Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Three Endorsed for Los Angeles Superior Court
Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 22
The Los Angeles County Bar Association has rated Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Amy Carter “qualified” and has termed attorney Pamala Matsumoto “well qualified.” In our view, the County Bar has it backwards.
Matsumoto, who has flitted from job to job, has been a deputy public defender in Los Angeles, an alternate public defender in San Diego, and a deputy attorney general in Los Angeles. In those roles, she dealt with criminal cases, but not cases with a significance rivaling those which Carter handles.
Carter, a deputy district attorney for 15 years, has a “complex litigation” assignment, prosecuting sex crimes. She has received the highest rating within her office, one quite rarely bestowed these days: “Far Exceeded Expectations (Outstanding).” Her latest performance evaluation observes:
“Ms. Carter has exceptional reasoning and analytical abilities. Her intelligence is multifaceted: she is a good researcher, and has an excellent knowledge of the law, but she is also able to communicate complicated concepts in understandable and common-sense ways….”
Praise comes “from judges, witnesses, victims, and colleagues who have worked closely with her, all of whom expressed respect and admiration for Ms. Carter’s ability to relate to victims and witnesses and make them feel comfortable, make them feel heard, and make them feel respected,” according to the report.
Carter has poise, skill, and dedication. She would make an outstanding judge.
HE LOS ANGELES TIMES, in endorsing Matsumoto, declares:
“[T]the edge goes to Matsumoto for the breadth of her experience and her time on the bench in the state attorney general’s office, as an administrative law judge and as a Superior Court referee —an on-call bench officer doing much of the work of a full-time judge.”
What the Times calls “breadth of experience,” we see as job-hopping.
As to Matsumoto’s “time on the bench,” from 2006-2012, she heard matters in the Informal Juvenile and Traffic Court, disbanded in 2012 due to deficiencies in court funding. Youngsters and their parents, often with the complaining police officer present, met with her in a small room. There was no prosecutor, no bailiff, no court reporter, no clerk, no jury, and only rarely a defense attorney. Penalties were of such nature as being required to write an essay or doing community service. Matsumoto functioned more like an assistant vice principal than a judge.
She was not an “an on-call bench officer doing much of the work of a full-time judge.” There are “as-needed referees” who do fill-in for judges, when summoned. Matsumoto was not one of them; rather, she was a fulltime IJTC referee who did a type of work that judges did not do.
While Carter was in a courtroom prosecuting perpetrators of murders and rapes, Matsumoto was sitting behind a desk counseling kids who had been caught littering, loitering, or jaywalking.
From Aug. 1, 2012 to July 1, 2013, from 2012-13, Matsumoto was an administrative law judge for the state Department of Social Services, determining whether benefits were wrongly withheld. Bereft of a robe, she sat at a table, not on a bench, and handled hearings quite disparate from courtroom trials.
We do not see how the “edge goes to Matsumoto” and question whether any of her activity as an adjudicator rises to the level of “time on the bench.”
HERE APPEARS TO BE no inclination on the part of LACBA or the Times to hold Matsumoto to task for having forced a writ proceeding by virtue of the invalid ballot designation she claimed of “Administrative Law Judge.”
That’s something she had been, but wasn’t.
Prior to Carter instituting the proceeding, her attorney went to visit Matsumoto at the Glendale law office for which she works. The attorney pointed to the regulation promulgated by the Office of Secretary of State, which has the force of law, precluding use of a former job where the candidate has a present one. The regulation is consonant with the statutory requirement that the designation not be “misleading.”
We can understand that Matsumoto was confused by a form at the Registrar-Recorder’s Office which caused her to think that she could use either a present occupation or one held in the prior calendar year, without reference to the regulation which restricts use of past positions.
Though she no doubt acted in good faith in seeking to be identified as an ALJ, we cannot see good faith in her refusal to stipulate to a valid designation once the infirmity of the one she chose was shown to her.
Intransigence is not a quality that is desirable in a judge.
Carter’s action succeeded, and Matsumoto is listed on the ballot as a “Litigation Attorney.”
