Friday, April 28, 2017
LACBA Endorses Judicial Elections Reform Bill
Joins CJA, Alliance of California Judges, Conference of California Bar Associations In Supporting SB 235 Which Would Bar Inventive Ballot Designations
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Los Angeles County Bar Association has gone on record in support of SB 235, a judicial elections reform bill that would bar inventive ballot designations.
Its action, on Wednesday night, came close on the heels of the California Judges Association announcing late that afternoon that it was backing the bill, though it had a couple of suggestions for changes. The CJA is thus in harmony with the Alliance of California Judges, which has also endorsed the measure.
Features of the bill, carried by Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, include a requirement that a holder of a government position be identified by the actual job title—such as “Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney.” Several deputies in the Office of District Attorney in this county have won office in the past six judicial elections using such titles as “Child Molestation Prosecutor.”
The bill would amend Elections Code §13107.
Letter of Support
A letter, approved by LACBA’s Board of Trustees at Wednesday night’s meeting, tells Allen that the association “supports your Judicial Elections Reform Bill, SB 235.” It continues:
“It is essential that the electorate have accurate information concerning judicial candidates. Toward that end, our organization puts forth considerable effort in assessing the qualifications of such candidates and publicizing our ratings of them.
“It is regrettable that our work, and that of others who strive to provide enlightenment to voters, is often outweighed by the force of ballot designations—sometimes misleading, sometimes accurate but manipulative—which play to emotions.
“We support your bill which would decrease, markedly, dramatics in ballot designation, and assure accurate information being conveyed to voters.”
The bill has been endorsed by the Los Angeles Times, Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert, former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, Los Angeles Superior Court Judges Randolph Hammock (who is slated to testify in favor of SB 235 at a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday) and Daniel Lowenthal, Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Alan Friedenthal, former Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, the MetNews, and others (some of whose letters to Allen commending the bill appear on Page 9.)
SB 235 incorporates recommendations in a Sept. 23, 2014 MetNews editorial which formed the basis of a proposed bill drafted by the newspaper’s co-publisher, Jo-Ann W. Grace, and approved in 2015 by the Conference of California Bar Associations (“CCBA”). She was chair that year of LACBA’s delegation to the conference.
The CCBA is the sponsor of Allen’s bill.
The lone voice against the key feature of the bill—requiring actual job titles of government lawyers—is attorney Bradley W. Hertz of the Sutton Law Firm, who has represented judicial candidates in writ proceedings over disputed ballot designations. He said, in a letter sent Wednesday to members of the Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments, which will hear the bill on Tuesday:
“As frustrating as it is for some—whether candidates, the media, the voters, or others to have to determine what ‘Gang Homicide Prosecutor,’ ‘Child Molestation Prosecutor,’ ‘Violent Crimes Prosecutor’ and similar terms really mean, from our perspective such designations, if accurate and not misleading, are better than requiring common and less descriptive denominators (such as ‘Deputy District Attorney’ or ‘Assistant United States Attorney’).
“It is generally agreed that judicial elections are considered low visibility races and that ballot designations often make or break one’s candidacy. Most candidates cannot afford the tens of thousands of dollars required to have a candidate statement (as permitted by Elections Code section 13307) printed in the voter information pamphlet. Although some judicial candidates can afford slate mailers, newspaper ads, and other means of publicizing their candidacies, the election often is decided based on the candidate’s name and ballot designation. Restricting this important tool by which candidates can distinguish themselves from other candidates not only raises constitutional free speech issues, but also is likely to lead to a less informed electorate and more random judicial election outcomes.”
Hertz’s letter expresses agreement with other features of the bill, and recommends some changes to §13107 that would not be confined to judicial elections.
The CJA’s letter of support, appearing on this page, expresses one “concern” and puts forth one “recommendation,” but does not condition the group’s endorsement on any changes being made.
The “concern” is over the proposed requirement that “[i]f the candidate is employed for fewer than 30 hours per week as an official or employee of a city, county, district, state, or the United States, the phrase ‘Part-time’ shall appear before the designation.”
This provision was based on a deputy district attorney, Helen Kim, seeking to run in 2014 as a “Violent Crimes Prosecutor,” although she was a part-time filing deputy.
The CJA letter points to the “possible discriminatory nature or impact that this requirement may have” inasmuch as a judge or government lawyer on a maternity leave would have to be listed as “Part-time.”
The CJA also urges that it be made clear that private sector attorneys should be allowed to indicate their areas of specialty, such as “family law attorney” or “criminal law attorney.”
If the bill is reported out of committee on Tuesday, it will go to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
California Judges Association’s Letter of Support for SB 235
The California Judges Association supports SB 235 (Allen) which is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Committee on Elections & Constitutional Amendments on May 2,2017, and respectfully requests your AYE vote.
SB 235 will create a more neutral framework for ballot designations for candidates for superior court judge. SB 235 would require public sector attorneys to utilize their official job titles (e.g.. Deputy District Attorneys, Deputy City Attorneys, etc.) as a ballot designation, if they choose to have one. SB 235 would also regulate candidates who are not public sector attorneys (‘’private sector attorneys”) about when they may be allowed to utilize the word “Attorney” or “Lawyer,” conditioned on whether they had actually earned more than 50% or more of their income from the preceding 12 months from the practice of law.
SB 235 also would mandate a geographic designation for all public sector candidates in the event they utilize the mandatory ballot designation, and would also require ballot designations for any type of candidate for superior court judge as to whether their ballot designation reflects a part-time status, as defined therein.
Some of the most important qualities or characteristics to be a judge are honesty and integrity. It seems fundamentally at odds with becoming a judge that a candidate would attempt to mislabel or embellish their current occupation. The reforms sought by SB 235 will help give voters in judicial elections accurate and useful information.
CJA supports these efforts, and appreciates the work of the author and sponsor on SB 235. We also suggest that as the bill progresses, consideration be given to amending the measure to delete the part-time status requirement and that additional requirements be added regarding private sector candidates.
With regard to the part-time status requirement, we have concerns about the possible discriminatory nature or impact that this requirement may have. For example, as proposed, a sitting superior court judge who is on maternity leave, or some other approved leave of absence, at the time of the tiling of their ballot designation would be required to indicate they were part-time if they were not working at least thirty hours a week. This would also apply to any other public sector candidate.
With regard to private sector candidates, we recommend that the measure also provide an option for a candidate who is allowed to use the designation of “attorney” or “lawyer” to designate a generic area of law in which the candidate engages as their primary area of practice, such as “family law attorney” or “criminal law attorney”, subject to the three word limitation. This will decrease the possibility of embellishment by private sector candidates and appropriately focus the title on the candidates” relevant practice area.
We look forward to working further with the author on SB 235. Use of inventive designations is confusing to the public, and SB 235 will improve the understanding of voters in judicial elections. For these reasons, the California Judges Association respectfully requests your AYE vote on SB 235.
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