Tuesday, March 5, 2002
Judicial Candidates at Last-Minute Forum Acknowledge Voters’ Lack of Knowledge About Them
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
Candidates for the Los Angeles Superior Court seats on today’s ballot agreed Sunday that voters have little opportunity to learn enough about them to select the best candidate.
“You have to decide,” Deputy District Attorney Richard Naranjo said. “Good luck.”
The nearly three-hour program, held two days before the election in the city hall council chambers in West Covina, was the only public forum this year for all entrants in the judicial races. It drew about 40 people and was slated for broadcast on a local cable television station.
Two debates, featuring candidates for two of the seven Superior Court seats, have been broadcast on another cable outlet. Twenty-one candidates are vying for the court in five open-seat races and two in which the incumbent is being challenged.
Candidates run countywide and have a voting constituency of more than 4 million.
Eleven candidates participated in Sunday’s program, answering written audience questions that often touched on areas outside the purview of judges. Most candidates did their best to tout their accomplishments and qualifications, but when asked how voters were to make up their minds there were few suggestions other than to review the endorsements of newspapers and political figures.
“Go watch” in court, prosecutor Craig Renetzky offered. “See how the judges are doing.”
Law school dean and professor Larry Layton said “the best way to decide is to talk to your friends and neighbors.”
Layton, Renetzky and Naranjo are vying for Office 39.
Richard Espinoza, who is running in the four-way race for Office 53, advised voters to “talk to the bailiffs.”
Candidates were asked why jurors have to give out personal information, how judges can be removed from office, and why court proceedings take so long. They were also asked what criteria voters can use in deciding whether to “reconfirm” a judge.
The only challenged incumbent present, Judge C. Robert Simpson Jr., responded that voters can either take the word of endorsers or go see the judgeat work in the courtroom. But the question was also tackled by each candidate for the open seats, prompting the moderator to say:
“Let me make it clear. You do not have to answer every question.”
But the candidates, most of them with their only opportunity this year to get television time, generally used their full time allotted to answer each question. Midway through the program, the moderator reduced the answer time from a minute to 30 seconds to allow enough time for each question to be posed.
The only short answer came to a question about whether any of them had been reprimanded by the court or judicial discipline authorities. Each candidate responded simply, “No!” except for H. Don Christian, who said, “Never.”
The audience responded with a chuckle. It was one of only two reactions all afternoon from the audience, which also laughed when Simpson explained why he was there.
“A young man who isn’t present today, I understand, challenged me,” Simpson said, “and I have been campaigning countywide since that unhappy day when I learned I had been challenged.”
Simpson’s challenger for Office 90 is attorney Kenneth Wright.
From the race for Office 2, prosecutor Hank Goldberg and Santa Monica lawyer Joseph Deering participated. Workers’ Compensation Judge Donald Renetzky was scheduled to appear but failed to show in the wake of METNEWS reports that he had been declared 100 percent disabled in a workers compensation proceeding and that the Los Angeles County Bar Association had pulled his “qualified” rating pending investigation.
In addition to Espinoza and Christian, Office 53 candidates Robert Harrison, a Mid-Wilshire attorney, and Lauren Weis, a prosecutor, participated. From Office 67, only attorney David Crawford III came. His opponents, State Bar Judge Paul Bacigalupo and prosecutor David Gelfound, were scheduled to appear but did not, and Superior Court Commissioner Steven Lubell was not slated to participate.
None of the candidates from Office 100—attorney Thomas Warden, prosecutor Richard Walmark, and Workers’ Compensation Judge John Gutierrez—participated. Neither did incumbent Floyd Baxter or his Office 40 challenger, Ross Stucker.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company