Prosecutors, Three Incumbents Win Local Judicial Contests
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Tuesday was a good day for prosecutors wanting to be judges, as four were elected to the Los Angeles Superior Court and a fifth headed to a runoff as the leader in a field of six candidates.
Deputy District Attorney Katherine Mader defeated two opponents in the only countywide race. Fellow prosecutor Richard Stone defeated three rivals to take the seat in the former Beverly Hills Municipal Court District, Christopher Estes won a two-way race in the Antelope Valley, and Patricia Titus defeated her sole opponent to win a seat in the Inglewood district.
David Mintz, meanwhile, was the frontrunner for what was the Los Angeles Municipal Court seat of Judge L.C. Nunley. It may be days before he knows whether sole practitioner Vicki Roberts or Superior Court Commissioner John Ladner is his opponent.
Another deputy district attorney, David Stuart, ran fourth in that race.
The county's voters also looked with favor upon incumbent judges, as is usually the case. Three of the four who were challenged—Pamela R. Rogers in the Antelope district, Jesus "Jesse" Rodriguez in the Downey district, and Richard Rico in the Los Angeles district—won handily.
The exception was Judge John Martinez, who sat on the Alhambra Municipal Court before unification. He finished second and faces a runoff with attorney Maria Vargas-Rodriguez for the seat he has held for 19 years.
Impact of Unification
The Alhambra and Los Angeles district runoffs in November will mark the end of judicial district elections in Los Angeles County, barring a legal challenge under the Voting Rights Act. Under unification, all trial judges will be elected countywide, but this year's balloting occurred in the old districts because the candidate filing process was already underway when the judges voted to merge the courts.
Mader captured 56 percent of the vote to defeat Superior Court Commissioner Douglas Carnahan and Superior Court Referee Jeffrey Marckese. The race was particularly low-key, with Carnahan spending the bulk of his campaign funds on his candidate statement while Mader and Marckese bought thousands of dollars' worth of slate mail space.
Mader also got the coveted Los Angeles Times endorsement.
"I'm thrilled to have won and I'm particularly thankful to have had two very honorable opponents who ensured that this was a hard-fought but clean campaign," Mader told the MetNews.
The former Los Angeles Police Department inspector general also gave credit to her campaign consultant, Fred Huebscher, who also handled Stone's race.
Huebscher won two of his three judicial contests Tuesday. The only damper on his day was the defeat of David Bianchi, who lost to Estes by a 56-44 margin.
Carnahan and Marckese also used experienced professional consultants. Carnahan hired the dean of judicial elections consultants, Joe Cerrell of Cerrell Associates Inc., while Marckese had Parke Skelton in his corner.
Carnahan and Marckese both said they called Mader to congratulate her. Marckese said he enjoyed the process and might well run again, while Carnahan attributed the outcome in part to "lack of awareness on the part of the voters as to what court commissioners do" as well as Mader's designation as a criminal prosecutor and the Times endorsement.
Cerrell said he was "disappointed, but not entirely surprised" by the results of the races in which he was involved. Besides Carnahan, he advised Martinez; Superior Court Commissioner Hugh Bobys, who finished third behind Stone and attorney Mitchell Dawson; and Commissioner John Slawson, who finished fifth in the race for the Nunley seat.
But Cerrell also had the biggest winner of the day in Rodriguez, who defeated his opponent, Downey attorney Kirt Hopson, by a 4-1 margin. And two clients in other areas did well, as San Bernardino Superior Court candidate Art Harrison finished first, coming close to avoiding a runoff for an open seat, and Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Tim Staffel got 58 percent of the vote.
There were eight district-wide races on Tuesday's ballot:
Alhambra — Vargas-Rodriguez led Martinez, 39 to 35 percent, with attorney Llewellyn Chin getting the rest. The frontrunner was unavailable for comment, but her consultant, Victor Griego, credited the result to a hard-hitting, last-minute direct mail campaign.
Vargas-Rodriguez spent about $150,000, nearly all of it from her own funds and pumped in after the Feb. 19 cutoff date for the last campaign spending report, Griego said. The mail emphasized the challenger's support from police organizations and two of the other judicial officers in the Alhambra courthouse, Greigo said, adding that she was helped by being the only woman in a race against two men.
Chin said he had been contacted by both sides after the polls closed, seeking an endorsement for the runoff. He said he would talk to supporters before deciding what to do.
Antelope, Office No. 1 — Estes was unavailable for comment, but Bianchi—a family law attorney—attributed the outcome to the prosecutor's occupational designation. Bianchi said he had no interest in running countywide in the future, or in seeking a judicial or commissioner's appointment.
"The process is too political," he said.
Antelope, Office No. 2 — Judge Pamela R. Rogers won 65 percent of the vote, easily defeating attorneys William Clark and Larry Layton. Clark, a criminal defense lawyer, said he expected to make a runoff. The voters, he said, are apparently interested only in "law and order, hang 'em high and lock 'em up forever."
Beverly Hills — Stone, who won with 56 percent of the vote, attributed his win over Dawson, Bobys, and attorney John Khoury to "very hardworking and dedicated people" who campaigned for him. Stone estimated he and his volunteers knocked on the doors of 75 percent of the voting households in Beverly Hills and West Hollywood.
Downey — Rodriguez said he and his family were "extremely moved by the trust that the people of Downey, Norwalk and La Mirada have given me." He noted that his campaign drew a great many endorsements from local officials and community leaders, which he said he was gratified by because "I don't know much about politics."
Inglewood — Titus defeated Superior Court Commissioner Deborah Christian, 56 to 44 percent.
Los Angeles, Office No. 1 — Mintz said he finished first—with 21 percent—because "voters decided they anted an experienced prosecutor who is concerned about the rights of crime victims and defendants, and will apply the law fairly and appropriately."
Roberts was leading Ladner by 351 votes, with late absentees and provisional ballots still to be counted. A county official estimated that there are approximately 210,000 to 250,000 such votes countywide, but there was no estimate as to how many of them were cast in the Los Angeles judicial disrict.
Roberts said she may have been helped by the flap over her "not qualified" rating by the Los Angeles County Bar Association. People she didn't know called her up to volunteer for the campaign after reading in the Los Angeles Times about her unsuccessful bid to enjoin the county from disseminating the rating, she said.
It was the only coverage given the race by the Times, which never mentioned her opponents—Mintz, Ladner, Commissioner John Slawson, Deputy District Attorney David Stuart and attorney Ron Silverton—or their ratings. Mintz and the two commissioners were rated well qualified, Stuart qualified, and Silverton not qualified.
Los Angeles, Office No. 44 — Judge Richard Rico, who had Skelton as his consultant, defeated Bernita "Susan" Borges by a 3-1 margin. Borges barely put on a campaign.
Copyright Metropolitan News Company, 2000