Thursday, February 20, 2020
JUDICIAL ELECTIONS: Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 97
By ROGER M. GRACE, Editor
Private practitioner Timothy D. Reuben let it be known early in the campaign season, which began last year, that he was willing to spend half a million dollars on his election effort.
Undaunted, Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Sherry L. Powell’s committee heralded a Dec. 5 “Campaign Kick-Off!” in Long Beach. The announcement said: “Sponsored by the Honorable Carol Najera, the Honorable Emily Spear and the Honorable Danielle Gibbons.” All three sponsors are Los Angeles Superior Court judges who are generally thought to have won election through their heavy use of social media.
One observer of judicial elections late last year characterized the contest between Reuben and Powell as “$$$ v. Facebook.”
As it has turned out, Reuben was not bluffing. His committee’s latest campaign finance statement, due tomorrow, was filed Monday. It shows that his incremental loans to the committee now total $500,000.
The report shows expenditures of $519,202.87 by Reuben’s committee, largely on a plethora of slate mailers—highly effective in past years, but with a question now dangling in light of 2016 and 2018 election results as to their impact in contrast with the use of social media.
The latest report by Powell’s committee, filed Jan. 22, reflects contributions of $13,690, plus a $30,000 loan from Powell. Expenditures are shown at a mere $917.75. Since Jan. 21, there have been two “late contribution reports” (which must be filed within 24 hours of receiving a contribution of $1,000 or more). The committee picked up three donations, totaling $3,950, with $1,500 of that coming from the Los Angeles Police Protective League.
Yet, Powell has the hefty campaign advantages of being a woman—once a detriment, now an assurance of added votes—has a strong-sounding name (resembling the word “power” and being the same surname as that of various famous persons, though most of those names are apt to be more readily recognized by older voters), and has the more attractive ballot designation. She’s listed as “Deputy District Attorney, County of Los Angeles”; he’s described as “Attorney/Business Owner.” Too, she is expected to benefit substantially from support of the LGBT community, the influence of which is huge, as well as from the Los Angeles County Democratic Party’s backing, which burgeons in significance as Republican registration in the county dwindles.
The question is how much “$$$”—indeed, a massive amount of “$$$”—will mean against a combination of competing factors which in recent Los Angeles judicial elections have proved determinative of the outcomes.
Powell, 51, received her law degree from UCLA. Reuben, 64, is a graduate of the law school at Harvard.
SHERRY L. POWELL
Candidate Relishes Advice From Trio Who Gained Office Through ‘Grassroots’ Campaigns
Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Sherry L Powell, unlike her rival in the race for a Superior Court seat, has no professional campaign consultant.
“I have family, friends, colleagues who are part of my team,” she says.
The prosecutor rejects the suggestion that Los Angeles Superior Court Judges Carol Najera, Emily Spear, and Danielle R.A. Gibbons—who won election on shoestring budgets—are her “de facto consultants.”
“They are part of the team that I consult with,” she advises.
Powell says that, lacking a professional consultant, as each of them did, she’s in “a similar situation” to theirs and wants their advice.
“I am running a grassroots campaign,” she notes. “They each ran grassroots campaigns.”
Najera, who was elected in 2014, and Spear and Gibbons, who won their races two years ago, each relied heavily on social media. Powell says she has links on her campaign website to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, but reflects:
“Whether or not these are vehicles in which to reach a substantial number of voters, I don’t know that. I don’t know how you can go back in time to determine what was it that caused any particular percentage of voters that voted for that person or did not vote for that person. What was it that specifically led to that result?
“I’m sure that there are many people who opine as to the effectiveness of using social media, as using slate mailers, as using targeted email campaigns, and other methodology to reach voters, but at the end, I’m not sure that it’s actually known. I think those are all theories. People proceed with their campaigns based on their view of the theories.”
As for her own campaign, she says:
“I’m going to use everything at my disposal to reach the voters.”
