Tuesday, September 3, 2002
William MacLaughlin to Run for Assistant Presiding Judge
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William MacLaughlin confirmed Friday that he will seek to become the court’s next assistant presiding judge.
The one-week nomination period for the office opens tomorrow, but MacLaughlin, 67, said he decided at least a year ago that he would run for the court’s number two leadership post and that he has received the support and encouragement of a large number of his judicial colleagues.
MacLaughlin said he has not heard of anyone else who is actively considering the job.
If he draws no opposition or is elected by the other judges, MacLaughlin would serve two years in the assistant post and then most likely would be elevated to presiding judge for a two-year term beginning in 2005. Los Angeles Superior Court judges routinely have moved their assistant presiding judges up the ladder.
The court’s presiding judge is a powerful figure, with final authority to assign more than 600 bench officers to any of 50 courtrooms around the county. The presiding judge also assigns the judicial leadership of the Juvenile Court, the family, criminal and mental health courts, and each of the district branch courts.
The Superior Court is the largest trial court in the world and manages hundreds of thousands of civil and criminal matters each year.
The assistant presiding judge has no assigned duties other than to serve in the presiding judge’s absence, but as a practical matter typically handles special administrative tasks.
MacLaughlin currently serves as supervising judge of the Superior Court’s North Valley District, which takes in the large San Fernando Courthouse, the brand new Chatsworth Courthouse, the smaller First Street courthouse in San Fernando, and Newhall Courthouse in Santa Clarita.
MacLaughlin also heads the court’s Personnel and Budget Committee, and in that capacity has taken a lead role in grappling with the court’s current budget crisis.
He said he would continue to focus on budget issues if elected to the leadership post.
“We have all been aware of the problem for some time, without being aware of the numbers,” MacLaughlin said of the budget problem. “It certainly is a major area that I decided I wanted to work on.”
He said he also wanted to devote himself to assuring that service to the public is sacrificed as little as possible as decisions are made on cuts.
“I think we’ve done a very good job with a lot of things, but there are further adjustments and changes to be made,” MacLaughlin said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
MacLaughlin came to the Superior Court in 1992 on the appointment of Gov. Pete Wilson after a 31-year career as a civil litigator.
Born and raised in Davenport, Iowa, he went east to Yale for both college and law school, earning his law degree in 1960. He said he expected to remain on the East Coast and was interviewing at a Wall Street firm when the senior partner discovered he knew MacLaughlin’s family from Iowa.
The partner took the young lawyer-to-be aside and suggested that he go to the West Coast because, MacLaughlin recalls him saying, “That’s where the future is.”
The firm offered MacLaughlin a job but he took the partner’s advice and interviewed with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. The firm offered him a job and MacLaughlin became an Angeleno.
He spent most of his career in smaller partnerships or practicing on his own. He formed Wetherbee & MacLaughlin in 1964 and MacLaughlin & Gerber in 1974. He became a sole practitioner in 1978.
The Superior Court nearly doubled in size in January 2000 when it absorbed the county’s 24 municipal courts in the process known as unification. Prior to the judges’ vote that sealed the merger, there were intense talks about the role of the former municipal court judges in the new court’s leadership. The judges finally agreed upon a governance agreement that opened court leadership posts to all judges, no matter what court they came from originally, after the conclusion of the current presiding judgeship of James Bascue.
To date, no one who became a Superior Court judge as a result of the merger has run for assistant supervising judge. The court also has yet to elect a woman or an African American to be presiding or assistant presiding judge.
If another judge runs against MacLaughlin, voting will begin Sept. 25, with ballots due back Oct. 2. Only active Los Angeles Superior Court judges are eligible to vote.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company