Thursday, October 24, 2002
Prosecutors Say Trial Experience Makes Them Best for Bench
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The value of courtroom experience emerged as the dominant theme yesterday as candidates for the four Los Angeles Superior Court judgeships on the Nov. 5 ballot met for debates taped for television viewing.
The event marked the first time that all of the candidates on the county’s judicial ballot appeared for the debates that Adelphia Communications has been sponsoring for the past several years, Adelphia Vice President—and debate moderator—Bill Rosendahl said.
Three prosecutors running against a State Bar Court judge, a workers’ compensation judge, and a civil attorney insisted that their trial experience makes them better qualified than their opponents. In the fourth race, both candidates are deputy district attorneys, with each yesterday claiming to have more relevant experience than the other.
But Santa Monica lawyer Joseph Deering, who chose the ballot designation “Eldercare Attorney” for his contest with prosecutor Hank Goldberg for the seat last held by retired Judge Michael Pirosh, did not flinch. He said he was pleased to be “the only civil attorney on the ballot this year,” pointing out that more than half of the filings in Superior Court are civil and noting that he had tried criminal cases earlier in his career.
Goldberg similarly pointed out that he was an associate in the civil litigation department at a large law firm before he was hired as a prosecutor.
But most new judges are assigned to criminal cases, Goldberg asserted. “Learning on the job…is a very tough thing to do,” he said.
The debates were staged as two separate programs at Adelphia’s Santa Monica studios for later broadcast on the company’s cable systems and others around Los Angeles County. A schedule for the airing of the debates was not available at press time.
The first program features Goldberg, Deering and the candidates for the seat being vacated by Judge Richard Spann, deputy district attorneys Craig Renetzky and Richard Naranjo. Appearing on the second are State Bar Court Judge Paul Bacigalupo and Deputy District Attorney David Gelfound, who hope to succeed retired Judge David Finkel, and Deputy District Attorney Richard Walmark and Workers’ Compensation Judge John Gutierrez, who are running for the seat of Judge Reginald Dunn.
Dunn is retiring Dec. 17 to become a private judge.
Asked their views on hot-button issues like the death penalty and the three-strikes law, the candidates stuck to promises to follow the law, with references to judicial ethics rules that limit the ability of judges and candidates to comment on matters that might come before them. Deering, however, noted that there may be some tension between the California rules and a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down more restrictive Minnesota rules.
“I believe in the death penalty,” the candidate went so far as to assert, although he suggested a moment later that Rosendahl was “putting [the candidates] in a bind” by asking the question.
Naranjo commented that even if candidates are free to state their views on issues, they cannot incorporate those opinions into their decision making. “We have to follow the law…we have to keep our personal beliefs out of it,” he said.
He and Renetzky had similar comments with regard to three-strikes, noting that District Attorney Steve Cooley’s policy precludes prosecutors from asking for the harsh penalty in most cases where the new offense is not a serious crime. Both promised to look at three-strikes sentencing on a case-by-case basis.
Goldberg, however, asserted that there are cases in which the 25-year-to-life maximum should be imposed even if the new crime is relatively minor. He cited a case he prosecuted recently in which the defendant had three prior convictions for home-invasion rapes.
Such offenders need to be distinguished from those whose prior crimes were not particularly violent or occurred a long time ago, he said. “I’ve made these kinds of calls between violent and non-violent” offenders, he added.
Naranjo insisted that he had handled more cases than Renetzky. But Renetzky countered that he had handled more trials than Naranjo—although the two have been prosecutors for the same length of time—and had more diverse experience in terms of the types of cases and the locations of the courts at which he has served.
Gelfound similarly pounded at Bacigalupo, a civil litigator before his appointment to the panel that hears attorney discipline cases. A judge “must have knowledge of the courtroom” and the law, he said.
Throwing a judge into a courtroom with substantive and procedural legal knowledge, he insisted, is “an injustice to the public.”
Bacigalupo responded that he had demonstrated judicial temperament and legal knowledge in his present position, adding that he has learned a great deal about criminal law because he has to hear cases involving attorneys who have been convicted of crimes and are facing long-term suspension or disbarment as a result.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company