Terming herself a “financial underdog” she says she doesn’t want to specify how she will use her funds, and what she won’t be able to afford.
Gender, Ballot Designation
Powell has—like Najera, Spear and Gibbons—what is widely seen as having a campaign advantage: being a woman. She discounts that factor, saying that some voters will cast ballots for her because of that, and some will vote against her because of it.
Although her ballot designation is generally regarded as a strong one, she expresses the expectation that it, too, will attract some votes, repel others.
She lists as “the most important clubs” to which she belongs the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, the Southeast District Bar Association (of which she’s a board member), a book club in Long Beach, and the Stonewall Democratic Club and East Area Democratic Club.
Despite her membership in those two Democratic organizations, she declines to state her political party, explaining that judicial elections are non-partisan.
She has been endorsed by the Los Angeles County Democratic Party (which only endorses Democrats) and by 12 Democratic Clubs. (Her opponent is also a Democrat.)
Powell also has the endorsement of 41 sitting Los Angeles Superior Court judges including Presiding Judge Kevin Brazile. The candidate notes that she has appeared before 22 of those judges and worked with 12 other of the endorsers when they were deputies in the District Attorney’s Office.
District Attorney Jackie Lacey and former District Attorney Steve Cooley are also those urging her election.
Cooley provides this assessment:
“Sherry Powell is an accomplished prosecutor who has taken on some of the toughest cases as a Hardcore Gang prosecutor. She will predictably do well as a superior court judge.”
A judge says of Powell:
“Good people! Would be thrilled having her as a colleague on the bench!”
A colleague of the candidate remarks:
“Sherry Powell is hard working and diligent. She is a team player and goes out of her way to help her colleagues and to research legal questions they may have. She will occasionally send emails to her colleagues in an effort to assist them in work related matters. She is active in the community and volunteers her time to many organizations.”
She has mixed reviews from deputies in the Public Defender’s Office.
Powell’s rating in her office performance evaluation for the past three years have been “Exceeded Expectations (Very Good).” The report for 2018-19 says:
“Ms. Powell is a highly dedicated and organized prosecutor who would be a welcome addition to any operation. She strives to ensure that all of her cases are well prepared and to always conduct herself with the utmost professionalism to all who encounter her.”
It also credits her with being “extremely well-versed in criminal law, procedure, and evidence, recognizing the nuances of even the most complex topics and issues,” adding:
“She ensures to keep abreast of the ever-changing legal authority and recent cases especially given the recent amendments and changes to well established criminal law and procedure. She is an exceptionally intelligent and thorough litigator with a meticulous eye for detail.”
During the first half of the 2017-18 rating period, Powell was in “Central Trials,” and was then moved to the “Hardcore Gang” unit in Norwalk.
In connection with the earlier assignment, this was said:
“Sherry Powell is an outstanding deputy whose skill set. dedication and genuine desire to advance the mission of Central Trials are unsurpassed. She exhibits high integrity and is a superior talent in all relevant aspects of her work performance. As a consequence. Ms. Powell was asked by her superiors to prosecute many of the most challenging and complex cases handled by [her unit]. In every instance, her altitude and response were exceptional and unflinching. She capably analyzes the known circumstances of every crime alleged, identifies all salient features and then undertakes a thorough course of preparation that includes outreach to investigators and witnesses requests for supplemental investigation and legal research among other things. At every turn, her goal is to leave no stone unturned and to maximize the persuasive force of all courtroom presentations anticipated.”
There was this assessment of her work in Hardcore Gangs:
“Ms. Powell has a positive attitude and is a zealous advocate for the People and welcomes a challenge. She is a team player who is proactive in sharing with her colleagues any written work product or legal research regarding novel issues. She is excellent at formulating sound resolutions in anticipation of potential issues on her cases well in advance of them arising which reflects her outstanding organizational skills. Her courtroom demeanor is calm and direct. Ms. Powell is able to artfully simplify and explain even the most complex legal theories during closing argument in a fashion that it is easily understood by all.”
