Court Justice John Arguelles, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, and Orange Superior Court Judge James Rogan, as well as by non-attorney political office-holders.
The only Los Angeles Superior Court judge to endorse Parseghian is Rolf Treu, who explains:
“Given the recent release of the LA County Bar ratings on the candidates, I am now willing to comment on seat 114. I endorse Berj Parseghian.
“If past voting trends are followed, seats 3 and 65 will go to criminal prosecutors.
“I have met [two of the] candidates for seat 114 and heard them speak at a recent forum. Both would make excellent judges in my opinion. It is indeed unfortunate they are pitted against each other. However, a choice must be made. Therefore, since both Eric Harmon (a criminal prosecutor) and Parseghian (a civil practitioner) achieved a “well qualified” rating from the bar, I endorse Parseghian because at least one of the three open seats should go to someone with a background other than criminal. The people of this county are entitled to well qualified judges of diverse background and electing Parseghian will help achieve that goal.”
Parseghian appears to have gained points from the Judicial Elections Evaluation Committee based on his “pro-active efforts to gain experience.” Queried by e-mail if those efforts took any form in addition to his volunteer pro tem work—he estimates he’s heard more than 1,000 matters—Parseghian responds:
“I do not want to speculate about what specifically the JEEC had in mind. I can tell you that my interview with the subcommittee covered every aspect of my pre-legal and legal careers. From my pre-legal career, we discussed the preliminary hearings and motion hearings I handled when I was a certified law clerk at the District Attorney’s Office, my externship at the US Attorney’s Office, and my volunteer work for Public Counsel’s Homelessness Prevention Project, as well as my undergraduate and graduate studies in Chemistry.
“The discussion of my legal career covered every aspect of paid and pro-bono work that I have done since I began practicing law. This included each of the trial-like hearings I handled before the Public Utilities Commission, my trial experience at Bingham McCutchen, the arbitrations I handled as a volunteer on the Court’s panel, and my volunteer work for the Barrister’s Domestic Violence Clinic, in addition to my extensive volunteer work as temporary judge.
“When asked about my criminal experience, I openly acknowledged that I do not have the extensive criminal experience that a deputy District Attorney would have. I described the preliminary hearings and motion hearings I handled when I was a certified law clerk at the District Attorney’s Office, my externship at the US Attorney’s Office, the criminal defense matters I handled at Winston & Strawn and my volunteer work as a temporary judge. I also explained my view that, to be effective, an attorney or judge must be a life-long learner. Even within my areas of expertise, every new case brings with it issues that require research and study. When I receive an expert report, I actually read the articles that are cited. Even though I may not understanding everything in depth, making an effort to understand technical issues help me interact more effectively with my experts and conduct better examinations of opposing experts.”
Parseghian also tells of completing business courses at UCLA while at Southern California Edison and of his “extensive study” in the areas of “traffic law, criminal procedure and consumer law” to prepare him for his pro tem duties.
“I have tried one case to verdict,” he writes, elaborating:
“It was a 4 or 5 week jury trial in San Diego. I was co-counsel on the case and handled the direct and cross-examination of nearly all of the experts and a couple of fact witnesses (about a half-dozen witnesses). I also have handled many hearings before the Public Utilities Commission and was lead counsel in several hearings that lasted up to a couple of months. These hearings are similar to bench trials. However, many rules of evidence are relaxed in Public Utilities Commission hearings.”
Parseghian was asked to supply a family photo. Divorced, he e-mailed a shot of himself with his nephew.
“This is one of my favorite pictures of my nephew, Ara John Parseghian, Jr. (AJ). He lives in Lansing, Michigan and will turn 3 years old on June 6th. My mother, who has her priorities in order, will be in Michigan for his birthday rather than in California for the [June 5] election; but I’m sure I’ll get a phone call from both of them.”
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company