Thursday, June 5, 2014
Prosecutor Najera Appears to Oust Veteran Judge Pierce in Upset
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Deputy District Attorney Carol Najera, who lost badly in a bid for the Los Angeles Superior Court 10 years ago, appeared headed to the court yesterday in an upset win over an incumbent judge.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, but with 148,733 provisional and absentee ballots to be counted, according to the registrar of voters, Najera—who did not return a phone call—had 235,392 votes, or 50.39 percent, to Judge James B. Pierce’s 231,791, or 49.61 percent.
If those results hold, Pierce will be only the second incumbent judge of the Superior Court to lose an election in the past quarter-century, and the first since Lynn Olson defeated Dzintra Janavs in 2006.
Pierce said he was “very surprised” by the results.
“When you’re the incumbent you would think re-election is there unless there’s some major issues,” he told the MetNews. Pierce attributed the apparent outcome to Najera’s presence on slate mailers and her ballot designation of “Violent Crimes Prosecutor.”
Pierce said he was “definitely outspent,” having limited his campaign expenditures to a website. And “it was a big night for prosecutors,” he said, in both judicial and non-judicial elections in the county.
Prosecutors Win Outright
Of the 12 contested races for the Los Angeles court, 10 were won outright by deputy district attorneys. Of the two races headed to runoffs, one features a deputy district attorney, and the other a Los Angeles deputy city attorney.
In addition, Deputy District Attorney Elan Carr, running as “Criminal Gang Prosecutor,” finished first in his bid to succeed retiring Rep. Henry Waxman, and John Morris, running as “Head Deputy D.A.,” is in a runoff for the open post of county assessor.
Najera’s pre-election campaign report showed that she had raised about $22,000 through May 20 and that the campaign was about $6,000 in debt at that point. But it also showed that she was able to buy her way onto a dozen slate mailers at bargain basement rates of between $500 and $2,200 each.
Pierce told the MetNews in an interview earlier in the campaign that he had turned down all offers of donations. The jurist, who will be 63 when his term ends in January, said he had not thought about what he will do if the results hold, but that he is not likely to apply to remain on the bench through appointment.
There would be precedent for his doing so. Janavs was appointed to a vacant seat after losing to Olson—she retired in 2008—and Gov. Jerry Brown reappointed several defeated judges to the trial bench during his first tenure as governor. Pierce has been a judge for more than 25 years and could retire with maximum benefits, but said he is in no hurry to do so.
“I’ve got six months to think about it,” he said. “I still think I have something to contribute.”
JETPAC Chair’s Comments
Judge Michael Vicencia, who sits in the same Long Beach courthouse as Pierce and chairs JETPAC, the California Judges Association’s political action committee, confirmed that Pierce had not asked for the group’s help.
“You can’t take anything for granted” when it comes to elections, Vicencia—a former CJA president whose father was a legislator and a lobbyist—said. He noted that two judges who were up for re-election two years ago, James Otto and Sanjay Kumar, “took their races very seriously and won by very big margins.”
Vicencia noted that in other counties, his committee helped 10 judges, seven of whom were reelected outright, with the other three going to runoffs in November.
Campaign consultant Fred Huebscher, who did not work for a candidate in the Najera-Pierce race but carried Najera on several slates that he put out, attributed her strong showing to “her ballot designation, her being on lots of slates and most importantly, Pierce’s refusal to run any kind of a campaign.”
Huebscher was the consultant for three candidates in yesterday’s races—Deputy District Attorneys Amy Carter and Helen Kim and criminal defense attorney Andrew Stein. Carter defeated litigation attorney Pamala Matsumoto, while Kim lost to fellow prosecutor Alison Matsumoto Estrada, and Stein is headed to a runoff with Deputy City Attorney Tom Griego.
Kim’s defeat, by about 14 percentage points, came despite what may have been a record for campaign spending in a judicial primary. Her report showed that she had raised more than $853,000 and spent more than $415,000 through May 17.
Designation ‘Too Strong’
In the end, Huebscher said, “I think Estrada’s ballot designation [Government Corruption Prosecutor] was too strong to overcome.” Kim might have won, he said, if she had been allowed to use her preferred ballot title of “Violent Crimes Prosecutor,” which was rejected by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge on the ground that the majority of the cases she reviewed as a filing deputy did not involve violent crimes.
Stein said he was excited to have run first, something no defense attorney has done in a countywide judicial race in recent memory. “I expect to win” in November, he said, while acknowledging that Griego has a built-in advantage because many slate vendors will carry him for free or at reduced rates, out of deference to his brother, political consultant Victor Griego.
Stein said he paid his way on to about 4 million pieces of slate mail. Tom Griego did not return a phone call seeking comment on the race.
The other runoff will pit Deputy District Attorney Dayan Mathai against Superior Court Commissioner Jacqueline Lewis. “I wasn’t expecting to finish that strong,” Mathai’s consultant, Brendan Huffman, said of his candidate’s first place finish, with 46 percent of the vote.
“These are both very credible, very qualified candidates,” he said of Mathai and Lewis. Mathai bought onto a number of slates late in the campaign, he said, and “we’re going to be even more aggressive” in the general election campaign.
Lewis was said to be on temporary assignment away from her usual court and could not be reached for comment.
Deputy district attorneys who were elected yesterday, besides Carter, Estrada, and perhaps Najera, included Shannon Knight, who defeated Commissioner Debra Losnick; Teresa Pineda Magno, who defeated Deputy City Attorney Songhai Armsted; Joan M. Chrostek, who defeated Commissioner Emma Castro; Stacy Wiese, who defeated Referee Steven Klaif; Donna Hollingsworth Armstrong, who defeated criminal defense attorney Marc Gibbons; and Andrew Cooper, who defeated retired Referee Arnold Mednick.
Magno, who won by a five-point margin, was the only county judicial candidate to purchase a candidate statement in the sample ballot pamphlet.
Copyright 2014, Metropolitan News Company