Law is, for Powell, a second career. She was in the printing business and related endeavors from 1988 to 2003.
Powell joined the Office of District Attorney as a deputy in 2007. She was a law clerk for the office, then senior law clerk, starting in 2005 when she was in law school.
She acknowledges that her civil experience “is very limited”—consisting of clerking one summer during law school for a Court of Appeal justice and doing work during another summer break for a law firm.
Her opponent, attorney Timothy Reuben, on the other hand, says that when cases come to his firm with criminal law aspects, he will “bring in someone with expertise” in the area.
Powell concedes that Reuben has “decades of experience” in law, while she does not, but comments:
“I would say that I’m differently qualified.”
TIMOTHY D. REUBEN
Veteran Attorney Derides Rival Based on Her Law Practice Being Limited to 13 Years
Timothy D. Reuben is a West Los Angeles attorney who founded, and is managing principal of, Reuben Raucher & Blum, a six-lawyer firm that handles civil litigation, family law cases, and appeals.
He received his law degree from Harvard in 1980 and was admitted to the State Bar of California on Dec. 16 of that year.
During these past 39 years, he has stirred no controversies and has succeeded in law practice to the point that he is able to heap money into his campaign coffers, but has not become a readily recognizable figure in the bar.
In his race for a Superior Court judgeship, Reuben stresses his longevity in practice, saying of the relative experience of his opponent, Deputy District Attorney Sherry Powell:
“Thirteen years out of law school is not very much.”
He offers the observation that he has “been in front of many judges who were young and had limited experience as lawyers and I think were not as good as they could have been if they had more life experience and more people experience.”
The lawyer asserts that “someone like me” with years of experience, would “bring something to the bench.”
Areas of Practice
Reuben notes that Powell’s efforts as a lawyer have been devoted to “one area of law,” criminal.
By contrast, he says, he has handled cases “in all areas of the law” and has been involved “in hundreds of cases.”
With respect to criminal cases, however, he acknowledges:
“I’ve had 10 or 11 criminal cases, not recent, though.”
Name, Ballot Designation
The candidate observes that “those people who do bother to vote for judicial candidates very often look at the name and the ballot designation—and pretty much nothing more.”
That, he says, is “unfortunate—but it’s a reality.”
“I do have confidence that there will be a certain segment of the voting population—even based on the limits of the name and the ballot designation—that will be in favor of me.”
“My opponent has a nice name. My last name is Reuben. That might be successfully persuasive with the Jewish population, the Jewish voters.”
The ballot designation he initially chose was “Attorney/Managing Partner.” On his “ballot designation worksheet” filed with the Registrar-Recorder’s Office on Nov. 26 of last year, he set forth as justification for the second principal pursuit listed:
“I have been the law firm’s managing partner for 28 years.”
(The form reflected his holding that position since June 1, 1992—slightly less than 27½ years.)
Powell contacted the Registrar-Recorder’s Office on Dec. 6, contending that the designation did not conform to election law requirements.
Others had the same impression. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Randolph Hammock was among them. He said in a newspaper article, published Dec. 11:
“Surely, as the ‘Managing Partner’ of his own law firm, this is directly connected to Rueben’s practice as an attorney. Hence it is not an ‘other’ profession from being a lawyer. Indeed, it stretches one’s credulity to suggest otherwise.”
Reuben protested at the time:
“I have been a managing partner for 27 years,” insisting:
“I feel it’s an honest, fair, communicative indication of who I am.”
He rejected the notion that managing his law firm was an adjunct of being a lawyer, rather than constituting an “other” pursuit, explaining:
“I often say that just because you’re a good skier doesn’t mean you’re a good scuba diver, though you’re athletic. I think that many lawyers may know the law very well, but not know very much about managing a company, making a payroll.”
He said that the word “Attorney” in the ballot designation described him as an “individual,” while “managing partner” was his capacity with the firm, an “entity.”
