Metropolitan News-Enterprise

 

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

 

Page 1

 

EDITORIAL

 

Abby Baron

Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 60

 

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 BBY BARON is our choice for Office No. 60 on the June 7 ballot. We view this as the most difficult call among this year’s races for Los Angeles Superior Court open seats. Baron, a deputy district attorney, is highly regarded; so is a colleague of hers, Sharon Ransom.

In the end, our inquires lead us to the conclusion that Baron possesses a superior skill-set, though we are convinced that Ransom, too, would be an excellent choice for the post that the two prosecutors seek.

There are four others in the contest. One, as we see it, is a credible candidate; the three others aren’t.

Baron is lauded in her annual office performance evaluations. Over the past three cycles, she been rated “Exceeded Expectations (Very Good).”

She has been in a complex litigation assignment, attached to Stuart House, the UCLA Medical Center’s “safe house” providing child sexual abuse services. Her latest evaluation declares that Baron “works tirelessly for her victims”; “performs her duties calmly and effectively in emergency situations”; “is able to quickly make decisions without supervision”; and “does not shy away from challenging or complicated cases.”

“Consistently and frequently,” it sets forth, she has “displayed excellent analytical skills,” “worked beyond scheduled hours,” “performed required duties regardless of the adverse personal consequences,” “employed office technology in an innovative and effective manner,” and “managed extremely complex cases and/or projects in an effective manner.”

 It credits her with working well with, and motivating, colleagues, and maintaining harmonious relationships with others with whom she works, saying that she is “incredibly professional in all interactions with the members of other disciplines.”

The evaluation for the previous year, when she was at Stuart House, was similar. The one for the year before that, when she was in a complex litigation in Compton, says:

“During this rating period Ms. Baron capably handled a large complex caseload….She could always be counted upon to help her colleagues and made time to mentor new deputies….Ms. Baron was usually among the first in and the last to leave each day.”

The report continues:

“Ms. Baron conducts herself with the utmost professionalism and her warm and congenial manner makes her approachable and reliable. She has earned the respect of her peers, the defense bar, and the bench.”

It adds:

“Ms. Baron is a dedicated prosecutor She embodies the mission of our office, ensuring justice and safety in our community while representing our office with professionalism and integrity. She is highly respected by her peers, both for her legal acumen and her willingness to assist her colleagues. In addition to her legal skill and knowledge, Ms. Baron should be recognized for her passion and empathy.”

Former Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley tells us that Baron “has had responsible positions” as a deputy district attorney and “has proven herself in each,” remarking:

“She would make a fine addition to the Superior Court.”

The Los Angeles Superior Court judge who persuaded Baron to run for election terms the candidate “a superstar” who “stands out from the crowd in this election,” and comments:

“Having worked shoulder to shoulder with her for many years in the District Attorney’s Office, I know firsthand that she can be depended upon to be highly capable, diligent, and calm under pressure. Litigants will be treated with dignity, patience, and respect. In every courthouse in the county where her intellect and talents are known, my colleagues on the bench will fight over who will have the privilege of working with her. She is as delightful to be around as she is hardworking and intelligent. Judicial candidates just don’t get any better than Abby Baron.”

Baron is termed “exceptionally well qualified” by a member of the court she seeks to join who says the candidate “would make an outstanding bench officer.”

Another judge (noting that the candidate is the fiancée of Deputy District Attorney Keith Koyano, also a contender for a judgeship—in a different race, of course) describes Baron as “a lovely lady” who “has the makings of a fine judge.”

Yet another judge remarks:

“I am supporting Abby Baron because she has the legal knowledge and sense of fairness that will make for a great judge! She is patient and considerate of listening to opposing views. Her objectivity and commitment to the law will make her an excellent Superior Court Judge!”

A criminal defense lawyer characterizes the prosecutor as “witty, down to earth, shrewd, polished, compassionate” and someone who “always keeps an open mind” and “is ahead of her time.”

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HARON RANSOM is a deputy district attorney who also draws plaudits. In each of her past three annual performance evaluations, she was rated, “Exceeded Expectations (Very Good).”

The latest report says that Ransom, assigned to the Major Narcotics Division (“MND”), “is friendly, hardworking, and well-liked by her colleagues” and “can always be depended on to complete her assignments professionally and efficiently.” It notes that she “always volunteers for additional work and to assist her colleagues.”

The previous report says that although newly transferred to MND., she “has already tackled several complex motions to suppress” and “has learned to quickly recognize the search and seizure issues that are unique to MND cases,” adding:

“Ms. Ransom is always looking for more work and constantly seeks out new challenges.”

