Wednesday, November 12, 2003
Menendez Prosecutor Carol Najera Enters Race for Open Seat on Los Angeles Superior Court
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Carol Najera, one of the two prosecutors who helped secure convictions in the second trial of Lyle and Erik Menendez for the murders of their parents, became a candidate for Los Angeles Superior Court on the last day of filing Monday.
Najera filed a declaration of intention to run for the seat being vacated by Judge James Wright. She joins Superior Court Commissioner Donna Groman, Deputy District Attorney Judith L. Meyer, Sherman Oaks attorney Mitchell W. Roth, and Department of Industrial Relations Attorney P. Michael Erwin as candidates for the seat.
Najera and fellow prosecutor David Conn were widely praised after they succeeded in convincing a jury to reject the Menendez brothers’ claims that they acted in self-defense and convict them of the premeditated murders of Jose and Kitty Menendez in their Beverly Hills home. The brothers had previously been tried with different prosecutors and separate juries, both of which deadlocked.
Najera and Conn also found themselves defendants in a federal civil rights suit by attorney Paul Gabbert, who represented Traci Baker, a grand jury witness in the case. Gabbert claimed the prosecutors deprived him of his constitutional right to represent his client by having his person and briefcase searched while Baker was testifying.
The search was conducted pursuant to a warrant authorizing police to look for a letter from Lyle Menendez, Baker’s former boyfriend, in which he allegedly told her what to tell the grand jury.
A Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled that Gabbert had stated triable claims under federal civil rights law. But the U.S. Supreme Court reversed and ordered the case dismissed.
As a member of her office’s major crimes unit, Najera also prosecuted the operators of what was believed to be one of the largest computer software counterfeiting operations on the West Coast. They pled no contest to felony charges.
Najera also served on the state’s 1997 Task Force on Jury Instructions.
In another election development, a deputy district attorney who last week filed a declaration of intention to run against Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Wesley filed for an open seat, opening up the possibility that he will leave the Wesley contest.
David Lopez is one of four candidates who filed against Wesley, the supervising judge of the criminal courts. The others are Los Angeles Police Department Sgt. Kevin Burke, a former Orange County prosecutor; Deputy District Attorney Daniel Bershin; and retired Deputy District Attorney Herb Lapin, a former president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys.
But Lopez Friday filed a second declaration of intention, this one for the seat being given up by Judge Rosemary Shumsky.
Candidates who filed DOIs by the deadline have until Dec. 5 to return nomination documents. Once those documents are filed, a candidate’s name goes on the ballot and the candidate cannot switch races.
Also filing for Shumsky’s seat on Friday was Richard Espinoza, a Baldwin Park sole practitioner and former Los Angeles Superior Court commissioner who has previously lost in election bids for the Superior Court and the old Citrus Municipal Court.
They were joined Monday by Deputy District Attorney Craig Mitchell and Superior Court Referee D. Zeke Zeidler.
If all of the candidates return their nomination documents, that will be the most crowded judicial contest in the county this year, with eight candidates—Lopez, Espinoza, Zeidler, Mitchell, Deputy District Attorneys Craig Renetzky and Patrick David Campbell, Deputy Attorney General Robert S. Henry, and Torrance attorney Michael D. Shook.
But Campbell Monday filed a second declaration of intention, for the seat now held by Judge Marcus O. Tucker, who is not running for a new term. Previously filing in that race were Deputy District Attorney Daniel Feldstern, Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney Miguel Dager, and Superior Court Referee Mildred Escobedo.
Campbell said he was uncertain which race he will end up in. Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney Asha Greenberg, who took out papers to run for the Shumsky seat last week, did not file.
Deputy District Attorneys Lori-Ann Jones and Edward Nison and Van Nuys attorney Edward Nison filed Monday for the seat being vacated by Judge Richard Hubbell. They join Deputy Attorney General Gus Gomez, Acton attorney Larry H. Layton, and Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Gootman in the race.
Nison had previously filed for the seat being vacated by Judge Nancy Brown, and could file nomination documents for either seat. The other candidates for Brown’s seat are Workers’ Compensation Judge John Gutierrez and Deputy District Attorneys Laura Priver and Larry Diamond.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company