Friday, June 13, 2003
Lichtman Making Early Bid for Assistant Presiding Judge Nod
Oki Confirms He’s Also Considering Candidacy in Next Year’s Election
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter Lichtman has become the first announced candidate for assistant presiding judge of the court for 2005 and 2006.
In comments yesterday to the MetNews, and in a “Dear Colleague” letter sent to other judges last week, Lichtman voiced unhappiness with the present management of the court, saying it was too cumbersome and statistics-oriented. A copy of the letter appears on Page 4.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dan Oki confirmed he is also considering a run for the post.
The court is to elect its officers for 2005-2006 in October of next year. If tradition is followed, the current assistant presiding judge, William McLaughlin, will run unopposed for presiding judge at that time.
The court has, since unification in January 2000, amended its rules to provide a two-year term for both the presiding judge and assistant presiding judge. This is more a change of form than substance, since the longstanding practice was to elect an assistant presiding judge to two one-year terms, then elect that person to consecutive one-year terms as presiding judge.
In declaring his candidacy 16 months early, Lichtman said the court has “become obsessively preoccupied and bogged down in statistics that not only affect the method and manner in which we interact with members of the bar, but also with each other.”
He added that he was running to overcome the “perception that there is an ‘heir apparent’ already selected, and that [rank-and-file judges] have little choice in the selection process.”
Sources said that both the reference to statistics and to an “heir apparent” appeared directed at Oki, who is known to be close to current Presiding Judge Robert Dukes.
Oki, who both chairs the court’s budget committee and supervises the criminal courts, yesterday said he perceived himself to be the target of Lichtman’s criticism to the extent that he “use[s] statistics as a tool for monitoring the overall performance of the criminal courts.”
It was learned yesterday that Oki will be leaving his criminal law post July 7 to take over a fast-track civil department. Current Assistant Supervising Judge David Wesley will replace him, with Judge Terry A. Green replacing Wesley as assistant supervising judge. In addition, Judge Patricia Schnegg becomes assistant supervising judge over the misdemeanor departments.
Oki is leaving, he and Dukes both explained, because Oki has served the traditional two years in the post—following three years as East District supervising judge.
Supervising judge assignments normally begin in January, but Oki took over in mid-year of 2001 due to the sudden death of Judge Stephen O’Neill.
Oki was ready to hand the post off to Wesley in January, Dukes said, but “I had to twist his arm” to get him to stay on in order to complete what the presiding judge said would be a more effective transition.
Oki, who emphasized that he has not decided whether to run for assistant presiding judge, added that as far as Lichtman’s comments are concerned, “it’s his opinion and he is entitled to it [but] I don’t know how you can monitor the performance of the courts without statistics.”
Lichtman, a former Pasadena lawyer who has been a judge since 1993, said his criticisms were not directed at any specific individual, but at “anyone who wants to pick up the gauntlet.”
The court’s obsession with statistics, he said, “preceded Oki.” He added that he does not know if Oki is excessively preoccupied with “numbers-crunching” but that he intends to press whoever runs against him about the issue.
Lichtman explained that he understands that the court needs to maintain caseload statistics, both for internal use and for the edification of the Administrative Office of the Courts. But he has substantial difficulty with the way the information is disseminated and used, the jurist—who has sat in both fast-track and complex-litigation departments, he explained.
Judges, he said, have become outright competitive about caseload data. Relationships between the bench and bar deteriorate, he commented, when a judge denies a continuance to a lawyer with a long-planned family vacation, or whose expert witness has a scheduling problem, for fear that the case will become an entry on a chart showing how many cases the judge has that are more than 12 months or more than 18 months old.
Justice, he said, “does not have to boil down to statistics-keeping.” As a fast-track judge, Lichtman insisted, he was able to whittle his inventory of cases from 550 cases to 250 “and never once did I mess up somebody’s vacation.”
Dukes declined to comment on Lichtman’s potential candidacy. He said he intends to abide by the court’s “long tradition” of neutrality by the presiding judge in the internal elections.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company