By Roger M. Grace
Georgia Huerta is a candidate for Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 118, an open seat. Her chosen ballot designation is, “Deputy District Attorney, County of Los Angeles.”
That’s a permissible designation under Election Code §13107.
The problem here is that Huerta (who also uses the surname “Sullivan”) is not a deputy district attorney. She used to be, but isn’t now.
On her campaign website, she relates that she was a prosecutor from 1987-2021. However, the ballot designation she wants to use constitutes a false representation that she is currently a DDA.
How does Huerta justify this deviation from the truth? In an email Thursday night, responding to an inquiry, she advises:
“Please see Election Code Section 13107 (b)(1)(C).”
Sec. 13107(b)(1)(C) provides that a candidate may use a designation that is “[n]o more than three words designating either the current principal professions, vocations, or occupations of the candidate, or the principal professions, vocations, or occupations of the candidate during the calendar year immediately preceding the filing of nomination documents.”
That language does not authorize a former deputy district attorney to use the ballot designation chosen by Huerta.
On its face, the word limitation is exceeded. Under §13107(d), “all California geographical names shall be considered to be one word,” so, “Deputy District Attorney, County of Los Angeles” would be counted as four words. Sec. 13107(b)(1)(C) allows only three words.
But Huerta’s transgression goes far beyond using one word too many in her proposed designation. She has made an effort to flimflam voters into perceiving her as actively engaged in conducting prosecutions.
The candidate is wrong in supposing that she may use her former post in a designation. Regulations promulgated by the Office of Secretary of State, amplifying on §13107, permit use of a former profession, vocation or occupation only if the candidate has no current profession, vocation or occupation. The regulations have the force of law.
Code of Regulations §20714(d) provides:
“In the event the candidate does not have a current principal profession, vocation or occupation at the time he or she files his or her nomination documents, the candidate may use a ballot designation consisting of his or her principal professions, vocations or occupations, which the candidate was principally engaged in during the calendar year immediately preceding the filing of the candidate's nomination papers.”
Huerta is an active member of the State Bar. She has a current profession. Sec. 20714(a) gives as an example of a “profession” that of an “attorney” and §20714 approves use of a licensed profession as a ballot designation if the candidate is on active status at the time nominating papers are filed.
Also, it is doubtful that “Deputy District Attorney, County of Los Angeles” constitutes a profession, or a vocation, or an occupation. It’s a job title.
That job title may be used as a ballot designation by a current DDA because Election Code §13107(b)(2) spells out:
“For a candidate for judicial office who is an active member of the State Bar employed by a city, county, district, state, or by the United States, the designation shall appear as one of the following: [¶] (A) Words designating the actual job title, as defined by statute, charter, or other governing instrument.”
It says “is” employed, not “was.” Huerta is no longer “employed by a…county.” It follows that she may not use her former job title.
Even if Huerta is not versed in election law, it remains that she does know that she is not a deputy district attorney, yet chose a ballot designation that would communicate to voters that she is. She is seeking to deceive the electorate, revealing, to her disgrace, a lack of integrity.
OTHER CONTENDERS—Huerta indicated her desired ballot designation at the time she filed her nominating papers. Only one other person has likewise perfected her candidacy for Office No. 118 (as of press time on Friday): Melissa Hammond, whose ballot designation is “Deputy District Attorney, County of Los Angeles.”
Would Hammond be inclined to challenge Huerta’s ballot designation in a writ proceeding? She responds:
“I am aware of the inaccurate ballot designation that Ms. Huerta has proposed. It is too early to make a decision about filing a writ petition.”
Six others have taken out nominating petitions for the office but not returned them. Of those six, two—Deputy District Attorneys Abby Baron and Keith Koyano—have also taken out nominating petitions for five other open seats, and Deputy District Attorney Richard Quiñones is eying one other open seat.
Expected to be in the race are Administrative Law Presiding Judge Klint McKay, an unsuccessful candidate two years ago, Glendale attorney Carolyn “Jiyoung” Park, and Deputy County Counsel Shan K. Thever.
The word is out that Hammond works on only a part-time basis. The candidate says:
“I would not describe myself as a ‘part time prosecutor’ as I work almost every day, every weekend, and every holiday. I have a strong work ethic, and I prioritize the needs of victims and witnesses whether I am on the clock or not. It is correct that I am officially employed on part-time status, although I am scheduled to return to full time status in January 2023 and intend to do so whether elected or not. I have no health problems.”
“After 12 years of practicing law, I went on part time status in 2017 after having my third child, and continued on it because my youngest experienced developmental delays that necessitated substantial, in-home therapy. Thankfully, her issues are almost fully resolved.”
Use of the designation “Deputy District Attorney, County of Los Angeles” is permissible without a need to indicate that it’s a part-time position.
That’s contrary to the original language in SB 235, enacted in 2017. That bill, which amended §13107 as it pertains to judicial candidates, was based on a model bill drafted by my wife, Jo-Ann, while she was chair of the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s delegation to the Conference of California Bar Associations. What she drafted was approved by the CCBA without opposition, and its lobbyist found a senator to carry the bill.
SB 235 initially provided:
“If 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.”
Inspiring that proviso was the stunt in 2014 of Helen Kim, a part-time filing deputy in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. In seeking election to an open seat, she chose the designation, “Violent Crimes Prosecutor.” Then-Deputy District Attorney (now Judge) Alison Matsumoto Estrada sought a writ requiring the registrar-recorder to disallow the designation.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant disallowed the word “Violent” because most of Kim’s filings did not involve crimes that were deemed “violent” for sentencing purposes but—notwithstanding that she prosecuted no one—allowed the designation, “Criminal Prosecutor.”
As introduced by Sen. Ben Allen, D-Los Angeles, on Feb. 6, 2017, someone like Kim would have been identified as “Part-time Deputy District Attorney, County of Los Angeles.”
The language requiring the word “Part-time” was “dropped,” Hammond recites, “amid concerns that ‘it could disadvantage qualified candidates’ and ‘disproportionately impact women due to existing societal norms frequently resulting in women being expected to balance more familial obligations alongside their career.’ (Senate Judiciary Committee Report, May 8, 2017.)”
“It was dropped with candidates such as myself in mind.”
Yet, it was dropped at the sacrifice of voters being presented with an accurate picture of the candidate’s role.
Oh, well. What counts is that the bill passed and its major objective—barring such emotion-evoking designations as “Child Molestation Prosecutor”—was realized.
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