Jan. 13, 2000
We decry yesterday's ruling by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge giving the green light to use of the ballot designation "Professor" by a parttime lecturer at a junior college.
Judge David Yaffe erred, in our view, in denying a writ of mandate sought by Deputy District Attorney Katherine Mader, a candidate for a Superior Court open seat. Mader sought to bar rival candidate South Bay Municipal Court Commissioner Douglas Carnahan—who has chosen the ballot designation "Court Commissioner/ Professor"—from using the word "Professor."
Carnahan, in truth, does not enjoy the rank of "Professor." That title is accorded by El Camino Community College, where he lectures paralegals once a week, only to tenured faculty members. Carnahan's designation is misleading—and Elections Code Sec. 13107(b)(1) bars use of any designation if "it would mislead the voter." Use by Carnahan of a title that is higher in rank than that which he actually holds is manifestly misleading, and should have been barred.
We find unpersuasive Yaffe's view that "Professor" is a generic reference to anyone who teaches at an institution of higher learning. Under such reasoning, as Mader pointed out in a memorandum of points and authorities, "an auto mechanic instructor at a vocational college could also describe himself as a 'professor' on the ballot." The purpose of Sec. 13107(b)(1) is to prevent voters from being tricked into thinking a candidate holds a position which he or she does not in truth hold. That purpose was subverted by yesterday's ruling.
Too, use of the word "Professor" is improper under Elections Code Sec. 13107(a)(3) which limits designations to a candidate's "principal professions, vocations, or occupations." For a 40-hour-a-week court commissioner, teaching a night class once a week is not a "principal" undertaking.
The ruling is particularly regrettable in light of Carnahan's candidate statement. It includes these words: "He has taught at USC and Loyola law schools." Taking the title "Professor" in conjunction with references to Carnahan's teaching at law schools inevitably leaves voters with the bottom-line impression that Carnahan is a professor of law—a position he has never held and does not hold now. (He was an assistant professor at USC Law Center in 1976-77 and an adjunct professor at Loyola Law School in 1981.)
Of course, Carnahan has not gone so far as to expressly contend in his campaign that he is a law professor. Teaching a legal subject at an undergraduate school cannot, under any stretch of the imagination, entitle the teacher to the title of "law professor." Nonetheless, another South Bay Municipal Court commissioner, John Slawson, who also lectures at El Camino Community College, refers to himself in his candidate statement as a "law professor." None of his five opponents in the race for a Los Angeles Municipal Court open seat has challenged this falsehood.
But, if Yaffe's ruling yesterday is to serve as a lesson, they were well advised not to bother mounting a challenge.
Other judicial candidates this year are ill-deservedly using the title "professor," and, had challenges been filed, they would presumably have failed, as such challenges have in the past. It is lamentable that the cause of truth in judicial campaigns is not a high priority of the courts.
Copyright Metropolitan News Company, 2000