Presiding Justice Klein Says Judicial Elections Aid Cause of Diversity
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Judicial elections allow access to judgeships to women, minorities and others who are less apt to gain appointments, Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein of this district's Div. Three has said.
While there are drawbacks to the elective process—in particular, she spotlighted having to seek financial contributions from lawyers—the benefits preponderate, Klein told a meeting of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. Conference of Local Bar Leaders on Saturday.
"Until such time as there is a society that accepts full diversity, you still have to allow elections if you think diversity on the bench is good," Klein remarked.
The jurist, who was elected to the Superior Court in 1974, said she ran for office at a time when women received a disproportionately low number of appointments to judicial posts.
While retention elections for trial-court judges would have advantages, Klein commented, they would not be desirable "until governors go back to appointing judges from the other political party."
Another panelist, veteran judicial campaign consultant Joe Cerrell, chided the County Bar for failing to adequately publicize its judicial candidate ratings.
Cerrell, chairman of Cerrell Associates Inc., said the organization makes the "single most important endorsement" in judicial races.
"You don't do the best job possible in letting the public know...of your endorsements," he remarked.
The consultant noted that he has guided candidates to victory despite "not qualified" County Bar ratings.
"You have more money than we do," moderator Rex Heinke quipped. Heinke, a partner in Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, is the immediate past chairman of the association's Judicial Election Evaluations Committee.
The Cerrell candidates who overcame "not qualified" ratings were then-Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Henry Patrick Nelson (since retired), then-Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Michael Nash (since elevated to the Los Angeles Superior Court), Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Marlene Kristovich, and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald Sohigian.
Problems inherent in raising campaign money and getting one's name out to the voters make judicial elections "substantially unhealthy for the judiciary," panelist Terry Friedman, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, observed. It is "inescapable" that judicial elections resemble political contests, he said.
Candidates behave in political ways seeking endorsements and money, Friedman said.
He noted that judicial candidates pay to have their names included on slate mailers which include recommendations on ballot propositions. The jurist opined that the judicial candidates thus become associated with stances in an area where they have "no right to indicate their sympathy for one selection or another."
Judicial candidates also look for the best ballot designations, Friedman noted, adding:
"I certainly take the Fifth on that one."
Friedman was alluding to litigation over his use two years ago of the ballot designation, "lawmaker, law professor." The Third District Court of Appeal permitted the then-assemblyman to refer to himself as a law professor because he had, within the one-year period immediately preceding the election, graded papers as an adjunct law professor.
U.S. District Court Judge Lourdes Baird of the Central District of California offered the view that "[a] sitting judge should not have to be exposed the [election] process."
Copyright Metropolitan News Company, 1996