Friday, April 18, 2014
JUDICIAL ELECTIONS: Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 48
Former Lawmaker Battles Prosecutor for Judgeship
By ROGER M. GRACE, Editor
Charles M. Calderon, who served as majority leader in both the Assembly and state Senate, is vying for a judgeship with longtime Deputy District Attorney Carol Rose.
The candidates are contemporaries. Calderon, 64, was admitted to practice in 1976, and Rose, 65, became a lawyer in 1977.
Yesterday, Rose was profiled. Today: a look at Calderon.
CHARLES M. CALDERON
Candidate Has Hurdles To Vault in His Run For a Judgeship
Charles M. Calderon is accustomed to winning.
His political career began in 1979 when he was elected to the Montebello School Board. Since then, he’s won two elections to full terms in the state Senate and one special election for a partial term in that house, and has been elected 10 times to the state Assembly.
His sole loss was incurred in 1998 when he came in third in a field of four candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for state attorney general.
He just might suffer a second loss on June 3.
Calderon, despite name recognition, is facing a competitor with the endearing name of Carol Rose and a formidable ballot designation: “Child Molestation Prosecutor.” His own designation is “Retired Lawmaker Assemblyman.”
A June 1, 2006 article in the Los Angeles Times quotes Calderon as saying of his family name: “Our name is one that people trust, and certainly one that they know.” His surname might now be a liability. Recently, his two brothers, state Sen. Ronald S. Calderon and former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, were indicted on corruption charges.
Despite Calderon’s political savvy and success record in past elections, the man who has served as the Democratic leader of the state Senate and later in the Assembly is no sure-winner in a race against a woman who has never before sought public office, and is viewed by many who have had contact with her as ditzy.
Rose’s Campaign Consultant
David Gould, campaign consultant for Rose, terms his client’s chances “excellent,” elaborating:
“When you analyze the voters, it is hard to figure out how Calderon really stands much of a shot. Republican voters are extremely unlikely to vote for Calderon.”
While Calderon is widely identified as a Democrat, Rose’s party affiliation (she’s a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat) is not generally known.
Gould predicts that Rose will garner “overwhelming” Republican support.
“Democratic voters are also turned away by the Calderons and are not going to claim him as their own,” he comments.
The county Democratic Central Committee, unexpectedly, did not embrace his candidacy. On April 8, it wound up making no endorsement in the Calderon-Rose race after Calderon fell just short of nabbing the 60 percent of votes needed to gain the party’s imprimatur.
“The only group likely to vote for him,” Gould continues, “is the Latino population but even his own aren’t backing him by large numbers.
“He has not been able to raise money, he is not able to buy onto many of the slate mailers as he hurts any image the slate is trying to have.”
Cerrell Executive Responds
Calderon is represented by the consulting firm of Cerrell Associates, Inc. Brandon Stephenson, the vice president in charge of campaigns, says that Calderon has been elected in Los Angeles County “time and time again,” and voters “know what he brings to the table,” adding:
“In a judicial election, voters will rely heavily on name ID, and Ms. Rose, who has failed to raise funds, will most likely be invisible.”
Stephenson insists that the “county’s Latino community is solidly behind Charles,” and says this starts with Assembly Speaker John Pérez.
He points to Calderon’s labor union support—not normally a factor in judicial elections.
“SEIU Local 721 representing court employees, strongly support Charles and plan to conduct a GOTV [“get-out-the-vote”] campaign to their 50,000 registered voters,” Stephenson says. “This GOTV effort is augmented by the campaign already reserving his spot on the county’s most influential slates.”
The executive faults Gould’s “analysis of how Democrats and Republicans are going to view this race,” remarking:
“Ms. Rose was a registered Republican, but may have changed her party affiliation because she was actively seeking the county Democratic Party endorsement. I don’t see how party loyalists, Democrat or Republican, are going to embrace her when she’s clearly trying to play both sides.”
(Rose says she re-registered as a Republican in the 1990s in order to boost her chances of success in promoting passage of a particular piece of legislation, has always been a Democrat at heart, and had long been intending to reinstate her Democratic registration. She denies switching back to the Democratic Party for political purposes, declaring: “I’m not political.”)
“I have more experience than he. He’s been a politician for a great majority of his life. He doesn’t have the knowledge or the wisdom that I’ve developed after 37 years, 34 of which being in court almost every day. There are so many things that he hasn’t experienced that would make for a quality judge that I have.
“I know that he hasn’t practiced in a very, very long time—if at all. I know he says he’s done trials. But I’m not sure if they’re tickets or court trials or what they are. But he did it as a city attorney, according to him—when he was in probably his 20s.”
“My opponent should not only check her facts but look to her own record. She has not practiced civil law in 34 years. I am a former member of the Judicial Council. I currently sit on the State Bar Commission on Access to Justice. My recollections, reflections, thoughts and opinions are preserved in the State Archives as part of the state’s official historical record.”
