Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Judicial Candidate Designations Bill Passes State Senate
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A bill designed to do away with the use of creative and fanciful ballot designations by judicial candidates has passed the California Senate.
SB235, by Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, was approved Monday by a 34-1 vote and now goes to the state Assembly. The lone dissenting vote was cast by Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Indio.
Sen. Joel Anderson, R-El Cajon, who cast the only “No” vote in both the Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments, did not vote on final passage.
The bill would prevent prosecutors from using the “boutique” ballot designations that have become commonplace in recent years. It would allow government attorneys to use their actual titles, as set forth in the applicable federal, state, or local legislation.
It would also require city and county officials or employees to identify the city or county, and require officials performing quasi-judicial functions—such as State Bar Court judges—to fully identify the agencies they serve.
‘Excellent Chance’ of Passage
Sacramento attorney Larry Doyle, chief lobbyist for the Conference of California Bar Associations, the official source of the bill, said there is an “excellent chance” of passage through the Assembly.
“I think we’ve resolved the biggest issue of all,” he said, referring to concerns voiced by the California District Attorneys Association that the bill was targeting prosecutors while continuing to allow the use of exotic designations by civil lawyers. While supporters voiced skepticism that any civil lawyer might craft a designation with the potency of “Child Molestation Prosecutor” or “Violent Crimes Prosecutor,” Doyle said an amendment approved last week puts public and private lawyers on an equal footing.
The amendment reads:
“A candidate for superior court judge who is an active member of the State Bar and practices law as one of his or her principal professions may use the word ‘Attorney,’ ‘Attorney at Law,’ ‘Lawyer,’ or ‘Counselor at Law’ as his or her ballot designation.”
The end result, Doyle said, is that all attorneys running for judge will have to use ballot titles that represent “a clear, succinct, unembellished description of what they do.”
As originally introduced, the bill also contained provisions designed to prevent part-time and non-practicing attorneys from designating themselves as if they were full-time practitioners. Those provisions were deleted, however, amid concerns, the Judiciary Committee staff’s analysis explained, they “could disadvantage qualified candidates,” and because “there was concern that these provisions may have disproportionately impacted women due to existing societal norms frequently resulting in women being expected to balance more familial obligations alongside their career.”
In addition to the CCBA, the bill has been endorsed by the Los Angeles County Bar Association, the San Diego County Bar Association, and the Alliance of California Judges.
The only formal opposition has come from the Sutton Law Firm, which has represented numerous judicial and non-judicial candidates in ballot designation battles.
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