Monday, May 21, 2018
Candidate Says She’s Pleased L.A. Times Endorsed Her Opponent
By ROGER M. GRACE
The endorsement of the Los Angeles Times—though less influential in judicial races than it was before the advent of slate mailers—is still a highly significant factor in elections and is much coveted. But now we have a candidate, Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Danielle R.A. Gibbons, who is actually expressing glee that the Times has endorsed her opponent, Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney David A. Berger, in a race for an open seat on the court.
Gibbons, an aspirant for Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 71, says in a May 13 Facebook posting (unedited):
“Feeling grateful this morning that I did not get the endorsement of the LA Times. In 2016, they endorsed just ONE non-incumbent candidate that actually won their race. In 2014 the endorsed only 5 of the 12 eventual winners. They routinely endorse individuals that are rated “NOT QUALIFIED” or lesser qualified over candidates that are rated “QUALIFIED” and even “WELL-QUALIFIED” by the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Judicial Election Evaluations Committee.”
The commissioner continues:
“LA Times does not have an application and a candidate is interviewed ONE time by just TWO people. The Los Angeles Bar Association consists of a committee of over 30 unbiased lawyers practicing various areas of law in Los Angeles County. There is an extensive application, candidates have to supply the committee with 75 references AND anyone can go to their website and provide any information their feel is relevant to a candidates qualifications.”
Gibbons provides a link to the report of the committee’s report of the Judicial Election Evaluations Committee (“JEEC”) and comments:
“I am a candidate for one of the offices and the LA Times gave their recommendation to my opponent who was rated ‘NOT QUALIFIED’ over me and my ‘WELL-QUALIFIED’ rating and my judicial experience.”
She asserts in a posting the next day that candidates rated “Not Qualified” by the bar committee “do not belong on the bench, very scary for our justice system!”
This judicial officer seems to be imputing infallibility to a committee of a private organization and impertinence on the part of a newspaper’s editorial board that chooses to make independent evaluations.
Does Gibbons truly believe that because some of the candidates the Times has endorsed have lost increases the odds of her getting elected because she wasn’t chosen by that newspaper?
Berger was automatically rated “Not Qualified” this year because he declined to complete a JEEC questionnaire or submit to an interview by members of a subcommittee. He released a statement earlier this year explaining:
“I have decided not to participate in the LACBA JEEC process. I regret to note that despite LACBA’s other reforms, the JEEC remains chaired by the same person who presided over the much criticized 2016 evaluations. Part of that criticism concerned the JEEC’s willingness to penalize my candidacy because I exercised my first amendment right to criticize a morally corrupt politician….
“The JEEC evaluations lacked credibility in 2016, and given that the leadership of the JEEC has not changed, they continue to lack credibility, value, and transparency. I will have no part in this flawed process.”
The MetNews did not report his statement. We had no plan to devote any coverage to the JEEC ratings this year.
There was a time when the JEEC report was released at a press conference, covered not only by newspapers but by TV and radio stations. Two years ago, this newspaper was the only news outlet, to my knowledge, that conveyed the JEEC ratings. We even took pains, as we had for years, to determine the ratings prior to their official release and report them. I reflected on this in 2016, in a conversation with our reporter Kenneth Ofgang (since deceased), who intensively covered judicial races, remarking that the work being done by the committee had become utterly sloppy and we should stop bothering to report its findings.
Ken responded: “I was wondering when you were going to realize that.”
The present committee was appointed under the administration of Past President Margaret Stevens, with the actual picking of members reportedly done by the chair, Jerrold Abeles of Arent Fox, LLP, who was also head honcho in 2014 and 2016. His selections (while not all are bad ones) appear to have been based on a quest for diversity rather than on an intelligent effort to recruit persons who are adept at the tasks involved.
A new committee will be chosen after July 1 by the incoming president, Brian Kabateck, in consultation with the person he appoints as chair, and the committee will function in connection with the 2020 election.
Kabateck will succeed Michael E. Meyer as president. Both were elected as reform candidates, and are dramatically and impressively turning LACBA back into the worthy organization it once was.
I would bet that the committee making evaluations in 2020 will be so constituted that its findings will be worthy of attention. But it will take a while before JEEC will regain credibility.
Berger was rated “Not Qualified” in 2016 based on concerns within the committee centering on his blog, Dragnet Los Angeles, which contained stinging criticisms of Carmen Trutanich as Los Angeles city attorney, and as an unsuccessful candidate in 2012 for district attorney, and for reelection to his city post the following year.
