Judge Says LACBA Action Obviates Need for Preliminary Injunction Against Vargas-Rodriguez in Martinez Lawsuit
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Martinez's bid for a preliminary injunction against lawyer Maria Vargas-Rodriguez's use of allegedly misleading campaign materials was rejected yesterday in the wake of the challenger's promise to send out different mailers.
Orange Superior Court Judge Kim Dunning said the promise, together with a ruling in Martinez's favor by a Los Angeles County Bar Association panel, rendered the motion moot.
"I think it winds up being a much more satisfactory short-term solution," Dunning said.
Martinez's lawsuit against Vargas-Rodriguez for allegedly issuing campaign brochures that depicted her as sitting judge in the Alhambra Judicial District is technically still on. But with the election less than two weeks away, attorneys for both parties suggested that there may be little reason to proceed.
"We're not displeased with the ruling," Vargas-Rodriguez attorney Bradley Hertz said. "It throws the matter back to the voters, which is where it should be."
Martinez attorney Leonard Chaitin said he, too, was "not at all displeased by the court's ruling."
Dunning also dismissed a motion by Vargas-Rodriguez to designate Martinez's suit a strategic lawsuit against public participation, in an effort to stifle the challenger's First Amendment rights.
The ruling comes two days after the county bar's Fair Judicial Election Practices Committee dual ruling that Vargas-Rodriguez tried to pass herself off as a judge in campaign materials and that Martinez violated guidelines by knowingly accepting money from lawyers with cases pending before him.
Dunning rejected Martinez's bid for a temporary restraining order against his challenger earlier this month, in part because he had not first attempted to resolve the matter through the panel.
The Fair Judicial Election Practices Committee has no judicial authority to compel compliance. But members appeared satisfied with Vargas-Rodriguez's assertion that she would not use the same materials in the current campaign that she did in the March primary, in which she came in first in a three-way race.
Vargas-Rodriguez mailed voters brochures that referred to her "judicial colleagues," used the word "Judge" before her name and showed herself in a photograph, dressed in black, between two black-robed jurists.
Hertz said his client has sent out new mailers that also show her in black—but this time in color photos that leave no doubt that she is wearing regular clothing—and not judicial robes.
The mailers also don't use the word "Judge" directly before her name, Hertz said.
Hertz said he did not present his client's new mailers to the county bar panel when it met last week because bar leaders gave him insufficient notice that the matter was to be heard.
The attorney said he thought he was going to be attending a hearing on his client's complaint against Martinez. Only when he got a message from county bar Executive Director Richard Walch on the same day as the hearing, Hertz said, did he learn that there was a complaint against his client, and that the panel would be considering it.
Hertz sharply criticized the panel earlier this week for proceeding against his client without ever serving him or her with a copy of Martinez's charges.
Walch said the charges were the same as those in the lawsuit.
"These things are done on a very short timeframe," Walch said late Monday. "The claims were identical to the ones they were already dealing with in the lawsuit."
The county bar panel found that Martinez "violated the guidelines by knowingly accepting contributions from lawyers who had cases before him for decision on the merits."
Martinez vowed not to accept any further donations from attorneys with pending cases in his court.
Copyright Metropolitan News Company, 2000