Alison Matsumoto Estrada
Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 76
In this instance, we agree with LACBA which found Deputy District Attorney Alison Matsumoto Estrada “well qualified” and her opponent, Deputy District Attorney Helen Kim “not qualified.”
Accordingly, we agree with the Times’s endorsement of Estrada.
Estrada is an accomplished, fulltime prosecutor. She is articulate, balanced, and intelligent. There appears no doubt as to her ability to serve as judge of the Superior Court.
Kim is a part-time deputy district attorney who, brazenly, tried to run as a “Violent Crimes Prosecutor.” She’s merely a filing deputy. A good one, it appears, but not someone who prosecutes anyone, let alone violent criminals.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant disallowed the bogus ballot designation but on the narrow ground that there was no showing by Kim that the majority of her filings are for crimes that are statutorily defined as “violent,” as opposed to being “serious.” Chalfant reached a sensible result but on a hyper-technical basis.
What if Kim filed cases only against persons charged with crimes statutorily characterized as “violent?” Would that render her a “Violent Crimes Prosecutor”? Yes, under Chalfant’s reasoning. No, under a common understanding of what a “prosecutor” is.
It is indisputable that Kim is a deputy district attorney (albeit functioning as such only three days a week) and that the DA’s Office is a prosecutorial agency. Nonetheless, the phrase “Violent Crimes Prosecutor” inevitably conjures up the image of a prosecutor in a courtroom seeking the conviction of someone charged with a violent crime.
Hamilton Burger is what the public sees as a prosecutor, not a nameless functionary in the DA’s Office who filed papers instituting the prosecution.
Chalfant, after disallowing the designation “Violent Crimes Prosecutor,” told the parties to confer, and to then inform the clerk they had agreed on “Criminal Prosecutor.” Not unexpectedly, they complied. It is axiomatic that a judge may set aside an agency’s determination where it constitutes an abuse of discretion, but may not dictate how the agency, within proper bounds, exercises discretion. Chalfant, for all practical purposes, ordained that “Criminal Prosecutor” be Kim’s ballot designation, a designation that might well be viewed as misleading.
With respect to this race, there appears to be no question as to Estrada’s fitness, and no question as to Kim’s unfitness.
We view as minimally significant that Estrada, a past president of the Japanese American Bar Association, has been endorsed by that group; we see it as of major significance that she is endorsed by the Korean American Bar Association, of which Kim is a past president.
Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 157
Deputy District Attorney Andrew Cooper, at 39, is ready to be a Superior Court judge, though a few more years of seasoning before assuming the role would have been preferable.
He is the clear choice over his opponent, Arnold William Mednick, who has been unemployed since he quit his job as an administrative law judge with the state Department of Social Services in January, 2013. Mednick, like Matsumoto, assumed the role of an ALJ after losing the post of Los Angeles Superior Court’s Informal Juvenile and Traffic Court referee after the program was shut down in mid-2012.
He has not sought work as an attorney because, as he explains it:
“I have not practiced law since 1997. I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking on a paid client with my current practice experience. I’m a little bit out of date for that.”
If his knowledge of law is too outmoded for him to function as a lawyer—and we take him at his word that it is—it follows that he’s too rusty to perform as a judge.
Too, he lacks succinctness and the ability to distinguish what is relevant from what is pointless. The mound of papers he submitted to the Registrar-Recorder’s Office and to the court in connection with his ballot designation contained such useless matter as certificates of appreciation for volunteer efforts and certificates of completion of training courses.
Mednick is a delightful, witty, candid individual who is in need of a job. The public is in need of a judge.
It is, however, not a match.
LACBA rates both candidates “qualified.” We view Cooper as being at the high end of “qualified” and Mednick at the low end. We agree with the Times that Cooper possesses “the traits we seek in a judge — courtroom experience, a calm and confident demeanor, integrity.”
We have confidence that Cooper, who is bright and determined, will grow into the job.
Copyright 2014, Metropolitan News Company