Tuesday, September 23, 2014
A Need Exists for Reform of Judicial-Election Procedures
The Los Angeles Times on Thursday reiterated the endorsements it made in the primary of Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Jacqueline Lewis for Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 61 and criminal defense lawyer Andrew Stein for Office No. 87.
Lewis is in a run-off with Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Dayan Mathai and Stein’s rival at the polls on Nov. 4 is Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney Tom Griego.
The Times laments that the two best candidates among the four—Lewis and Mathai—are both in the same race, and makes note that both candidates in the other contest were rated “not qualified” by the Los Angeles County Bar Association.
“[I]t’s a shame,” the newspaper muses, that voters “can’t just pick the two best candidates of the four.”
We agree with the Times’ assessment of Lewis and Mathai, and concur in LACBA’s ratings of Stein and Griego.
We share the view of the Times that voters should elect Lewis over Mathai. As we opined in the primary, Mathai would be a prized asset to the Los Angeles Superior Court, but Lewis not only has the advantage of judicial experience but has applied herself to an extraordinary extent and has more than earned her stripes.
The newspaper grumbles that voters can’t opt for both Lewis and Mathai. It does not expressly call for a change in the election law, but where a newspaper points to something that’s wrong, it is reasonable to infer that it is calling for a reform. The Times thus at least intimates that it believes candidates for open seats should be placed in a pool, in the general election, with the top vote-getters being elected to office.
system under which both Lewis and Mathai would ascend to Superior Court judgeships and neither Stein nor Griego would be elected would, in our view, be desirable.
However, the scheme vaguely suggested by the Times envisions a change in the context of general elections. We would urge adoption of a procedure in the primary, as proposed here in the past, under which all candidates for open seats would run in a pack—no office numbers—with there being as many candidates elected as there are seats to be filled.
There would be a far greater chance than under the present system that rotten apples would be rejected by voters.
Inherent in a system of multiple contests for open seats is the prospect of the very situation existing in the Stein-Griego race: that neither or none of the candidates for a particular seat will be a fit candidate—yet one, necessarily, will be elected.
Indeed, in the primary, one unsuitable candidate, Deputy District Attorney Joan Chrostek, defeated another unsuitable candidate, Superior Court Los Angeles Commissioner Emma Castro, and will be wearing a black robe in January. Through Chrostek’s laxity in handling a case, including failing to put notes in a file, a man whose dangerousness was known was released from jail, when another deputy was filling in for Chrostek, and, while free, killed his wife and committed suicide. She fails to acknowledge any fault on her part.
In 2008, voters had a choice of four contenders, all of whom were found “not qualified” by LACBA. The winner was Pat Connolly; the loser was the general public.
In 1986, there was a contest for a Los Angeles Municipal Court seat between incumbent David Kennick and Catalina Justice Court Judge Bob Furey. Both were found “not qualified” by LACBA. In fact, both had engaged in such deplorable conduct and practices that each wound up being removed from office by the California Supreme Court, on the recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Performance.
On other occasions, voters have likewise had a choice of electing one unworthy candidate or another unworthy aspirant.
Under the system we propose, voters’ choices would be broadened.
We urge that the Times consider joining us in calling for a change in judicial elections for open seats, with candidates running simply for the Superior Court, not for individual offices, and with voters casting a ballot for as many candidates as there are seats.
doption of such a system would, of course, not be a cure-all. If there were 14 open seats in an election year (as in the primary last June), and the names of all candidates were lumped together on the ballot, the 14 most deserving contenders would not necessarily be elected.
A dominant factor in judicial elections is the ballot designation. Until there is reform as to what is allowed and not allowed, election results will be skewed.
Deputy District Attorney Carol Rose, who is scatterbrained and duplicitous, won a judgeship over a rival who was, in our view, a far better qualified candidate. If the approach we advocate had been used, she still would have been elected. Her ballot designation was “Child Molestation Prosecutor.”
We believe the designation should give the voters facts as to the candidate’s “principal professions, vocations, or occupations” and not play to emotions.