Previously, she handled elder abuse cases. She was credited with being “a dedicated, committed and hard-working member” of her section, who was “friendly and always accepted additional work assignments without any complaint,” and who “[c]onsistently and frequently delivered a high output of professional quality work product, demonstrating extra effort and application to duty.”

It was noted that Ransom “consistently displayed excellent analytical skills and used reasoned and sound judgment.”

A letter of support for Ransom from Tina M. Hooks, the deputy-in-charge of the District Attorney’s Office’s Recruitment Unit, says:

“…Ms. Ransom is the most qualified candidate due to her life experience. She was born to a single-mother in South Central Los Angeles, an under-represented community with minimal resources and few role models, yet Ms. Ransom was smart and worked hard to overcome numerous obstacles. As a single-mother herself confronted with a life-threatening diagnosis, Ms. Ransom proved that she was a fighter—by overcoming grueling cancer treatment only to emerge more determined than ever to achieve her lifelong dream of being an attorney.

One judge has this to say:

“Sharon Ransom made many appearances in my courtroom, and I presided over a trial in which she handled the prosecution. She always handled herself in a dignified way. She is a skilled lawyer. She always treated the court staff respectfully. She has the smarts, the experience, and the temperament to excel as a judge.”

Another judge, less enthusiastic about the candidate, tells us:

“I have known Sharon Ransom (office 60) for a few years, not well, but she has appeared a number of times before me. She has been a solid prosecutor, handled child abuse and sex crimes with skill and sensitivity, and while I don’t think she’s an intellectual genius, I’m sure she could handle this job’s demands.

A bench officer who is a former deputy district attorney says of Ransom:

“I worked with her in the VIP unit while in Van Nuys. She’s a nice lady and has trial experience.

“She had some serious health issues. Regardless, she continued to come to work and didn’t use it as an excuse to get a less stressful assignment or to get a break. She pulled her weight.

“She was well liked by her colleagues. She did her work well and worked hard - often late in the evenings. I haven’t seen her in years. She’s a good egg. She has my vote.”

A deputy district attorney sees Ransom as “an intelligent and very down to earth person,” adding:

“She’ll be a good judge because she is smart and hardworking. I worked with her in Van Nuys and I saw her overcome obstacles with grace and sound judgment.”

A criminal defense lawyer terms Ransom “fair-minded, observant, realistic and very professional,” adding:

“She is able to quickly size up a situation and arrive a fair result.”

Another attorney on the defense side in criminal cases says she is “always a class-act, very refined but approachable at the same time.” The practitioner observes that she is “extremely experienced and sees the big picture and greets everyone with a smile,” remarking that she is “a true delight to be around.”

There is one criminal defense lawyer, however, who provides us with a decidedly negative critique of Ransom’s performance. In a conspiracy-to-commit-murder case, the attorney asserts, Ransom “hid most of the discovery from the defense including… impeachment information” and failed to adhere to “DA protocol for using a jailhouse snitch or granting leniency.” The detractor adds:

“Sharon is the opposite of what we want on the bench although I am sure this info is a waste of time as we have plenty like her who get elevated anyway.

“She has also been reversed for prosecutorial misconduct.”

That reversal came in People v. Howard, decided Feb. 2, 2015, by Div. Three of this district’s Court of Appeal. The unpublished opinion recites that the defense contended at trial that a killing was voluntary manslaughter, not murder, because the defendant acted in the heat of passion. The jury convicted the defendant of first degree murder.

On appeal, it was alleged that the prosecutor (who is not identified in the opinion) committed misconduct by misstating the mental element required for voluntary manslaughter. In particular, there were points at which she portrayed the issue as being whether the provocation was sufficient to cause a reasonable person to “kill” rather than the actual question of whether it was sufficient to induce a reasonable person to “act rashly.”

The opinion says “the prosecutor’s juxtaposition of both standards was meant to give the impression that they were, in fact, the same”; that the defense lawyer’s failure to object constituted incompetence of counsel; and that there must be a reversal.

In the dispositional paragraph, it is recited that there was “prosecutorial misconduct.”

Ransom explains:

“The DA’s office had a database that contained Powerpoint slides for closing arguments and different issue that could arise in trial. I used slides from that database. Those slides were removed shortly after the decision in this case.

“I was not aware that I could not make that argument and when I read the opinion, I understood the court’s rationale. My intent was never to mislead the jury, but to illustrate the facts of the case using the appropriate law.”

This was perhaps a matter entailing prosecutorial error, but not misconduct. The latter, under the standard laid down by the California Supreme Court in 1974 in People v. Strickland and often repeated since is that “[p]rosecutorial misconduct implies the use of deceptive or reprehensible methods to attempt to persuade either the court or the jury.”

