Metropolitan News-Enterprise
Wednesday, June 27, 2000
Page 3

Martinez Drops Cerrell Associates in Runoff Race With Vargas-Rodriguez

By a MetNews Staff Writer

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Martinez has dropped judicial campaign powerhouse Cerrell Associates Inc. for his November runoff in the wake of his second-place finish in March.

Martinez was surprised by challenger Maria Vargas-Rodriguez, a sole practitioner and frequent judge pro tem who won 38 percent of the vote in Alhambra Judicial District's three-way race.

Martinez, who has served on the bench since his 1981 appointment, garnered 35 percent. California Association of Realtors attorney Llewellyn Chin won 27 percent and was eliminated.

Although it is a Superior Court race, it is for a post that was part of the Alhambra Municipal Court until unification in January, and voting in this transition year remains limited to the Alhambra district.

After the election, Martinez blamed his poor showing on "pretty negative" mail from the Vargas-Rodriguez camp in the last few days of the campaign. He said at the time that he intended "to set the record straight" and "to deal with the false allegations and half-truths."

Instead of Cerrell, Martinez has decided to go with Siegel & Nichol, a consulting firm with no prior experience in judicial campaigns but strong labor ties and a successful track record in mail and organizing campaigns for clients like Service Employees International Union, Local 347, the largest union of Los Angeles city workers.

The firm served as campaign consultant for USC law professor Erwin Chemerinsky in his successful 1997 election to the Los Angeles Charter Reform Commission. Chemerinsky emerged from a crowded field to win without a runoff and later was elected the panel's president.

Siegel & Nichol also ran Janice Hahn's successful charter reform campaign and a recent Santa Monica school bond measure.

Neither Martinez nor the Cerrell firm returned calls seeking comment. Siegel & Nichol partner Mark Siegel said the runoff campaign would zero in on likely voters and deliver messages about the judge's experience and capabilities—although probably not until after Labor Day.

"We have to be prepared to reach out to all the people who are going to be voting" in the presidential election, Siegel said.

Meanwhile, some mystery surrounds the runoff plans of Vargas-Rodriguez, who scored her first-place finish with the help of veteran consultant Victor Griego.

Vargas-Rodriguez has not returned several MetNews calls over the last few weeks, and Griego said he hasn't heard from her either.

"I don't know what her plans are," Griego told the MetNews. "I don't know what she's going to do."

Chin said it is far too early for him to decide whether to endorse the incumbent or the challenger, or to stay out of it entirely.

His importance as a power broker remains to be seen. Much of his support in March came from the San Gabriel Valley's growing Asian population, but it is unclear whether he can deliver those votes to another candidate in November.

"I take this very seriously," Chin said, "and I just haven't had time yet to talk with the candidates and decide what to do. The election is not until November."

The only other judicial election in the November ballot is the Los Angeles Judicial District runoff between Deputy District Attorney David Mintz and sole practitioner Vicki M. Roberts.

Roberts has a lawsuit pending against the Los Angeles County Bar Association arising from the "Not Qualified" rating the organization's judicial elections evaluation committee gave her.


Copyright Metropolitan News Company, 2000