Wednesday, December 10, 2003
David S. Wesley
Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 72
On May 28, David S.Wesley came to court little suspecting that events of that day would propel himinto the vortex of controversy, and force him into a political contest.
Wesley was no way near to being controversial. He was a rising star in the local judiciary. Holding the post of assistant supervising judge of the criminal courts, and soon to become the supervising judge, he was among the best known of the judges, respected by prosecutors and defense lawyers alike. The Criminal Courts Bar Assn. the previous year bestowed its “Judicial Excellence Award” on him. Colleagues, too, held the former Executive Committee member in high regard.
He was the one of the last judges anyone would have supposed would draw an election challenge—let alone attracting three campaign rivals, as has happened.
What blunder, what unforgivable act, did he commit on May 28 that has brought wrath upon him? In truth, there is a lot of fury over very little conduct on his own part.
It was on May 28 that about 30 suspects who had been arrested over the Memorial Day weekend were ordered by a commissioner to come back the next day for arraignment, and some of them didn’t. One of those who did not was Jerrell Patrick, who was to have been arraigned on a charge of carjacking. The next month, he allegedly committed a murder.
Patrick and the others weren’t arraigned on May 28 because then-Supervising Judge Dan Thomas Oki, reacting to the court’s monetary crisis, had given a no-overtime order.
The Assn. of Deputy District Attorneys on June 24 voted to report Oki, Wesley, and Carol Rehm, supervisor of the arraignment court, to the Commission on Judicial Performance. They did. The commission rebuffed the complaint.
A District of Columbia-based judicial watchdog group on July 24 issued this press statement:
“Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption and abuse, expressed outrage today at the May 28, 2003 decision of the Honorable David S. Wesley, the supervising judge of the Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Los Angeles (Criminal Court), to close the criminal court promptly at 4:30 PM, despite knowing that detained criminal suspects were pending court arraignments that day. Judge Wesley’s decision and order resulted in the release of the criminally charged defendants into the community. Judge Wesley’s order was carried out on May 28, 2003 by the Honorable Jeffrey Harkavy, over the strenuous objections of both Public Defender Mark Lessum and Assistant District Attorney Loren Naimen.”
Wesley was not the supervising judge; the order was Oki’s, not Wesley’s; the court closed at about 6 p.m.
An ad appeared on the back page of a local legal trade journal on Nov. 4, seemingly placed by the Assn. of Deputy District Attorneys. It later emerged that it was actually placed by the ambitious head of that group, and member of the State Bar Board of Governors, Steve Ipsen, possibly in concert with others. It urged “THE RECALL ELECTION OF JUDGE OKI AND WESLEY.” The ad went on to make clear that what was contemplated was not a “recall election,” but an election challenge to those two judges in the March 2 primary. The ad recounted that on May 28 “Judges Oki and Wesley gave the orders to close the court at 4:30pm in order to save money.” It went on to point to the release of the alleged carjacker and commented:
“A month after his release an innocent man, a 22 year-old barber was murdered in front of his barbershop ‘gang style’ in broad daylight. The released carjacker has been arrested and charged with that murder.”
The implication is that Oki and Wesley are somehow responsible for the homicide. That’s strained reasoning.
Three persons are running against Wesley. There is no need to assess their respective qualifications. The incumbent is an able, conscientious and hard-working judge who is opposed based not on reason, but opportunism. He should be elected.
To begin with, the order was Oki’s, not Wesley’s.
But even if that order is ascribed to Wesley because he played the role of messenger in communicating the order to Harkavy, there would be no valid basis for an election challenge. Wesley is running for a judgeship. The issuance of that order was an administrative act, not reflective of fitness to sit on the bench.
To deprive a judge of his post on the basis of a single administrative act of another would be wrong; it would be senseless.
If blame is to be assessed in connection with the May 28 snafu, some of that blame must be attributed to the Office of District Attorney, which did not adhere to the 2 p.m. deadline for filing cases. The filing on Patrick came at 3:30 p.m. Some of the blame for Patrick’s release must go to law enforcement officers who did not detain Patrick despite there being an outstanding warrant for his arrest.
But in no way is District Attorney Steve Cooley or Sheriff Lee Baca responsible, legally or morally, for the shooting of the barber. To assert to the contrary (as no one we know of has) would be ludicrous. It is no less ludicrous for Ipsen, who brought about the election challenges, to attempt to tie Oki and Wesley to the shooting. This is campaign rhetoric that is irresponsible, if not ruthless, calculated to inflame and founded on illogic.
Even if Patrick had been arraigned on May 28, he would, with the warrant being overlooked, in all probability have been released on bail.
A fatal shooting was not a foreseeable consequence of the order to close court on time.
Wesley must now divert attention from worthwhile community activities in which he is involved, and from his family, to fight off an election challenge rooted in a trumped up issue against him.
We endorse David S. Wesley for retention as a judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company