Tuesday, May 28, 2002
Godfrey, Levanas Elected Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioners
Novak, Byrne to Face Runoff in Balloting to Be Completed June 20
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Juvenile Referee Jane Godfrey and Santa Monica lawyer Michael I. Levanas were elected commissioners of the Los Angeles Superior Court Friday.
Deputy Federal Public Defender Richard G. Novak and Juvenile Court Referee Guillermina Gutierrez Byrne will face off in a runoff, a court spokesperson said. Ballots will be distributed today and are due June 20, a court spokesman said.
The results in that race are expected June 21.
Godfrey had the highest ranking of all candidates on the ballot, followed by Levanas and Novak, but Byrne skipped over five other candidates—Sherman Oaks practitioner Michael Convey; veteran child-support enforcement lawyer Nicholas Taubert; Referee Marilyn Mackel; Deputy Public Defender Mark Zuckman and Referee Stephen Marpet, to make the runoff with Novak.
The rankings were issued last August by a judicial panel. They are not binding on the court’s judges, who elect the commissioners, but Byrne is the first candidate on the current list, from which 13 commissioners have now been elected, to trump a higher-ranked applicant.
Godfrey was sworn in Friday, while Levanas said he expects to take the bench “within the next month” as he wraps up the trials he is handling
“The word thrilling keeps coming to my mind,” Godfrey said. “I’m so thrilled and so excited and so honored.” She has spent the last three and a half years as a referee at the Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court, where she hears dependency matters.
“We can make such an impact on people’s lives,” she said.
Before coming to the bench, Godfrey practiced with Dependency Court Legal Services, a nonprofit legal services organization charged with representing children in the Los Angeles County foster care system. Godfrey has also done some criminal defense and civil work.
Godfrey completed her undergraduate work at Truman State University in Missouri and received her law degree from Southwestern University School of Law.
Levanas said he was surprised he was elected so quickly in a process he expected to take a couple of years, not months.
“The list moved very quickly,” he said. “It’s a bit of a surprise to my clients.”
Levanas, who handles private dependency work, including child abuse and neglect, also does some personal injury work.
An attorney with 25 years of experience, Levanas also has some experience on the bench, having sat as a referee for two years in the early 1980s. But even with that experience, he said ,“the learning curve is going to be steep.”
Levanas began his legal career with the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office, where he practiced for five years before becoming a panel lawyer for the dependency court. He served as a panel lawyer for a year and a half before entering private practice.
Levanas received his undergraduate degree from UC San Diego and earned his law degree from Rutgers Law School in New Jersey.
Novak said he was not surprised that he made the runoff, given that the list has been steadily shrinking and there are frequently runoffs in commissioner elections.
An as-needed referee in juvenile court, Novak said he would welcome the opportunity to sit as a judicial officer full-time.
“I really enjoy the work,” he said.
After graduating from UCLA School of Law, Novak spent three years at Public Counsel, a public interest law firm, where he set up a legal clinic for homeless youth.
Novak received his undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley.
Byrne, Novak’s runoff opponent, is married to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge J. Michael Byrne, whose father, James T. Byrne, was a Los Angeles Municipal Court Commissioner. Guillermina Byrne’s brother, Gabriel Gutierrez, retired from the Los Angeles Superior Court in 1997 and another brother, Arturo Gutierrez, is a Ventura Superior Court judge. Senior U.S. District Judge Wm. Matthew Byrne Jr. and retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard P. Byrne are cousins of her husband.
Guillermina Byrne graduated from Immaculate Heart College and received her law degree from Loyola Law School. She could not be reached for comment Friday.
There are nearly 150 Los Angeles Superior Court commissioners, more than the total number of bench officers on most other California courts.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company