Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, February 11, 2003


Page 1


Courts Make America Stand Apart, Antonovich Says


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The U.S. justice system makes the nation stand out from other countries and is at the core of what Americans are defending, county Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said Friday.

“The court system is an equal part of our system, and what makes America different from the world’s other countries, what we really are fighting for, is we are a nation of law,” Antonovich told members of the legal community who gathered to honor him for his contributions to the courts.

“We have differences but we can have them resolved in a courtroom in a fair manner, with both sides given an opportunity to present their case,” he said.

The comments came at a dinner at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles honoring Antonovich as the Metropolitan News-Enterprise 2002 Person of the Year.

The supervisor was named to receive the honor in November. MetNews Co-Publisher Jo-Ann Grace presented the annual award to him at the dinner after leaders of the local legal community praised him for his role in supporting the courts when they were funded by the county, and continuing to advocate for the courts now that the state has taken on the financial responsibility.

Antonovich’s role in securing a new courthouse for the Antelope Valley is to pay off later this year when the new facility opens. It will be named for the supervisor to honor his efforts.

Sheriff Lee Baca noted that Antonovich’s efforts are also resulting in a new sheriff’s station in Palmdale.

“He’s a fighter, a man who can be counted on,” Baca said of Antonovich.

The remark was echoed by many representatives of governmental bodies and advocacy groups that presented the supervisor with commendations.

It has been Antonovich who represented the Board of Supervisors at past dinners, but this time board Chair Yvonne Brathwaite Burke presented a plaque to Antonovich and thanked him for the work that he did to secure $250 million in crucial federal stop-gap funding—announced Friday-—for the troubled county hospital system.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson announced a $10 billion aid plan for California health care and mandated that at least $150 million of it go to Los Angeles County. Gov. Gray Davis then announced that he would assign another $100 million from the federal package to the county.

“I want to commend [Antonovich] for going to the president, going to the secretary of Health and Human Services, to make this possible,” Burke said.

As a Republican, Antonovich often is deemed to have more access to the Bush Administration than Burke and the rest of the board majority, who are Democrats.

Burke added that political differences among the board members get undue notice.

“Most of the time it’s 5-0 on most of the votes,” Burke said, adding that Antonovich is the kind of person “that you can get along with, the kind that you can admire.”

Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden recalled two instances in which Antonovich provided him unexpected aid. In one instance in the 1970s, Antonovich, then an assemblyman, tried to help Holden, then a state senator, move a bill to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a holiday. He pressed for the measure to the end when Holden’s own Democratic colleagues in the Legislature did not.

At a later time, Holden, then on the staff of the late Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, was battling a plan to take money earmarked for a park to be named for Hahn and spend it instead on healthcare.

“He said, ‘Don’t you worry about it,’” Holden recalled, and Antonovich joined with others to make sure the money stayed in the park.

“Once he gives you his word you can take it to the bank,” Holden said of Antonovich. “The check won’t bounce.”

Public Defender Michael Judge said Antonovich seldom gets credit for his efforts in support of fairness and justice.

“I receive more letters from him asking to look into complaints,” Judge said.

The public defender credited Antonovich with being the driving force in establishing video-teleconferencing, which allowed criminal defendants to participate in hearings without being forced to endure the cramped and dangerous conditions of courthouse lockups. Judge also cited Antonovich’s work on securing drug treatment and mental health treatment for criminal defendants.

Presentations also were made by Los Angeles County Bar Association President Miriam Krinsky, state Assemblyman Robert Pacheco, R-Industry, Galpin Motors Vice President and General Counsel Alan J. Skobin, State Bar of California Board of Governors member Nancy Zamora, and Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Robert Dukes.

Dukes recalled a lunch with Antonovich several years ago at which they discussed a matter—Dukes said he did not recall what it was—of concern to the courts.

“I remember how intently the supervisor listened,” Dukes said. “And how caring and concerned he appeared to be.”

He also applauded the work Antonovich did to get the new courthouse in Antelope Valley and said he was pleased it would be named for the supervisor.

“We have the Stanley Mosk courthouse, we have the [Edmund] Edelman Children’s Court, it appears that we’ll have the Mildred Lillie law library,” Dukes said. “And I am pleased to see that we will finally have a Republican building.”

Many of the comments during the evening were in a similarly playful vein. For example, Judge told Antonovich that “this is one Judge that you can call on the telephone and not get in trouble for”—a reference to a controversial call Antonovich made in 1988 to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Eric Younger to give a character reference for a campaign contributor who had a case in Younger’s court. The call was highly criticized and sparked a lawsuit and a $2 million verdict, later overturned, against the county.

Antonovich poked fun at the judges by telling Dukes the subject of the lunch conversation may have been Megaflex—the controversial benefits package that allows Los Angeles judges to earn more than their colleagues in other counties around the state.

The supervisor also had a special salute for Baca, whom he called “the most popular man on radio, television and the newspaper”—a reference to Baca’s call last month to a radio program to defend his support for increasing the vehicle license fee.

The hosts of the KFI radio program said they did not believe officials would have “the gonads” to stand by the increase, and in his call to the station Baca reportedly said he would come to the station and “show you what I’ve got.”

The call sparked a Sheriff’s Department investigation pursuant to a policy drafted in the wake of a sexual harassment suit.

The Person of the Year award was presented by Metropolitan News-Enterprise Co-Publisher Jo-Ann Grace.

“There is no pretense, there is no bravado, no airs” with Antonovich, Grace said. “Mike fights effectively for the causes he embraces, and one of those causes has been the effective running of the courts. He has pushed repeatedly to assure resources for our courts and judicial system.”

Earlier in the evening, Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Paul Turner of this district’s Div. Five paid tribute to Presiding Justice Mildred Lillie of Div. Seven, who died last October at 87. Lillie was the longest-serving judicial officer in California history and one of the state’s first women jurists.

“Hers was a life of graceful, wholesome discipline,” Turner said, adding:

“We all have much to learn from her, and when we do, we will be better for the experience.”


Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company