Monday, Feb. 7
Los Angeles Superior Court
Two Bench Officers, Former Police Inspector General Do Battle
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
Nearly 30 candidates are vying for nine seats on the Los Angeles Superior Court, but only one of those races looks anything like what a Superior Court election here ever did before or ever will again.
That's because only then-South Bay Municipal Court Commissioner Douglas Carnahan, Deputy District Attorney Katherine Mader, and Los Angeles Superior Court Referee Jeffrey Marckese signed up to run countywide, the way Superior Court judges have run for more than 100 years.
The other candidates' names will appear on ballots next to the names of municipal courts that faded into history nearly a month ago, following a judicial vote in January to unify the county's 25 trial courts into one big Superior Court. Those candidates will campaign in smaller districts and will have to reach fewer voters and raise less money, but the winners in those races will take Superior Court oaths in January, just like the winner in the Carnahan-Mader-Marckese contest.
So why did those three candidates opt for the more expensive Superior Court race when they had a rare shot at a shortcut to the same seat?
For one thing, at filing time last November unification already had been defeated twice by the Superior Court judges, and success on the third vote was by no means a sure thing.
Marckese, 44, cites different reasons. Unlike Carnahan, who sat on a municipal court, and Mader, with no judicial experience, Marckese points out that he already is a Superior Court bench officer, hearing family law matters as a referee in the Superior Court's South Central District in Compton. He filed to run for the open seat as soon as he heard Judge Richard Montes was planning to retire.
"Historically there is a distinction between Superior Court and municipal court," Marckese says. "Municipal court judges don't do family law or juvenile law, and I do both. I'm the only one who's actually on the Superior Court at this time."
It remains to be seen whether Marckese will be able to parlay his experience and his "Superior Court Referee" ballot designation into anything approaching incumbency status. To the typically small percentage of voters who reach the judicial candidates after marking their ballots for president, U.S. senator, district attorney, Assembly member and state senator, the words "Superior Court" might make an impression--but the word "Referee" could prove puzzling.
Referees are appointed by the presiding judge as bench officers to hear juvenile court matters. Marckese also hears family law cases upon stipulation by counsel.
Marckese took the job in 1997 after closing a 15-year practice in family law and probate. The last several years of his practice were devoted to defending parents involved in child support litigation, and from 1995 to 1997 he headed a panel of lawyers generally referred to as FLIP--the Family Law Indigent Paternity panel.
He says he prefers the bench to practice.
"My practice was growing, and I was earning a good living," Marckese says. "But it was grueling. It was pretty heavy stuff. I was finding it hard to sleep at night. I know I've extended my life 10 years by winding down my practice and taking this job."
The Cleveland native attended Ohio University, where he enjoyed some success but didn't get the grades to make it into a top-tier law school. His plans to go back East dashed, Marckese followed the advice of his father and enrolled in Glendale University College of Law.
He worked for an attorney on Sixth Street west of downtown while in school, then joined the practice full-time when he passed the bar exam in 1982. He now lives in Burbank, with his wife and their 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter.
His campaign strategy is simple--raise a lot of money and get everyone he knows to vote for him. On the details, Marckese defers to campaign consultant Parke Skelton.
At the start of the campaign the candidate predicted he could raise $100,000, and that it would be enough to win--perhaps without a runoff. As of Jan. 22, Marckese had raised only about $12,000, and he now says he should be able to bring in about $30,000 for the March race.
"I think I'm popular," Marckese says. "I don't know how much support Carnahan or Mader have, but I only know people who know me. Friends, colleagues, family, business people. I am a rookie at fundraising, but I think I can raise the money, without putting in any of my own."
Many of the contributors are attorneys, and a fair number of them are jurists, mostly from the same Compton courthouse where Marckese sits. For example, Superior Court Judges Richard W. McClain--who donated just before his death Jan. 2--Michael Pirosh, James Kaddo and Allen Webster have contributed, as has Commissioner Ronald Slick. Family law Judge John H. Sandoz of downtown's Central District contributed, as well as former Citrus Municipal Court Judge Michael Rutberg and Marckese's fellow referee, Joel Wallenstein of Los Padrinos Juvenile Court in Downey.
Wallenstein was himself a judicial candidate, losing his bid for the Antelope Municipal Court two years ago.
Marckese is well behind Carnahan, who has raised five times as much in contributions, including checks from more than 20 judges. No judges so far have contributed to Mader, although that may be in part because she hasn't asked. The prosecutor appears so far to have taken in little beyond the $100,000 check she wrote her own campaign.