By the way, Trutanich—presently facing State Bar disciplinary proceedings—on April 20 contributed $1,000 to Gibbons’s campaign.
The Los Angeles Times’s May 13 editorial endorsing Berger says:
“This is the second time Deputy Dist. Atty. Berger has run for judge, and the second time he wins The Times’ endorsement for his impressive record as a trial lawyer. Outside the courtroom, he has a reputation for sharp-witted candor and a sometimes supercilious attitude, which he displayed as a candidate for Los Angeles city attorney and later on a website that critiqued various candidates and commented on news events. None of that gives us pause. In the courtroom, he has demonstrated himself to be a professional if somewhat tough criminal prosecutor. Our preference would be to elect both him and his rival, Superior Court Commissioner Danielle R.A. Gibbons, to the bench. But they are running against each other, we can pick only one, and we recommend Berger.”
The MetNews has also endorsed Berger, as it did in 2016.
Two years ago, Berger was defeated in a runoff by then-Deputy Attorney General (now Judge) Kim L. Nguyen. In the primary, the Times commented on Berger’s JEEC rating in an editorial endorsing him, saying:
“One of the best services to voters puzzling over how to vote for judge is the set of candidate ratings produced by the Los Angeles County Bar Assn., the region’s largest voluntary organization of attorneys. The County Bar’s Judicial Elections Evaluations Committee engages in a review of the candidates and places each of them in one of four categories, from Exceptionally Well Qualified to Not Qualified. The Times often agrees with the committee’s assessments.
“But not always. This year’s ratings have not yet been published but the Metropolitan News-Enterprise has reported that Berger was rated Not Qualified. The Times nevertheless finds him to be the best of the candidates in this particular race.
“As a deputy district attorney, and as a candidate for Los Angeles city attorney, Berger was never shy about expressing his opinion, including about his rivals.
“He has a long and successful record as a prosecutor, and his free expression of opinion in that capacity do not make him less fit to serve impartially as a judge.”
The MetNews, at the tail-end of the 2016 election, put forth its own ratings of the eight candidates in the run-off, finding Berger to be “Well Suited” for a judgeship. That label was also applied to him in an editorial on Wednesday in which Gibbons was ranked “Qualified.”
There have been instances in years gone by where this newspaper respectfully disagreed with JEEC’s dingings. I recall, off-hand, our support of Michael Nash, a challenged Los Angeles Municipal Court judge in 1988, who was branded “Not Qualified,” won at the polls, and became a leading member of the Los Angeles Superior Court, presiding for several years over the Juvenile Court.
On the other hand, I do cringe at the recollection that we endorsed, despite JEEC “Not Qualified” ratings, then-Los Angeles Superior Court Judges Ronald Sohigian in 1996 (now retired) and Henry Patrick Nelson in 1988 (who retired just as a Commission on Judicial Performance proceeding was about to get underway).
No longer, however, is there a basis for respectful disagreement with JEEC.
I’m certainly not saying that Berger should be elected simply because he has the Times’s endorsement. Views expressed by that newspaper are sometimes balmy—though, generally, over the past dozen years or so, assessments of judicial candidates have been reasoned.
The point is that Gibbons’ denigration of the Times because it disregards the proclamation by JEEC that she is “Well Qualified” and Berger is “Not Qualified” is predicated upon her assumption—an ignorant one, in my view—that JEEC’s determinations are unerring and authoritative.
She even slams Berger for making a campaign boast, somewhere, of being “extremely well qualified when actually rated NOT QUALIFIED”—as if a candidate may make no contention that contradicts a LACBA rating.
In evaluating Berger, JEEC erred.
Its characterization of Gibbons as “Well Qualified” was generous, too generous.
On his own campaign website, under the heading, “2016 Endorsements,” Berger includes this:
“Los Angeles Times, ‘Berger is the best choice’ April 28, 2016.”
In a posting, Gibbons complains of that, arguing that Berger “now is using a quote from his endorsement in 2016 by the LA Times against the eventual winner and now Judge Kim Nguyen as if they said he is ‘the best choice’ against me.” It says “2016.” Gibbons was not his opponent in 2016.
The post continues (unedited):
“It seems to me he is nervous, rightfully so! Maybe someone should introduce his the the CJP for unethical campaign practices.”
Aside from there being no ethical violation by Berger, he’s a lawyer, and lawyers are subject to discipline by the State Bar, not the Commission on Judicial Performance.
Or is Gibbons assuming that he’ll soon be coming under the jurisdiction of the CJP?
Copyright 2018, Metropolitan News Company