Calderon was admitted to practice on Dec. 22, 1976, at age 26, and went to work the following year as a deputy Los Angeles city attorney. He says he tried about 90 cases, before juries, to verdict and had a conviction rate of about 95 percent.
Jury trials would not have included contests to traffic tickets.
The candidate says he handled “prosecutions for manslaughter, prostitution, drug possession, domestic violence and child abuse.”
On the civil side, he advised the Los Angeles City Department of Public Works and the City Council’s Public Works Committee.
“As a partner in two law firms, I practiced constitutional, water, environmental, municipal and administrative law before and between my legislative terms until I left the legislature in 2012.”
Those firms were Burke, Williams, & Sorensen, which he joined in 1980, and Nossaman Guthner Knox & Elliott (now, simply “Nossaman LLP”) which he moved to in 1986.
Nearly all the issues he dealt with in his 22 years in the Legislature, he says, “dealt with the law, in one way or the other.” Calderon points out:
“If I’m going to figure out a way for California to enforce its use tax against Internet retailers, I’ve got to know about constitutional issues, I’ve got to know about tax issues, I’ve got to know about relevant statutes and relevant case law, and I’ve got to be able to understand the issues, and understand statutes, and understand case law in order to shepherd a bill like that....”
He estimates that only about 30-40 percent of the legislators are attorneys and says “I carried more weight as a lawyer,” explaining that non-lawyers “would defer to me when I talked law.”
Calderon has carried bills relating to the courts—the most noteworthy among which was AB 1208. It would have shifted control of funds allocated to the courts from the Judicial Council to the counties’ superior courts.
The bill was formulated in 2010 by the Alliance of California Judges. That statewide group had been formed the previous year in opposition to the centralization of the courts under then-Chief Justice Ronald George, and to George’s insistence that court funds continue to be diverted to the Court Case Management System—a computer system—while courtrooms were being closed and courthouses shuttered.
Calderon initially spurned the request of the Alliance to carry the bill, but relented after the state auditor in February 2011 issued a report slamming the expenditure of funds on CCMS. He introduced the bill on Feb. 18, 2011.
The Los Angeles Superior Court’s Executive Committee, with one abstention, on April 20, 2011, voted unanimously to support it.
Representing the Los Angeles Superior Court in testifying on behalf of the bill were the immediate past presiding judge, J. Stephen Czuleger, and the 2003/2004 presiding judge, Robert Dukes.
Czuleger says of the former legislator (who was precluded from running for reelection in 2012 by term limits):
“Charles Calderon brings a depth of experience in funding the courts from his many years in the Legislature. I have worked with him closely on projects and know of his abiding commitment to the courts in general and the Los Angeles Superior Court in particular.
“While if elected to our bench he will need to step out of the political arena, any presiding judge of our court would be wise to seek his counsel going forward in dealing with the Legislature.”
Dukes describes Calderon as “forthright, candid” and “tough-fighting.”
He reports that there was a perception that Calderon “understood the issues that had percolated up” in connection with “the mess Ron George and [then-Administrative Office of the Courts Director] Bill Vickery got us into,” and said that Calderon “championed” the trial courts’ interests.
Dukes expresses the view that the Los Angeles Superior Court would “without a doubt” benefit from Calderon’s membership because it “needs insights into Sacramento,” remarking:
“We can’t rely on the Judicial Council.”
Calderon has the endorsement of the court’s current presiding judge, David S. Wesley.
Conflict With Cantil-Sakauye
While Calderon appears to be a hero to Los Angeles Superior Court judges, as well as to the Alliance (which has endorsed him), the head of the court system, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, is clearly not an admirer of his.
They clashed over AB 1208, and the chief justice took umbrage at a remark by Calderon at an Assembly committee hearing, apparently intended as a compliment but perceived by her as impertinent.
The chief justice met with the legislator early in 2011. As Calderon recounts their conversation:
“She pointed out that she’s just been on board for 40 days, or something like that, and that she understands there’s this issue and there is this problem. She wanted to have time to address it, and asked me if I would drop the bill.
“I told her that my experience in the Legislature is that movement occurs when the bill’s alive, as opposed to being dropped.”
“I told her that there was an issue with the front lines, if you will, the trial court judges, in a lot of courts, many who would not go public, but who whispered and spoke privately about it. She was concerned about how this bill would reflect on her, having just assumed the reins as chief justice.
“My take on it was that it was the perfect opportunity for her to establish herself, without question, as the leader of the court.”
Calderon says he counseled her to do that by “distancing herself from the CCMS system and from AOC and sitting down and talking with the judges” and letting them know “that she does care about the issues.”
He recites that he suggested, “Why don’t you do a six-month moratorium on CCMS,” to which she replied:
“Well, I can’t do that because there are contract requirements that need to be fulfilled on our side.”
Calderon says he proposed that she make a public statement along these lines:
“‘Here is what I am going to do: I’m going to look into claims that are being made about the responsiveness or unresponsiveness of AOC, I’m putting a halt, except for contract obligations, on CCMS, and I’m going to get to the bottom of this, to make a determination whether or not this project is worthy of going forward, whether or not the claims being made are fair….”