The description Rose used was in conformity with statute. The Election Code does not require use of actual job titles; it permits generic descriptions. However, the goal of the statutory scheme—to enlighten voters—would best be served, we submit, if Rose and other members of her office were each simply described as “Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney.”
Ironically, that designation could not be used.
“Los Angeles County,” being a geographical designation, counts as one word. “Deputy District Attorney” is three words. Total: four words.
Elections Code §13107(a)(3) permits “[n]o more than three words designating either the current principal professions, vocations, or occupations of the candidate, or the principal professions, vocations, or occupations of the candidate during the calendar year immediately preceding the filing of nomination documents.”
There is, however, a different standard for incumbents of an “elective city, county, district, state, or federal office.” Under §13107(a)(1), the office held may be designated, without restriction as to the number of words.
We see no reason for limiting this to holders of elective offices. We would propose that holders of all governmental offices, whose duties are fulltime, not only be permitted, but required, to list the office title and the geographical entity employing the person.
he reason for including the geographical entity is to prevent confusion. For example, in the primary, Deputy City Attorney Songhai “Sunny” Armstead was listed as a “Supervising Criminal Prosecutor” and Deputy District Attorney Teresa P. Magno as a “Gang Murder Prosecutor.” Magno won, but it is troubling that voters might well have assumed that Armstead supervises Magno; there was no hint that Armstead only handles misdemeanors, in a different office.
In the primary, as now, Griego ran as “Criminal Gang Prosecutor.” Steven Schreiner, who came in third, was listed as “Gang Homicide Prosecutor.” Had Griego been identified as “Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney” and Schreiner been termed “Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney,” voters might well have given appropriate weight to the fact that Schreiner prosecutes felonies while Griego deals only with minor offenses.
Though it has never happened, to our knowledge, there is the prospect of a judge in, say, Lassen County considering moving to Los Angeles County. He or she could be listed on our ballot as “Superior Court Judge,” implying incumbency here, without having yet moved here and being oblivious to local rules, customs, and the landscape.
equiring the listing of government job titles, without regard to word limitations, would remove quandaries such as those that have arisen as to how to list a candidate who holds a non-elective office the title of which exceeds three words.
In 2002, then-State Bar Court Judge Paul Bacigalupo ran for the Superior Court (to which he was elected). The only accurate ballot designation for him would have been “State Bar Court Judge.” But that exceeded the three-word limit. He chose the designation, “Judge, State Bar.” It was inane and imprecise, but it was three words.
A contest went to Div. Three of this district’s Court of Appeal which suggested that “State Bar Judge” or “Bar Hearing Judge” might be an improvement, but held that Bacigalupo’s chosen designation was not misleading and denied a writ.
We fail to see any greater clarity in “State Bar Judge” than “Judge, State Bar” and suspect that the meaning of “Bar Hearing Judge” would have been utterly incomprehensible to most voters. Anyway, the point is that the statute mandated that voters be denied an accurate description of what Bacigalupo did for a living, and continues to carry a prospect of this occurring in the future.
xisting law requires that where a candidate is a retiree, the word “Retired” be used in connection with a former job. There is no requirement, however, that the word “Part-Time” appear, where appropriate, by a description of a governmental post held by the candidate.
Helen Kim, a part-time filing deputy in the District Attorney’s Office, who does not conduct prosecutions of anyone, brazenly sought to be listed on the ballot in the primary as a “Violent Crimes Prosecutor.” Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant disallowed the word “violent” because the majority of her filings did not involve crimes that were deemed “violent” for sentencing purposes. She was listed, by a “stipulation” of the parties—virtually mandated by Chalfant—as “Criminal Prosecutor”—which was patently misleading given that she prosecutes no criminals but only recommends prosecutions of them.
While Chalfant clearly erred in dictating the designation that he did, he was powerless to order inclusion of the word “Part-Time” because the statute permits reference to any pursuit if it’s one of the candidate’s “principal” ones, without need to specify that it is less than full-time.
To give the public a true picture of what a candidate does for a living, §13107 should be revamped to require that holders of government offices be designated on the ballot as “Part-Time” if they work at a post less than 40 hours a week.
Copyright 2014, Metropolitan News Company