Tuesday, Oct. 11, 1994
16 Justices to Face the Voters — All Should Be Retained
The names of 16 members of this district's Court of Appeal will be on the Nov. 8 ballot. Among those justices are some truly outstanding jurists. No, they're not all outstanding—but not one of them can be said, by objective standards, to be ill-suited for the position. That is to say, the least worthy of the pack are worthy.
With no reasonable basis for opposition to any of the 16, it is inconceivable that voters will fail to retain the justices. It is, however, not unprecedented for the inconceivable to occur at the polls. Antiincumbency fervor and a change in law under which the terms of the justices will be set forth on the ballot—some of the terms being for the full 12 years—will no doubt reduce the percentage of favorable votes for the justices.
It is perhaps pointless for this law-oriented newspaper to urge readers to do what virtually every one of them would surely be inclined to do without any prodding—that is, to vote "yes" on the justices of the Second District Court of Appeal. Perhaps this is less of an editorial endorsement that an innocuous public service reminder not to skip the bottom portion of the ballot.
Among the 16 Court of Appeal justices whose names will be on the ballot in Los Angeles are Steven Stone and Kenneth Yegan. Stone is presiding justice of Div. Six of this district's Court of Appeal and Yegan is an associate justice in that division. That division serves Ventura, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara Counties.
Why do we denizens of Los Angeles pass judgment on those jurists who handle appeals for three other counties? If we pass judgment on them, why do we not pass judgment on justices handling appeals for Orange County, or San Diego, or Lassen?
Art. VI of the state Constitution refers to the "courts of appeal," in the plural. There are six appellate districts in the state, and thus six courts of appeal. We're in the Second District. Superficially, it makes sense for all voters in the Second District to vote on all justices in our own district who are up for election, and not to vote on justices serving in other districts.
Upon scrutiny, however, this makes no sense at all. Any published opinion of a court of appeal is of precedential value, binding on all trial courts in the state. A justice of the Third District serves us in Los Angeles just as the justices do in the Ronald Reagan State Building downtown. Notwithstanding the division of the state into six appellate districts, it remains that each Court of Appeal justice has statewide influence. If there is to be popular control over the composition of the judiciary—as rampant arrogance in the federal judiciary shows us there must be—then justices of the courts of appeal should face voters in every district in which their judicial service has an effect. That is to say, they should, like members of the state Supreme Court, be on a statewide ballot.
If there is a scalawag serving on a court of appeal in any district, the voters in all districts have an interest in blocking that justice's continued enjoyment of office. Likewise, a Court of Appeal justice who is providing faithful and competent service should be accorded a pat on the back by voters in every precinct in California.
The argument could be made that there is an especial interest in the composition of the Court of Appeal on the part of those citizens whose cases, existing or theoretical, would be decided by their local appellate panel. This consideration would render rational the present system of electing Court of Appeal justices in the First, Third, Fifth and Sixth districts. In the First District, each of the five divisions hears appeals from each of the 12 counties in the districts; the Third, Fifth and Sixth districts are not divided into divisions. Therefore, every justice in those three districts acts on appeals from each of the counties within each of those respective districts. Voters thus pass on the fitness of Court of Appeal justices who handle appeals from their counties' superior courts.
However, here the Second District, there are six divisions that hear appeals only from Los Angeles County, and one division that has no Los Angeles cases. In the Fourth District, there are three divisions, each located in a different city, each hearing appeals from different counties. Voters thus pass on the fitness of jurists who handle no cases from the counties in which the voters reside.
As we see it, voters in each county should have the opportunity to vote on the retention of Court of Appeal justices in all six districts. But if that is not to be, if voting is to remain regionalized, this limitation can only be justified if voters are determining who is to serve on the appellate panels handling cases from the counties in which those voters have residence.
It is true that Ventura, where Stone and Yegan sit, is a county contiguous to Los Angeles, and Los Angeles residents are apt to have greater contact with Ventura than with Placer or Trinity. But the system under which Los Angeles voters scrutinize the service of those jurists, but not jurists from other parts of the state who are up for election, cannot be justified on an it's-all-in-the-same-neighborhood theory. Orange, San Bernardino and Kern counties are also contiguous, and we have no voting power over justices handling appeals from those counties.
The system is, plainly and simply, haywire. Districts and divisions have been added through the years without thought being devoted to the rationality of the set-ups vis-a-vis elections.
We urge a "yes" vote on Stone and Yegan. We also urge that thought be devoted as to why we're voting on Stone and Yegan, and not voting on justices from other districts.
Copyright Metropolitan News Company, 1994