The candidate notes:

“After the reversal, I retried the case with…removal of the PowerPoint slides, and a very generically tailored argument to address the heat of passion jury instruction. The defendant was convicted again.

My superiors and supervisors had a meeting with the Attorney General’s office to inquire as to what could be done to appeal the decision. They wrote on my behalf because we were a little unclear about the decision. The Attorney General replied that there were only limited circumstances in which they could appeal the decision, or request a rehearing, and none were present.”

Attending that meeting was Steven Katz, head deputy district attorney of what is now called the Writs and Appeals Division (and was then the Appellate Division).

“My recollection of the incident is entirely consistent with the account that Ms. Ransom provided to you,” he says.

Katz notes that he supervised Ransom at the Beverly Hills Courthouse from “approximately 2007-2010)” and advises:

“Ms. Ransom consistently performed her work with excellent judgment, integrity, and dedication. She is very thoughtful, smart, and hard-working, and has the ideal temperament for a bench officer. I believe Ms. Ransom would make an outstanding judge.”

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NNA SLOTSKY REITANO is a deputy public defender who is running in tandem with three other women—Deputy Public Defenders Holly Hancock and Elizabeth Lashley-Haynes, along with private practitioner Carolyn “Jiyoung” Park—for open seats. They call themselves the “Defenders of Justice.”

Of the four, Reitano and Hancock might be able to do the job, though each appears to be an ideologue.

As to Reitano, she declares, on her campaign website, a desire to see “creativity on the bench”; we prefer to see a steadfast adherence to the law, not deviations, not improvising, not inventiveness.

She exalts “styles of judicial interpretation” she has witnessed “that were inspiring.” And what does she mean by that? Faithfully applying the plain meaning of the law is not “inspiring”; it’s to be expected. Resolving ambiguities through objective analysis of legislative history and other customary sources is not “inspiring”; that’s what’s to be done. Reitano does not elaborate on what “styles” enthuse her.

Reitano proclaims herself to be the candidate who should win because the bench needs “more women like myself.” Baron and Ransom are also women, and to the extent that they are unlike her it is in the area of established excellence. In any event, there was once a time when there was blatant discrimination against the appointment or election of women to the bench. That bias no longer exists and, in fact, women candidates for election to judicial posts now enjoy an advantage. There is no conceivable legitimacy in Reitano’s reference to gender which is no more relevant than race or religion or sexual orientation.

The election contestant points to her life experiences as a reason to elect her. She says that she is “someone with a family member who has a debilitating mental health disorder,” elaborating that when she “was 19, my big brother, who was a smart, capable, wonderful person (and still is), began to exhibit symptoms of schizophrenia.”

Reitano also tells of a relative who was brutally attacked, implying that was based on anti-Semitism. We fail to see how any of this renders her fit to be a judge. The suffering of adversity might well lead to the development of attributes that are relevant to a person’s capacity to assume roles in government, but it is the present existence of those attributes, not the mere history of adversity, that is relevant.

While Baron and Ransom supplied copies of their three most recent office performance evaluations, as did candidates for other seats, including deputy public defenders, Reitano refused to do so—even with redactions to protect clients’ interests—explaining:

“I am not going to provide my performance reviews, as redaction would take them out of context and or make them nonsensical, as well as violate my obligations to preserve client confidentiality and work product. As you know, these concerns override political /personal aspirations.”

Pressed for the reviews, she offered quotations from evaluations in praise of her, but would not supply copies of the actual reports, even with supposedly sensitive information blotted out, saying:

“Work and family come first, I do not want to lose my license for this. This is how I am supporting my family. I am not risking losing that.”

We do not regard as realistic a deputy public defender’s expressed fear of being disbarred by virtue of releasing copies of office performance evaluations with any information that could possibly affect interests of clients having been obliterated with a black marker. That’s utter silliness. We do not need judges who are silly.

Yet, we are aware of praise of Random and do not rule out the prospect of her being able to fulfill the function of the office she seeks.

There are six candidates in this race. Also running are Troy Slaten, who ran two years ago, unsuccessfully, and has recently landed a job as an administrative law judge, and Mark Rosenfeld and Craig Sturm, who are drunk-driving defense attorneys.

Slaten is a trickster. In providing commentary for various television news outlets while in law practice, he posed as a “former prosecutor” when he had merely performed limited and closely supervised prosecutorial chores as a certified law student.

Mark Rosenfeld and Craig Sturm have put forth no appreciable campaign efforts, lack credentials for the post they seek, and appear to be running as a lark.

Putting aside Reitano’s candidacy (as, we submit, voters should), and choosing between Baron—aptly described by a judge as a “superstar”—and Ransom, who by most accounts is highly qualified for a judgeship, we endorse Baron.

 

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