He says he told her: “You should be very clearly your own person, you’re not Ron George.”
Calderon was the Assembly majority leader. He says he assured her he would try to help her “bring the trial courts back together, so the judiciary can work as one.”
“Then she asked me again, ‘Will you drop the bill?’ So obviously dropping the bill was important to her. She saw that as ‘reflecting on her.’ ”
Aimed at George
Was the bill aimed at her, or was it a repudiation of George? Calderon responds:
“In terms of the whispers in the courts? Yeah. It was him.”
“For 10 years,” he says, George had been working to “centralize the structure of the court,” observing:
“And I believe that was his goal way back when we were talking about funding of the courts and moving it from the counties to the state. I was there. I was in the Legislature, I chaired the [Senate] Judiciary Committee when the first version of that bill came to the committee—it wasn’t the one that ultimately passed, that passed the next year. By then, I had left the Judiciary Committee to become the majority leader in the Senate.
“I remember there was fear on the part of the courts, but they would not speak publicly about it.”
The Trial Court Funding Act was passed in 1997. (In 2002, the Trial Court Facilities Act was enacted, transferring courthouses and facilities to the state.)
“The whole perspective of the legislature was to get savings, shift the funding, take the burden away from the county, bring the courts together, and bring them under the umbrella of the state,” Calderon says. “So, it was perceived to be a positive thing—but it wasn’t to centralize the courts, in Judicial Council.”
He comments that if legislators “knew then what was evident now, they would have been very, very specific in how they made the adjustment and shifted the trial courts over to the state—they certainly weren’t looking to create a bigger bureaucracy, that’s for sure.”
Calderon has a compliment, of sorts, for George. He says:
“To say that courts are not political is just a naive statement….The courts are political. They’re not political in the same way the Legislature is. And I think that Ron George is one of the best politicians—judge-politicians—that I’ve ever met.”
He says of Cantil-Sakauye:
“She apparently was the legislative liaison for Gov. [George] Deukmejian. So she had some political experience. And I think she generally has good instincts but I think that on this one issue [AB 1208], she got personally involved with it.”
Terms Cantil-Sakauye ‘Attractive’
During a hearing on AB 1208, Calderon made a remark about Cantil-Sakauye he came to regret:
“It isn’t ‘is she nice?’ because she is. ‘Is she smart?’ because she is. ‘Is she attractive?” ’cause she is. It isn’t about that.”
The chief justice did not perceive the reference to her good looks as a compliment.
An article in the June 1, 2011 issue of the Los Angeles Times quotes her as saying:
“When it comes from a majority leader in the context of a very serious hearing where courts are lining up, where all the attorneys there are on the side of judicial counsel opposing that bill, and a critical question is asked ‘why are you taking this power away from the new chief justice four months into her administration?’ that is when that answer is unresponsive, offensive and is not at all responsive to the question.”
Others labeled Calderon’s comment “sexist.”
Calderon says that his initial thought was that Cantil-Sakauye was over-reacting.
“But I began to realize that it was an insensitive thing for me to say,” he reflects. “I didn’t mean it that way, but I came to understand later that it was not a good thing for me to say.
“I apologized to her personally. I apologized at a legislative women’s caucus honoring her. I walked into the reception and I apologized—with a little humor, but sincere.”
The chief justice, reportedly, remained icy.
In a January, 2012 interview with the Los Angeles Times, the chief justice complained that Calderon had wielded AB 1208 as “a hammer over my head for the last year.”
The bill passed the Assembly on Jan 30, 2012, then went to the Senate, where it was shelved. On March 27, the Judicial Council voted unanimously to abandon CCMS, which had alreardy cost $500 million, and would have cost $2 billion to complete.
Calderon notes that the cause which the Alliance sparked, and which he supported, is winning out. Since he left the Legislature, he says, the AOC has not been faring well.
“The joint legislative audit committee voted unanimously to direct the legislative auditor to audit the AOC,” he notes. “That’s a pretty significant shift in the Legislature’s thinking compared to where we started when I first introduced the bill.”
Hails Horan, Alliance
He says of retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles Horan, the prime founder of the Alliance:
“He was very scholarly in his statements, he was direct but very judicial in his approach, and I think he helped a lot. People could look at me and be critical because I’m a politician, but you can’t criticize him that way because he supports his statements, they’re thought-through.”
Calderon opines that the Alliance “got a bad rap” when it started speaking out, with its members branded as “renegade judges” or “dissident judges.” In fact, he says, “they were trying to bring to the Legislature’s attention, and to the public, and to anybody who would listen, that there were issues that needed to be addressed in terms of how the courts were funded, or how the courts were run,” adding:
“I took a lot for them to go public and I think that history is bearing them out, given recent actions of the joint legislative audit committee.”
Calderon is married and has three children, one age 9.
He was previously married. His then-wife filed for a dissolution of marriage in 1990.
Calderon filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 17, 1999.
The Calderons live in Whittier.
Copyright 2014, Metropolitan News Company