Hearing on Suit Over LACBA Candidate Evaluations Delayed Again
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A hearing on a bid by the Los Angeles County Bar Association to dismiss a law suit challenging the process by which it evaluations candidates for election to the trial bench has been delayed again after LACBA moved to disqualify the latest of several judges assigned to the case.
"I'd have been sued for malpractice," LACBA lawyer Allan E. Wilion of Wilion, Kirkwood & Kessler told the MetNews Friday, had he not moved to get retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert H. O'Brien off the suit brought by Vicki M. Roberts.
Roberts is seeking the Los Angeles Superior Court seat being vacated by Judge L.C. Nunley. Her opponent in the Nov. 7 election, which is confined to the former Los Angeles Municipal Court district because the qualifying process began before unification, is Deputy District Attorney David Mintz.
Roberts, who was rated "not qualified" for the bench-her opponent received a "well qualified" rating, said she was treated unfairly by the evaluating committee. She accused members of the subcommittee which conducted her initial interview of failing to give her advance notice of anonymous criticisms and of conducting an interview that "had all the attributes of an ambush."
She tried, and failed, to obtain an injunction that would have precluded dissemination of the rating prior to the primary in March, in which she finished second of six candidates.
Thursday's scheduled hearing on the County Bar's demurrer and motion to strike the complaint under the anti-SLAPP law was aborted after O'Brien disclosed that he had written letters critical of the evaluation process to LACBA officials in 1996.
Although one of those letters was printed in full in the MetNews at the time, and several then-LACBA officials have acknowledged receiving them and/or discussing their contents, Willion said he had no awareness of them until O'Brien himself disclosed them on Thursday.
Roberts' lawyer, Richard G. Sherman said LACBA was "going to lose" the hearing before Willion made his move. "Allen Willion is a fair, honest, ethical lawyer, but it is my impression that his client is being extremely difficult in this matter," Sherman said.
Willion responded that the decision to seek recusal of O'Brien, who complained four years ago that LACBA was off-base in rating Judge Ronald Sohigian "not qualified" for reelection, was entirely his.
He also noted that LACBA has offered to take the case to a private judge in order to expedite it, but Roberts has declined. Four judges, including Sohigian, have previously recused themselves or been peremptorily challenged in the case.
O'Brien said he would file a response to the disqualification motion. But even if the motion is denied, it is not clear who will hear the case, as O'Brien is moving to an assignment in Glendale.
The case is Roberts v. Los Angeles County Bar Association, BC224606.
Copyright Metropolitan News Company, 2000