Thursday, May 22, 2014
Donna Hollingsworth Armstrong
Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 138
Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Donna Hollingsworth Armstrong, a well-regarded, 14-year veteran of her department, is in competition with Marc A. Gibbons, a Cerritos criminal defense attorney.
Armstrong is, in our view, far and away the worthier candidate.
She handled more than 100 trials, including 21 murder cases. She is in an elite unit in her office: Hardcore Gangs.
Armstrong has been a Los Angeles County Bar Association delegate, year after year, to what used to be the State Bar Conference of Delegates and is now the Conference of California Bar Associations (and was chair of the delegation in 2008). She possesses a commitment to taking hard looks at our legal system, and working, in concert with other lawyers, toward improving it.
The candidate is sensible, fair-minded, even-tempered, and capable.
N FAVORING ARMSTRONG, we find ourselves in agreement with the Los Angeles Times, but not altogether in agreement with the reasoning expressed in its editorial endorsing her. That newspaper says of this race:
“This is a showdown between a good prosecutor and a good defense lawyer. The court could use more defense lawyers on the bench, and Marc A. Gibbons shows potential. But a judgeship would be too big a jump at this point in his career. Of the two, Armstrong is the better choice.”
We agree with the conclusion, but disagree with the bald assertion that there should be “more defense lawyers on the bench.”
More lawyers should gain positions on the bench, we submit, who possess the qualities that count: integrity, legal knowledge, reasoning ability, patience, a willingness to put in the hours that are required and then some, and an ability to cast aside personal views as to what the law should be and apply the law as it is.
Those are the lawyers we need more of on the bench, irrespective of whether they have prosecuted or defended in criminal cases, represented plaintiffs or defendants in civil cases, irrespective of their ethnicity, or whether they are left-handed or right-handed.
Asked, “How are you better qualified than your opponent?” Gibbons responds:
“I do criminal defense. I bring a unique perspective that’s different than [Armstrong’s].”
He complains that the local bench has “kind of been overrun with deputy district attorneys.”
If Gibbons were to be elected, his perspective as a former criminal defense attorney would hardly be “unique” on the court. There are sitting judges who handled criminal defense work as attorneys. One comes readily to mind, given that he is the presiding judge: David S. Wesley. There are many others.
It is true that a number of deputy district attorneys have been elected over the past several years. Crime-weary voters do lean toward prosecutors. Given that inclination on the part of voters, there are no doubt worthy would-be challengers who have been deterred from running.
However, a glance back will show that while some young deputy district attorneys who gained election to judgeships over the past decade had qualifications that were not highly impressive, those DDAs did, without exception, have credentials outshining those of their rivals.
The notion that criminal defense attorneys should be accorded a preference over deputy Los Angeles district attorneys is expressly advanced by Gibbons and by the Times, and is implicit in the candidate ratings this year by the Los Angeles County Bar Association (which has adjudged both candidates for Office No. 138 as “qualified”). As we see it, it is utterly irrational to confer bonus points on a candidate based simply on not being a deputy DA. Those who serve in that capacity were selected through a process entailing intense competition and a high degree of scrutiny, and are accustomed to being bound by ethical constraints not impressed on civil lawyers or criminal defense lawyers.
Moreover, the notion that adding criminal defense lawyers to the bench would bring a needed “perspective” is misguided. A court, unlike a legislature, is not a collaborative body. Yes, it has committees, but the essential function is that of the deciding of cases by individual judges, each in a separate courtroom, acting independently.
If a coin is flipped, the odds are 50-50 that it will land on heads. If a coin has been flipped nine times and landed on tails each time, what are the odds that it will come up heads on the tenth flip? Still 50-50. That’s because each flip of the coin is an independent act, with the previous flip having no bearing on the outcome of the next. So, too, the choice of a candidate in each race should be viewed as a matter entirely independent of the choice in any other race that year, or in previous years. The objective in assessing any contest should be the selection of the better or best candidate—and that does not require peripheral vision but, rather, narrowly focusing on the particular race.
Even with bonus points going to Gibbons, the Times finds that Armstrong comes out ahead in its tally. We see that as the right result, but question its reasonableness in giving an edge to criminal defense lawyers—indeed endorsing one in a different race (for Office No. 87) based entirely on that factor.
HERE ARE SOME PERSONS who possess wisdom beyond their years. Gibbons is not one of them.
He is a personable 42-year-old who comes across as someone much younger, wanting in maturity, his judgment unripened.
Armstrong, only six years his senior, unquestionably does possess maturity and judgment.
Gibbons is determined to become a judge. Perhaps someday he will actually be ready for the role he now covets—for which he insists that he is presently “exceptionally well qualified.” He’s fantasizing.
By contrast, Armstrong has been inside a courtroom long enough, and has learned enough from what she has viewed, that if handed a robe today and given a seat on the bench, she would be comfortable there, and would, we would expect, preside with proficiency.
We strongly urge the election of Armstrong.
Copyright 2014, Metropolitan News Company