Even if Marckese can't match Carnahan in judicial endorsements, he says he doesn't believe his status as a Superior Court jurist will be lost on the voters. He notes that the judges he has worked under--Supervising Judges John Cheroske and Paul Gutman--are backing him.
"The fact of the matter is I am a judicial officer," he says. "I am sitting on the Superior Court and have a full calendar."
Carnahan doesn't appear intimidated by Marckese's ballot designation.
The former South Bay Municipal Court commissioner succeeded to the Superior Court on Jan. 22 when Chief Justice Ronald George certified the unification vote. The action came too late for Carnahan to use the words "Superior Court" in his ballot designation, but Carnahan says no matter. If there's a runoff, he predicts, he will be in it--with Mader.
"She is a formidable opponent, no doubt about that," Carnahan says of Mader. "She's a fine lawyer, prosecutor and so on, as far as I'm aware, but I just think that I'm the better candidate and there are ways to get that out."
Carnahan, 52, notes that he has been on the bench 12 years longer than Marckese, and he asserts that he is the only candidate of the three that has "extensive experience."
That said, don't expect to hear much else from Carnahan about his rivals for the seat. "I don't think it's appropriate," he explains, "for judicial candidates to trash their opponents."
Carnahan had even higher fundraising hopes than Marckese, saying in December he would need a war chest of $150,000 to $200,000 to do "a healthy job."
If that's the case, Carnahan's campaign is not currently the picture of health. He has yet to break $50,000, and of the money he has raised, more than $14,000 is in the form of a bank loan. But he says the high figure was set with a runoff in mind.
More than $30,000 of the money has gone to producing a candidate statement, a campaign tool Carnahan says is crucial for running a race in Los Angeles County.
Like Marckese, Carnahan is pinning his fundraising hopes in part on "a large circle of friends." Many of them have come through, including Charles Schwennesen, a friend from Carnahan's engineering days at Hughes Aircraft. Schwennesen has donated $2,200 directly and his company, Century Pacific Equity Realty, has put in another $1,000. Attorney John Quinn of Arnold & Porter, with whom Carnahan became friends while participating in Los Angeles County Bar Association activities--Quinn is a former president of the County Bar--has put in $1,000.
The law firm of Greene Broillet Taylor Wheeler & Panish has contributed $2,000, a donation for which Carnahan credits his long friendship with attorney Tim Wheeler.
Lending additional credibility to the campaign are contributions from such luminaries as Court of Appeal Justice Norman Epstein and USC law school dean Scott Bice.
There is also the Cerrell factor. Of the three candidates, it was Carnahan who got judicial campaign maven Joe Cerrell is in his corner as a consultant. Cerrell's clout in judicial races is legendary--but not every Cerrell candidate automatically wins.
Carnahan was born and raised in Culver City, then went to UCLA where he earned an engineering degree in 1968. After a couple years at Hughes in Canoga Park as a test engineer for guided missile systems, he served as a military policeman and recruiter in the Army.
He then enrolled Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, earning his J.D. in 1975.
On graduating, Carnahan opened an insurance defense solo practice in Marina del Rey, then a general practice partnership in Woodland Hills.
It was during that time that he got his first job teaching law, becoming an adjunct professor of torts at the University of West Los Angeles School of Law in his native Culver City. He taught advocacy skills at USC's law school while working there full time from 1978-1981, directing a clinic providing legal services to USC faculty and staff.
After his USC stint he returned to private practice while teaching "lawyering skills" as an adjunct professor at Loyola Law School in 1981 and legal research for paralegal students at USC. Later law teaching posts included an adjunct professorship at Northrop University and an instructor of legal writing position at El Camino College, which he still holds.
That teaching record was sufficient, Carnahan contended, to warrant a ballot designation of "Court Commissioner/Professor." Mader didn't think so, and sought a writ to force Carnahan to remove "Professor." She said the word was misleading since Carnahan was listed in the El Camino College catalogue as a "lecturer."
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Yaffe agreed with Carnahan. The commissioner could use the title, Yaffe said, because he has "substantial and significant" involvement with the college, devoting five to eight hours a week to the job.
The average voter does not distinguish between full professors, adjunct professors, lecturers and instructors but instead deems all teachers at institutions of higher learning as "professors," Yaffe said.
Mader said she thought the decision was wrong but that it wasn't worth the time and expense of appealing. That was a good thing for Carnahan, who already spent $7,500 on legal fees defending the title.
As a commissioner since 1984, Carnahan has heard civil, criminal, and traffic cases at the Torrance and Redondo Beach courthouses. There was a brief return to private practice in 1990, a period he tells his wife constituted his midlife crisis.
