Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, September 23, 2022


Page 9


Perspectives (Column)

Judicial Candidate, Registered Democrat, Swears He’s Not Democratic Party Member


By Roger M. Grace


Los Angeles County does not have a monopoly on chicanery in campaigns for judicial offices. There’s a commissioner of the San Diego Superior Court who, in running for a judgeship on his court, has gone beyond “fudging.”

His misrepresentation is of a sort that evinces unfitness for the office he seeks and the position he holds.

And, it might well be construed as amounting to a felony.

Peter Warren Singer is in a Nov. 8 run-off for San Diego Superior Court Office No. 36. As reported here on Thursday, he’s purchased a candidate statement, to be mailed to voters with the sample ballot. It includes a list of endorsements. The county’s registrar of voters, Cynthia L. Paes, proposed deleting from the list “San Diego Democratic Party.” She cited Elections Code section 13307(a)(1) which says that the statement of a candidate for a nonpartisan office—such as a judgeship—“shall not include the party affiliation of the candidate.”

In an Aug. 16 email, Singer protested, in effect, “Heck, reference to that endorsement doesn’t identify me as a Democrat—I’m not a Democrat.”

His actual words were:

“Please be aware that I have not disclosed my party affiliation, and the organization is listed simply as an endorsing entity, just like the San Diego/Imperial Counties Labor Council. I am not a member of the Democratic Party (or any of its affiliates), nor am I engaged in any partisan activities of the organization. Likewise, I am not a member of any political organization. Accordingly, I believe that merely listing them among my endorsements does not violate Elections Code section 13307(a)(1).”

Paes struck the endorsement. Singer sought a writ. The petition says:

“Petitioner lists [in] the second paragraph of his candidate statement his key endorsements which include the ‘San Diego Democratic Party.’ Petitioner explained to the Respondent that he is not a member of the Democratic Party (or any of its affiliates), nor engaged in any partisan activities of any political organization.”

The petition goes on to say:

“Petitioner maintains that the inclusion of ‘San Diego Democratic Party’ as an endorsement does not imply Petitioner’s affiliation, membership nor partisan political activity. Just like the Labor Council, there is no implication of anything other than an organization chose to offer an endorsement. Likewise, there is no assertion that Petitioner maintains any membership or affiliation nor engages in any partisan political activity. Such assumptions are not based in fact.”

Singer’s verification includes the stock language, “I declare under the penalty of perjury under the laws of the State of California that the foregoing is true and correct.”

But is it true?

It was brought to my attention that the San Diego County Democratic Party (“SDCDP”) bylaws provide that the Central Committee “may endorse candidates for nonpartisan offices providing: [¶] 1. The candidate is a registered Democrat.”

I queried Singer whether he was a Democrat at the time he received the endorsement. He responded, “Yes,” then sent a follow-up email advising:

“While I was (and am) a registered Democrat, I am not a member of the San Diego County Democratic Party. Their bylaws set forth membership criteria.”

He provided a link to the bylaws.

The bylaws set forth seven categories of members. The categories relate to membership in the San Diego County Democratic Central Committee.

There is, plainly, only one category of membership in the Democratic Party, as opposed to membership on any committee: being registered to vote as a Democrat.

In response to a request for clarification, Singer wrote:

“There is a distinction between one’s registration and being a member of the party organization, which in this scenario means the San Diego County Democratic Party, also known as the central committee. The SDCDP bylaws clearly define the seven classifications of membership. I do not fall within any of those seven. My point was that I was not a member of the organization that endorsed me (the SDCDP).”

He added:

“I am a registered Democrat and never denied that. There would certainly be no reason for me to deny that. I am proud of the Democratic endorsements that I have received.”

What he told the registrar of voters in hopes that she would not excise reference to the Democratic Party endorsement was “I am not a member of the Democratic Party.” He did not say, “I am not a member of the Democratic County Central Committee.”

Moreover, under penalty of perjury, he recited his representation to Paes that he is “not a member of the Democratic Party” and said that any assumptions as to his party “membership or affiliation…are not based in fact.”

Paes understood Singer to be disavowing membership in the Democratic Party; her response to his writ petition says:

“The evident purpose of Section 13307 is to not indicate to voters a partisan preference in a nonpartisan election, which would proscribe a partisan endorsement regardless of whether the candidate is registered with that party.”

Singer’s election opponent, Pete Murray, understood Murray to be saying that he’s not a Democrat. His opposition says that Singer “states, as he does, that he is not affiliated with the Democratic Party, but tells the voters through his Ballot Statement that he has the Democratic Party endorsement,” thus implying that he’s a Democrat, and creating deception.

Anyone would be bound to infer from Singer’s statement that he is “not a member of the Democratic Party” that his party registration is something other than as a Democrat (and probably as an independent, given that the Democratic Party endorsed him).

