Friday, October 6, 2017
Judicial Elections Reform Bill Signed Into Law
Requires Neutral Ballot Designations
By a MetNews Staff Writer
There will be no judicial candidate on the ballot in next year’s election with a designation such as “Child Molestation Prosecutor,” Supervising Criminal Prosecutor” or “Criminal Gang Prosecutor,” under a bill signed into law yesterday by Gov. Jerry Brown.
The bill, SB 235, calling for use of actual government job titles or neutral references to the candidate’s status as a lawyer, was carried by Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, and was sponsored by the Conference of California Bar Associations (“CCBA”). It was based on a proposed bill drafted in 2015 by MetNews Co-Publisher Jo-Ann W. Grace, based on this newspaper’s Sept. 23, 2014 editorial calling for changes in Elections Code §13107.
Grace was the 2015-16 chair of the Los Angeles County Bar Association delegation to the statewide conference, the successor to the State Bar Conference of Delegates. Her resolution was approved by the conference without opposition.
SB 235 passed the Senate by a vote of 34-1; passed the Assembly 69-7; and the Senate concurred in Assembly amendments 34-4.
The measure was endorsed by the Alliance of California Judges, the California Judges Association, the Los Angeles County Bar Association, the San Diego County Bar Association, and numerous individuals.
Speaking on behalf of the bill before committees were Los Angeles Superior Court Judges Daniel Lowenthal and Randolph Hammock and unsuccessful 2016 judicial candidate Aaron Weissman of Novian and Novian.
Speaking against the bill was attorney Bradley Hertz of the Sutton Firm who has handled ballot designation challenges, which the bill is expected to pare.
Grace commented yesterday that there are bound to be “far fewer” writ proceedings in the future challenging ballot designations in judicial races.
Last year, she noted that the designations in Los Angeles County that drew challenges were “Violent Crimes Prosecutor,” “Gang Murder Prosecutor,” “Gang Homicide Prosecutor,” “Domestic Violence Attorney,” and “Court Appointed Attorney.”
Now, she said, all of those designations would be plainly disallowable, and would have to be rejected by the Registrar-Recorder’s Office.
Problems that have arisen with fanciful ballot designations have included voter confusion as to the level at which a candidate operates. For example, in 2014, Deputy Los Angeles City Attorney Tom Griego ran in both the primary and general election as “Criminal Gang Prosecutor.” Deputy District Attorney Steven Schreiner, who came in third in the primary, was listed as “Gang Homicide Prosecutor.”
Voters were unaware that Schreiner prosecutes felonies while Griego (who won in a run-off with a third candidate) dealt only with misdemeanors. Had SB 235 been in effect then, Griego would have been listed as “City of Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney” or, like any other active members of the State Bar, could have used “Attorney,” “Attorney at Law,” “Lawyer,” or “Counselor at Law.”
With a three-word limit, one or two other jobs could have been mentioned along with “Attorney” or “Lawyer.”
High-impact titles are generally believed to have affected the outcome of races. Also in 2014, then-Deputy District Attorney Carol Najera, running as a “Violent Crimes Prosecutor,” defeated a seasoned Los Angeles Superior Court judge, James Pierce.
Actual Job Title
In 2002, then-State Bar Court Judge Paul Bacigalupo ran successfully for the Los Angeles Superior Court. He could not use his actual title of “State Bar Court Judge” because of a three-word limit and chose the designation, “Judge, State Bar,” which the Court of Appeal upheld.
Under SB 235, not only may the full name of an agency for which the candidate provides quasi-judicial services be included, but it must be.
In 2014, then-Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin (now a Court of Appeal justice) denied a challenge to admiralty attorney B. Otis Felder running as “Los Angeles Prosecutor.” He had been, within the previous year’s period, an unpaid extern in the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office “Volunteer Attorneys Program.”
If SB 235 had been in effect, Felder would have been designated ““Attorney,” “Attorney at Law,” “Lawyer,” or “Counselor at Law,” and could use one or two other jobs along with “Attorney” or “Lawyer.”
Letters to Brown
In a letter to Brown urging passage, the CCBA lobbyist, attorney Larry Doyle, pointed to the problem of “ballot designation hyperbole for judicial office candidates, particularly in the case of aspirants seeking to create ever loftier and tough-on-crime-sounding ballot titles such as ‘hardcore gang prosecutor,’ ‘gang murder prosecutor,’ etc.,—even in cases where the designation has little (or even nothing) to do with the candidate’s actual practice.”
Hammock said in a letter to Brown:
“One would hope that we could all agree that one of the most important qualities or characteristics to be a judge is honesty and integrity. Indeed, it may be the most important. It seems fundamentally at odds with becoming a judge that a candidate would attempt to mislabel their own current occupation, or otherwise embellish what they do, in either an attempt to actually mislead the voters and/or appeal to their more guttural instincts. One can understand why they do this, since the current law may allow this type of gamesmanship, or moreover, they feel the need to do so because their opponents are also engaging in such tactics.
“The reform being sought eliminates this type of gamesmanship, and puts everyone on a more even playing field, where the merits of one’s candidacy play a greater role in the election, rather than who could have the most compelling ballot designation. The reforms addressed in SB 235 are fair, balanced and narrow in its nature and scope.”
Copyright 2017, Metropolitan News Company