Monday, December 29, 2003
Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 95
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dan Oki has drawn three challengers in the March 2 primary. Why?
Is he intemperate in his remarks? Does he shout at counsel? Does he bully witnesses?
Does he depart from the role of neutral arbiter and become an advocate for one side or the other?
Is he lazy? Does he lack legal knowledge?
What then? Does he sleep on the bench? Smoke marijuana in the Judge’s Lounge? Shoot paper airplanes at counsel during closing argument?
None of the above.
Oki is challenged because he issued an order on May 28, as the then-supervising judge of the downtown criminal courts, that the arraignment court was to close on time, at 4:30 p.m. In light of the court’s budget problems, he didn’t want to incur overtime.
It was his expectation that if any suspects who were in custody had to be released, they would be immediately re-arrested, an oft-used procedure.
The Sheriff’s Department has confirmed that such was precisely what had been worked out in discussions among that office, the commissioner in the arraignment court, a deputy district attorney, and a Los Angeles Police Department liaison officer. Unexpectedly, however, the Police Department, on advice of the Office of City Attorney, declined to effect the re-arrests, and 26 suspects were freed late that night.
Oki could not have been expected to foresee that.
Certainly, he cannot be expected to have foreseen that one of those 26 persons would fail to show up in court the next day, despite the order to return, and subsequently be arrested and charged with the murder of a barber.
Yet, the entire back page of a legal trade paper on Nov. 4 was comprised of an ad, appearing to have emanated from the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, seeking to recruit candidates to challenge Oki. It likewise urged election opposition to then-Assistant Supervising Judge (now Supervising Judge) David Wesley.
Employing strained reasoning, the ad sought to pin blame on Oki and Wesley for the homicide.
The prosecutors’ association, it turned out, had not placed, authorized, or paid for the ad. It was the handiwork of the group’s president, Steve Ipsen, who is also a member of the State Bar Board of Governors.
This is the same Steve Ipsen who was found by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge earlier this month to have deliberately argued the factual circumstances underlying a murder differently at the trials of each of the two defendants in order to accentuate the role of the one who was on trial. This, of course, maximized the chance that each would receive the death penalty—which each did, in proceedings 12 years ago.
The judge, Thomas Willhite, reported his findings to the California Supreme Court which is mulling habeas corpus petitions filed by each of the two death row inmates. In saying that he found Ipsen’s account “unconvincing,” Willhite effectively called Ipsen a liar.
Ipsen’s irresponsible broadside against Oki and Wesley in the ad, and his creation of the false impression that the ad represented the official position of the Assn. of Deputy District Attorneys, resulted in challenges to both judges—challenges which surely will take its toll on their time, their finances, and their peace of mind. The fact that each is opposed by three candidates creates a strong possibility there will be a run-off, to be decided in November of next year. If that happens, Ipsen will have created an entire year of anguish for these jurists.
There are judges who warrant challenges. Oki and Wesley are not among them.
We previously endorsed Wesley. We now endorse Oki.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company