Plainly, membership in a political party, as commonly understood, means having stated an affiliation with that party in registering to vote (thus gaining entitlement to vote on who will be the party’s nominees for partisan offices). Avowing non-membership in a particular political party does not simply connote disclaiming membership in that party’s county or state central committee.

Those who have “declared their affiliation” with a political party constitute “the members of that party,” the California Supreme Court observed in 1914 in Hart v. Jordan.

The U.S. Supreme Court in its 2000 decision in California Democratic Party v. Jones defines “persons who are members of the political party” as being those “who have declared affiliation with that party when they register to vote.” In invalidating an initiative and declaring that only “members” of a party may vote in a party’s primary, it did not mean that only members of party’s central committees were enfranchised.

When Will Rogers quipped, “I’m not a member of any organized political party, I’m a Democrat,” he was not proclaiming membership on the Oklahoma Democratic Central Committee (or whatever the party’s governing body was).

Other examples abound. The point is: Singer is playing games with words. He’s a clumsy games-player, at that, and naïve to think he won’t be caught at it.

As previously noted, he says in his candidate statement:

“Experience—29 years on the bench, first as a temporary courtroom Judge, now Court Commissioner.”

The words “29 years on the bench” are deceptive. During the 22-year period before he was hired as a commissioner, he presided over simple matters, now and then, as a volunteer pro tem.

His unfitness for judicial office is clear. So is that of his opponent whose ballot designation is “Attorney/Criminal Prosecutor” while, in fact, he is not a criminal prosecutor, but a member of a family law firm.

At least Murray has not made an untrue statement under penalty of perjury, as Singer did.

The perjury statute, Penal Code §118, applies to a person who “willfully and contrary to the oath” to tell the truth “states as true any material matter which he or she knows to be false.”

Singer declared under penalty of perjury that he is “not a member of the Democratic Party”; he is; his statement was false. His only possible defense is that he really, truly believed that in saying that he is “not a member of the Democratic Party,” he was communicating that he is not a member of the party’s county central committee.

Such an assertion would have to be viewed with extreme skepticism. If he actually did believe that a reference to membership in a political party means membership on a party’s central committee, he is far too confused to be capable of adjudicating disputes. So, he’s either a perjurer or a dolt.

There is also the matter, though of far less significance, of laggardness on Singer’s part. In the primary, he did not challenge Murray’s ballot designation as “Criminal Trial Prosecutor.” Murray had been an deputy attorney general the previous year; wasn’t currently a prosecutor; and under the Code of Regulations, the past position could not be used as a designation given that Murray had a new job.

Singer explained, in response my inquiry as to his inaction:

“I chose to not challenge Mr. Murray’s primary designation because I believed the designation would be more harmful to the other candidate, Mr. Lawson.  At that point, I felt it was Mr. Lawson’s fight to have.”

The third candidate in the primary was Deputy District Attorney Christopher Lawson.

However, if Singer had immediately challenged the designation in the San Diego Superior Court in the primary, he might well have won, and if he didn’t, there would have been a chance of writ relief from the Court of Appeal prior to the printing of the general election ballots.

As it happened, Singer brought a writ petition in the Superior Court prior to the general election challenging Murray’s candidate statement and the editing of his; Elections Code §13313 specifies that a writ petition challenging the content of a candidate statement must be sought within 10 days of the statement being publicly unveiled and Singer’s petition was tardy; Murray, in a swaggering opposition he drafted, insisted that any relief was barred. He did not delineate why the challenge to the ballot designation could not be acted upon.

Singer failed to file a reply to the opposition—though meritorious arguments could have been put forth with respect to the timeliness of the contest to the ballot designation and the impermissibility of that designation.

The proceeding was shifted to the Orange Superior Court and a judge of that court denied the petition as untimely without explanation.

Singer acknowledges that he applied for appointment to the bench under Govs. Jerry Brown and Gavin Newson and that the prospect of an appointment was referred to the State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation. He wasn’t appointed.

Singer is endorsed by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rupert Byrdsong. Ordinarily, an endorsement of a judicial candidate by a judge in some other county would be of doubtful relevance. However, Byrdsong is president of the California Judges Association (“CJA”) and Singer is president of the California Court Commissioners Association, so that Byrdsong’s insights as to Singer’s abilities would seemingly be of value to voters in San Diego.

However, Byrdsong’s endorsement, identifying him as “President of the California Judges Association,” is splashed on Singer’s campaign website without the customary disclaimer that reference to the office the endorser holds is “for identification purposes, only,” and does not imply an endorsement by the organization. 

Singer’s candidate statement lists, among “key endorsers”: “President, California Judges Association.”

I would imagine that some CJA members would balk at the prestige of their organization being lent a judicial candidate.

In any event, it will be interesting to see if Byrdsong, a judge who is respected by his colleagues and by the bar, will withdraw his endorsement of Singer in light of his false statement under penalty of perjury.


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