September 4, 1996
It's OK to lie in a judicial campaign.
That's the message sent by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Diane Wayne, in ruling Tuesday on Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Karl Jaeger's petition to strike misleading allegations from the candidate statement of his election rival, Citrus Municipal Court Judge Patrick Murphy. Jaeger and Murphy are competing for Superior Court Office No. 58 in the Nov. 5 election.
In particular, Murphy will be allowed to state his occupation as "Judge, Municipal Court of Los Angeles County." That implies, of course, that he is a judge of a countywide municipal court. The lay voter is not apt to recognize that there is no such court in this county.
The deception is ameliorated by Wayne's insistence that Murphy specify, in stating that he was "unanimously elected Presiding Judge," that it was as presiding judge of the "Citrus Municipal Court." Notwithstanding that modification, it remains that at the top of the statement will be this misrepresentation, exaggerating Murphy's domain:
"Occupation: Judge, Municipal Court of Los Angeles County."
In her ruling, Wayne said:
"Standing alone, the designation of "Judge, Municipal Court of Los Angeles County' is neither false nor misleading. Real party is in fact a judge of the Municipal Court of Los Angeles County, albeit of an unnamed judicial district. His description of his occupation, while general, is accurate."
Reference to "the" Municipal Court—with "Court" in the singular—implies the existence of a single municipal court for the county. Wayne, a former judge of a municipal court in this county (the Los Angeles Municipal Court) must know that there are 24 municipal courts in our county. Government Code Sec. 72602 refers to "Los Angeles County Municipal Courts." Note the word "Courts." It's plural.
Wayne ruled also that Murphy, though an adjunct associate professor of law, may refer to himself in the candidate statement as a "Law Professor." She declared: "Although he is an adjunct professor the phrase 'law professor' most accurately describes his position."
It is not accurate, at all. Wayne seems to think the title of "Professor" is generic, that it is a mere substitute for "teacher" or "instructor." Just ask a student whether "adjunct professors" are regarded the same as professors. They aren't. The former are persons from outside academia who teach on a part-time basis, while professors are members of the faculty who have attained the institution's highest teaching rank. The distinction is clear on any campus, and should be in any courtroom.
Even if the term "professor" were a generic term, and does describe Murphy's "position," it remains that it is not his title. The judge overlooks Murphy's capitalization of the designation. He refers to himself not as a "law professor," but as a "Law Professor." One does not capitalize a generic description. Wayne is allowing the candidate to represent himself, falsely, as holding a title which is not his.
Wayne pointed out at the hearing that the catalog at the school where Murphy teaches, Glendale College of Law, while listing Murphy as an "Adjunct Associate Professor of Law," refers to him in its thumbnail sketch of him as "Professor Murphy." She found that meaningful. It is merely the reflection of sloppiness. The fact that a catalog-writer at this one law school has failed to draw a distinction between an adjunct professor and a professor does not mean that the distinction is not commonly observed. Surely the catalog writer is not empowered to confer titles.
And even if sloppiness in use of the title of "professor" is common, that would not validate the erroneous application of that title to Murphy. Her honor, Mrs. Ira Reiner, surely knows that deputy district attorneys are commonly referred to as "DAs." But there is, in fact, only one district attorney in the county. Under Wayne's reasoning, Deputy District Attorney John Lynch or any other deputy in the District Attorney's Office could, in running for office, represent himself or herself as "District Attorney" based on the high frequency of the application of that term to deputies.
Likewise, deputy public defenders could claim to be "Public Defender, Los Angeles County." Court commissioners, frequently addressed as "Judge," could list as occupation, "Judge, Los Angeles County." And a sheriff's deputy could run for sheriff using the title of "Sheriff."
Wayne's finding that Murphy "is an adjunct professor" should have ended the inquiry; that's his title; that's not the title used on the candidate statement; the candidate statement needs revision.
Elections Code Sec. 13313 authorizes the issuance of a writ of mandate to delete or amend misleading portions of candidate statements. Wayne had the power and the duty to scrape more inaccuracy from Murphy's statement than she did. We view yesterday's decision by her as worse than judicial error. It was an abdication by her of her statutorily entrusted responsibility to the voting public to keep deceptive matter out of the Voters' Pamphlet.
Wayne's ruling is bound to encourage flimflamming in future judicial elections. Such encouragement is unfortunate coming in the aftermath of an epidemic of voter-hoodwinking by judicial candidates in last March's primary.
The causes of truth and fair elections were not served yesterday in Department 86.
Copyright Metropolitan News Company, 1996