Thursday, May 29, 2014
Steven P. Schreiner
Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 87
Three candidates are competing for Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 87.
None of them, in our view, is suited to the office he seeks.
Deputy Los Angeles City Attorney Tom Griego is least qualified, as we see it. Four years have elapsed since he last ran for a seat on the Superior Court. He still lacks aptitude for the job. His discourses are rambling. He is lacking in forthrightness. His attainment is slight.
The ballot designation of “Criminal Prosecutor,” which he chose in 2010—at a point where he was, in fact, still practicing on his office’s civil side—and his lack of acknowledgement now that he did anything wrong, reflect a deficit of integrity.
We proceed to look at the other two candidates, both of whom have a wealth of courtroom experience in criminal cases and are intelligent—but both of whom have “baggage.”
NDREW M. STEIN, a noted criminal defense attorney, would not be apt to be a quiet listener, were he to become a judge. That’s not his nature. He’s bombastic and domineering. Proceedings in his department would resemble those depicted on afternoon TV courtroom shows. Each session of his court would be an episode of “Judge Andy,” starring Andrew Stein.
Many appearing in his courtroom would no doubt find him, in light of his loud voice and driving manner, intimidating. Indeed, he describes himself as “a blunt, in-your-face, honest guy.”
We do not doubt that he is “a blunt, in-your-face” person. We are, however, not convinced that he is entirely trustworthy in his representations.
Stein readily admits having received private reprovals from the State Bar. How could he not? The fact of the reprovals appears on his “attorney profile” on the State Bar website. However, in describing the offenses underlying the discipline, he seeks to trivialize the misdeeds to the point of a distortion of the truth.
He says the reprovals came “when I was a young lawyer, for s—t that I screwed up on,” lamenting: “I had no one to teach me.” A lawyer should not need a mentor to “teach” him or her not to lie and cheat.
In May 1980, Stein was given $1,200 by a man as partial payment for the appeal of his son’s felony conviction. Stein sought an extension for filing an opening brief; according to the stipulated facts in the disciplinary case, “On October 20, 1980, the Court Clerk served Respondent with a document in which Respondent was notified that he was granted an additional thirty (30) days, up to [and] including November 20, 1980, in which to file said Opening Brief or the case would be closed.” Stein accepted another $600 payment on Oct. 2, and then another $600 on Nov. 19—one day before the brief, which was not in existence, was due. He obviously knew at the time he accepted that second $600 payment that the brief would not magically materialize by the following day, and that he was accepting money that was not due him. The appeal was dismissed on Nov. 25. Over a period of six months, he lied to the client and his father that the appeal was in progress. The public reproval came in 1985.
Stein portrays the second reproval, in 1993, as having been predicated on conduct the State Bar brought up that was “ancient.” He says it stemmed from harm to one client based on a misunderstanding on his part of procedures in getting a summons published in a divorce case. The conduct in the divorce case was, in truth, recent. His neglect of duties started in 1987 but stretched into 1990; the State Bar notified Stein of the 1990 complaint within a month of receiving it. The harm was rather substantial; relying on misimpressions created by Stein, the client thought her divorce was final and re-married; actually, it wasn’t final.
The 1993 discipline related not only to the divorce case, but to a drunk driving case, which he does not mention. The State Bar found, and Stein acknowledged, that he failed to competently perform services for which he had been paid. He took the client’s money, made two appearances, then failed to appear in court on the next five dates when matters were set. Stein also remained incommunicado with the client over periods of months.
Stein’s lack of accuracy in describing the disciplinary matters is troubling. So are his chest-beating proclamations in connection with his campaign—such as declaring that “the entire bench has endorsed me” in Long Beach…later, nonchalantly mentioning that seven judges stationed there (out of 24) had endorsed him and three had declared a preference for Schreiner.
What Stein says cannot be relied upon.
TEVEN P. SCHREINER, if he were to become a judge, would preside over proceedings more sedate than those that would take place if Stein were on the bench—unless he happened to blow up at an attorney, a witness, a party or a juror.
His foul-mouthed harangue in addressing a jury last year is widely known. When a jury announced it was deadlocked, after a six-week murder trial, and with indications that it had been influenced by extraneous factors, Schreiner tried to give the jury a jolt, inducing it to decide the case, and decide it by relying on the evidence. He tried too hard. Employing the terms “bullshit” and “crap,” vouching for the prosecution’s case, and using bullying tactics, he unmistakably breached professional ethics.
This was, it is to be hoped, the most extreme manifestation of his temper in his 27 years as deputy DA, but those who have worked with him say it was not altogether an aberration.
Colleagues apply to him such terms as a “cowboy” and a “gladiator.” He’s said to be “contemptuous of rules, regulations, and policies,” and “arrogant.”
Last year, the California Supreme Court took a rare action of stopping a trial that had reached jury selection. Schreiner had, at the eleventh hour, without office approval, decided to seek the death penalty.
Judges are supposed to enforce rules, not shun them.
IVEN THAT ONE of the three contenders is going to be elected, the question is which of the two accomplished candidates is less ill-suited.
Stein is good-hearted and well-meaning. While he would be the “star of the show” in the courtroom, we cannot see him being demeaning or oppressive.
Our major concern is that he is an advocate by nature and has a propensity for bending the truth. We strongly suspect that as a judge, he would bend the facts and the law to reach the result he desired.
In his campaign, he terms himself, on the ballot, a “Gang/Homicide Attorney.” He can, in fact, demonstrate that he has been defending clients who are gang members. He well knows, however, that what the voter is apt to perceive is that he, like Schreiner, is a prosecutor of gang members, not a defender of them. Stein is not one capable of grasping that literal truth that deceives is no different from an outright lie.
Stein declares himself to be a lover of the law. We simply don’t perceive him to be a lover of the truth, and sense that we just can’t trust him.
Schreiner is not “Mr. Nice Guy.” Attorneys and others might well have problems with him if he were to become a judge. And Schreiner might well have problems with the Commission on Judicial Performance, if he did not adjust his attitude.
But given the choices in this race, we believe that Schreiner is the best of the lot. It would be in his courtroom that justice would be most apt to prevail. We do not see him as a truth-mangler.
In his office performance evaluation of March 22, 2013—though he’s found only to have “met expectations,” the analogue of a “C”—it’s said that “Steve has the highest ethics.”
That evaluation did come his before ill-conceived address to the jury.
Weighing Schreiner’s 10-minute outburst on July 23, 2013, and qualities which presage a possibly unpleasant atmosphere in his courtroom if he were to preside in one, against Stein’s persistent deviations from the truth and the strong consequent prospect of intellectually dishonest rulings being issued by him, we endorse Schreiner.
It is our hope that he will be elected and will prove concerns about his fitness to have been ill-founded.
Copyright 2014, Metropolitan News Company