The Registrar-Recorder’s Office on Dec. 17 bumped Reuben’s chosen designation, and also disallowed his second choice, also contested by Powell: “Attorney/Managing Principal.”
Powell had not disputed the validity of his third choice: “Attorney-at-law.” However, the description was approved was “Attorney/Business Owner.”
That designation, Reuben says, was conjured up by the Registrar-Recorder’s Office.
He acknowledges that he owns no business other than his law firm.
His defense of the new description parallels his justification of the label he proposed, saying:
“[M]anaging any business is not the same as practicing law, and I have been running a business since 1992. It includes:
“All insurance choices and negotiations , including health, disability, malpractice, worker’s comp, etc.;
“All banking issues, including money management, transfers, checks, loans, guarantees and negotiations with the bank (banking work is literally done every business day and sometimes on weekends);
“Lease negotiations and all dealings with our landlord, plus of course when and if we move, review of possible space in buildings around the city, planning for a move and orchestrating same—massive amounts of time;
“Business agreements, including computer services, copy machines, and all vendor agreements;
“Firm purchases, including computers, library, furniture, etc.;
“Investments, including choosing whether, when and how to invest any of the firm assets;
“401 and retirement plans, including all dealings with outside fiduciaries and government review;
“Compliance with state law requirements;
“Advertising and promotion, including but not limited to website issues;
“Salary review, hiring, firing, and all employee issues-which can come up at any time and involve anything;
“Accounting issues including dealing with the outside accounting firm and assuring proper tax compliance and reporting;
“Anything else that comes up!”
“A substantial portion of my income is earned because I do the above non-legal work, so while I am not terribly fond of my designation, I believe it is appropriate. I also believe having run a business provides valuable experience for a jurist.
“Frankly I would have preferred to put down lawyer/arbitrator or attorney/fee arbitrator, since I have been a fee arbitrator for the LA County Bar for 15 years, but I do that pro bono, so it is not allowed under my interpretation of the law. I do find the law problematic: it gives an undue advantage to government lawyers, particularly DAs. While I highly respect the work DAs do, the Bench is not—in the words of one of my supporters—a ‘jobs program’ for DAs who have just edged over 10 years of practice. I think the law should require at least 15 years of practice and that the designation options on the ballot for non-government lawyers should be more liberal to make the elections more fair.”
The state Constitution prescribes a minimum of 10 years of State Bar licensure for judicial candidates.
“It is unfortunate that Mr. Reuben chose to utilize an improper ballot designation. It does not reflect well upon one’s character when one of your first official acts to become a judge is to violate a law, however technical. This ‘win-at-all-cost’ mentality should not be encouraged in a judicial election.
“Be that as it may, it’s clear that at least on paper, Mr. Reuben is likely the best qualified candidate for judge in all of this year’s contested races for judge. With a slight hesitation, I will be voting for him and shall encourage all of my colleagues, friends and family members who ask me for my recommendations, to also do so.
“I trust that if he is fortunate enough to prevail, he will come to the realization that as a judge he will have to hold himself to a much higher standard.”
Bar Association Memberships
Reuben is currently a member of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, the Beverly Hills Bar Association and the California Lawyers Association.
He is endorsed by three sitting Los Angeles Superior Court judges, but acknowledges he has not appeared before them. Endorsers include some former Superior Court judges, including Court of Appeal Justice John Segal of this district’s Div. Seven.
He did not appear before Segal when he was in the Superior Court, Reuben says, but did argue before him and his colleagues in the appeals court.
A knowledgeable observer says of Reuben:
“I…found him to be precisely the kind of person one would want as a judge—someone who has no political agenda who seeks a judgeship as the bookend to a respected career in legal practice. His law firm’s website boasts a slew of legal accomplishments and range of experience far eclipsing that of Ms. Powell.”
Copyright 2020, Metropolitan News Company