Wednesday, February 20, 2002
In Televised Debate, Weis Contradicts Espinoza’s Claim He’s Been on Bench for 10 Years
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Sparks flew, briefly, yesterday as two of the candidates to succeed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Kanner squared off in a television debate.
The largely genteel encounter, taped at Adelphia communications Santa Monica studios, came to a tense moment after Baldwin Park attorney Richard Espinoza asserted that he had been on the bench “for a good eight years, 10 years actually.”
When Deputy District Attorney Lauren Weis interjected that she understood differently, Espinoza backtracked.
The Baldwin Park lawyer then explained that he was referring to his tenure as a one-night-a-week temporary judge in El Monte, as well as his six-month stint as a commissioner there.
Espinoza and Weis are among four candidates seeking Office No. 53 on the March 5 ballot. The other contenders, Mid-Wilshire lawyer Robert Harrision and Covina attorney H. Don Christian cited other commitments in not attending.
The debate was moderated by Adelphia Vice President Bill Rosendahl and was taped for later broadcast. A schedule was not available at press time.
The candidates also clashed when Weis questioned her opponent over reports that he was asked to resign his commissioner position due to doubts about his job performance.
Espinoza explained that he was asked to meet with then-Superior Court Presiding Judge Victor Chavez to discuss his work. But when he arrived at the meeting, he said, he was told by Chavez that “we’re not here for that, your position has been terminated.”
Espinoza had been named a Rio Hondo Municipal Espinoza had been named a Rio Hondo Municipal Court Commissioner in January 2000, filling a temporary position while Judge Francis Gately was chairing the Presiding Judges Association. But three weeks after Espinoza took the bench, the county trial court unified, the PJA ceased to exist, and Gately came back on the bench.
When he met with Chavez several months later, Espinoza said, the presiding judge asked him to resign. He declined, he commented, telling Chavez “you’d better just fire me, then.”
He agreed to leave, he said, after Superior Court executive officer clerk John Clarke suggested a severance agreement.
“They ended up paying me $59,633.99,” Espinoza explained
For most of the 30-minute session, however, the candidates exchanged non-controversial responses to questions posed by Rosendahl about their philosophies and qualifications.
Weis emphasized her 23 years in the District Attorney’s Office, which was preceded by a year doing civil work for the California attorney general.
She also noted that she has been endorsed by the democratic Party, Sheriff Lee Baca, anti-crime groups, and over 30 judges.
Espinoza pointed to his broader experience of nearly 25 years, including criminal, family law and general civil work, as well as his judicial experience.
The candidates sparred briefly when asked about their positions on the Three Strikes Law. Espinoza said that he would defer to the district attorney on whether to impose the three strikes sentence, since the law had been approved “by the people.”
Weis shot back that she “couldn’t disagree more.”
As a supervising prosecutor, she said, “I make three strikes decisions every day.” Prosecutors sometimes make mistakes, she said, commenting that it is the judge’s role to make the final call.
“I would use my discretion wisely,” she said.
The candidates were also asked their views on drug policy, the death penalty, and abortion, and both promised that they would faithfully follow the law.
“This is not a political race where we can express our true beliefs,” Weis commented.
She did point out that she is the only candidate in the race that has ever tried a capital case.
Asked by Rosendahl what they would do to protect defendants with inadequate legal counsel, Weis said she would avail herself of the opportunity to question defense counsel in chambers to determine why certain actions were or were not being taken, while Espinoza said he would follow the law.
Challenged to take a position on a woman’s right to have an abortion, Espinoza said he was personally opposed but would “just have to follow the law.” Weis declined to state a personal opinion, saying it would violate ethics rules biding both judges and judicial candidates. She did say, however, that the right to choose is protected by both the state and federal constitutions, and that she expected California law to continue to guarantee the right even if Roe v. Wade is someday overturned by the U.S. high court.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company