"I like being a judge," Carnahan explains.
Carnahan is married to his former legal secretary, who still works at a Torrance law firm. The couple have a 23-year-old daughter in law school and a 14-year-old son.
Mader's name is the best-known in the race, given her role as the first-ever inspector general of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Even before she locked horns with the LAPD establishment over access to internal files, though, Mader was used to getting her name in the paper. As a defense lawyer, she represented "Hillside Strangler" Angelo Buono. As a prosecutor, she sent people to death row. She also helped convict former City Councilman Art Snyder of money laundering.
She gives Marckese and Carnahan their due, asserting that "each of us would be a very good judge." And she agrees with them that a campaign for judge "ought to be a clean one."
But Mader has a reputation as a fighter, and unlike her opponents she come to the campaign as an advocate, without any intervening time on the bench as a "neutral." That posture sends her into the race without any apologies for being the only candidate without judicial experience.
Besides, Mader says, she spent five years in Sacramento on the Traffic Adjudication Board, a quasi-judicial panel that Sacramento and other counties used to remove the entire traffic ticket system from the judicial system.
She adds that being the LAPD's inspector general was quasi-judicial.
"I had to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different versions of events, as they were given to me in citizen complaints and answered by the officers and the department," she says. "I'm not totally foreign to being something other than an advocate."
Still, she says, she is different from Marckese and Carnahan.
"Being a defense lawyer, a prosecutor, and inspector general has given me perhaps a breadth of experience and a knowledge of criminal law you won't see very often," Mader says. "I have 20-plus years in courtrooms. I've prosecuted criminal defendants and asked for the death penalty. I have an understanding of what crime victims feel. I've also been in the courtroom arguing my client's life should be spared. And I have a knowledge of police officers that I really think cannot be duplicated by anybody."
Mader may also be distinguished from the other candidates by the amount of her own money that she can pump into the campaign. Her financial statements through Jan. 22 show just two contributions, totaling $750--plus a personal loan of $100,000 from herself.
"I can assure you that I am well-funded," Mader says. "I will spend what is necessary, within reasonable bounds, to win."
One doesn't get that kind of money from a public defender's salary, or a prosecutor's. Or even from co-authoring a couple best-sellers, like her books on notorious crime scenes in Los Angeles and New York.
Much of Mader's financial clout comes from the business success of her husband, Norman Kulla, a former criminal defense lawyer who got his master's in tax law and now runs a capital management firm.
They met when both were undergrads at UCLA in the 1960s. They married in 1967, and now have three children, 21, 14 and 10.
Mader earned her law degree from UC Davis in 1972, then went to work as a deputy public defender in Sacramento. She left in 1976 to direct a state Health Department patients' rights office as a sort of inspector general, then moved to Los Angeles to open a private practice as a criminal defense lawyer.
She defended alleged Mexican Mafia killers, but her best-known case was her effort on behalf of "Hillside Strangler" Angelo Buono. Her client was convicted.
Mader took the unusual step of moving from defense to prosecution in 1985, when she joined the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office. As a prosecutor, she was best known for her role in the Special Investigations Division where she investigated allegations of police misconduct. That earned her the enmity of police officers, but she became their hero when, as inspector general from July 1996 to January 1999, she blasted the LAPD leadership for attempting to keep her away from data she deemed crucial to her investigations.
In a sharp about-face from rank-and-file officers' original stance on Mader, their union--the Los Angeles Police Protective League--has endorsed her for judge.
Technically on leave from the D.A.'s office, Mader became the first inspector general five years after the Christopher Commission investigating the Rodney King beating called for the post. She immediately urged the implementation of all other commission-recommended reforms.
Mader resigned as inspector general after less than three years at the job, saying the LAPD brass had prevented her from doing what had to be done. There was a host of indignities, such as an attempt to redraw reporting lines to make Mader answer to the Police Commission's staff, instead of to the commission directly.
But she was credited with drawing attention to the problem, and the City Council--and both city charter reform commissions--made sure that the next inspector general had more independence.
Now back at the District Attorney's Office, Mader says advocacy has lost its luster.
"I really viewed myself for 20-something years as the ultimate advocate," she explains. "I've always had a lot of fire in my belly, no matter what side I was on. As part of the leavening process as I grow older I don't have the need to be an active participant in the fight. But I don't want to be an appellate judge. I like the rough and tumble."
In going against candidates backed by Parke Skelton and Joe Cerrell, Mader has lined up Fred Huebscher, who has a shorter but growing list of successful judicial candidates.
Copyright Metropolitan News Company, 2000