Martinez Files Motion to Block Opponent's Brochures
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Martinez has sued to block his election opponent, attorney Maria Vargas-Rodriguez, from using campaign materials that allegedly imply she is an incumbent with broad support from the Alhambra bench.
A hearing has been set for Sept. 29 on Martinez's motion for a preliminary injunction against Vargas-Rodriguez, who placed first in the three-way primary election in March.
A 19-year veteran of the Alhambra Municipal Court, Martinez has alleged that Vargas-Rodriguez distributed campaign brochures before the primary that make her appear to be wearing a judicial robe and refer to Alhambra judges as her "colleagues." Martinez is also seeking to bar his challenger from referring to endorsements from Alhambra Municipal Court "Judges" when describing endorsements from one judge and one commissioner.
"In fact, there are six Judges in the Alhambra Judicial District and one supports defendant while all of the others support plaintiff," Martinez alleged in his motion.
Vargas-Rodriguez did not return a call for comment. Her campaign consultant for the March election, Victor Griego, said the motion "is just not going to stand up." But he added that his client has been out of touch and has returned none of his calls since the election.
"The bizarre thing is that she is just not around," Griego said. "I have no idea what's going through her mind, why she doesn't return calls."
Martinez succeeded to the Superior Court in January upon unification of all of the county's trial courts, but both the March primary and the November runoff elections in this transition year remain limited to voters in the Alhambra Judicial District.
The former Alhambra Municipal Court remains virtually unchanged in the wake of unification. It has been a politically divided courthouse, with Judge Michael Kanner and Commissioner Michael Duffy backing Vargas-Rodriguez over their longtime colleague Martinez.
The challenger said before the primary that those two jurists encouraged her to run against Martinez.
Several of the exhibits to Martinez's motion show a color photo of Vargas-Rodriguez standing between Kanner and Duffy. The judge and the commissioner are each wearing their judicial robes and Vargas-Rodriguez is dressed in black.
"Defendant is wearing a black suit which could appear, at first glance, to be a black robe," the motion says.
The brochure refers to Vargas-Rodriguez "and her judicial colleagues."
Martinez in his motion alleged that the term colleagues "clearly implies to the electorate that the defendant is a sitting Judge."
The motion states:
"It is so submitted because when one refers to his or her 'colleagues,' they are referring to those who are equals in positions. It is further submitted this implication is buttressed by the colored photographs of defendant dressed in black standing between a commissioner and a Judge who are in their black robes."
In another brochure, the same picture is shown in black and white, the motion says. "In this picture it is submitted defendant clearly appears to be wearing the black judicial robe," it says.
The motion also takes exception to a caption that reads:
"Judge Michael Kanner and Commissioner Michael Duffy of the Alhambra Municipal Court, with the candidate they support for Judge Maria C. Vargas-Rodriguez."
The absence of a comma after the word "Judge," and the fact that the word is capitalized, could lead one to believe on a quick reading that Vargas-Rodriguez is already a judge, the motion says.
The motion sites as its legal basis Election Code Sec. 18350, and Canon 5 of the Code of Judicial Ethics. Sec. 18350 bars candidates from implying by their "statements or conduct that he or she is or has been acting in the capacity of a public officer when that is not the case."
Canon 5 states "a candidate for election or appointment to judicial office shall not....(2) knowingly misrepresent the identity, qualifications, present position or any other fact concerning the candidate or his or her opponent."
Vargas-Rodriguez, a sole practitioner and frequent judge pro tem, won 38 percent of the March vote. 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.
After the election, Martinez blamed his poor showing on "pretty negative" mail from Vargas-Rodriguez 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."
Martinez dropped judicial campaign powerhouse Cerrell Associates, Inc. in favor of Siegal & Nicholl, a consulting firm with no prior experience in judicial campaigns.
Martinez grew up in Long Beach and attended the University of Oregon and the University of Pittsburgh. He graduated from Loyola Law School in 1968, served in the Army and worked at the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice and in private practice. He was appointed to the Alhambra Municipal Court by Gov. Jerry Brown in 1981.
Vargas-Rodriguez grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from Loyola Law School in 1973. She is a part-time professor at People's College of Law, a school she helped found.
Copyright Metropolitan News Company, 2000