Dec. 31, 1999
Five years’ membership in the State Bar. That’s all it takes, under the state Constitution, to qualify for a Municipal Court judgeship. Any lawyer meeting that qualification has a right to run for the lower trial bench.
Bernita Suzette "Susan" Borges was admitted to practice on Dec. 1, 1978, and therefore meets the constitutional standard for candidacy. She has, as she asserts, the right to run for the Los Angeles Municipal Court seat currently occupied by Judge Richard Rico, appointed by Gov. Gray Davis in October.
Nonetheless, her exercise of the right is lamentable. She has no issue against the incumbent, meager finances, an amateur campaign consultant, and no realistic prospect of winning. With nothing to gain from her challenge, she is causing the judge to suffer the financial ordeal of staging, out of caution, a serious campaign, and to suffer, as well, the anxiety inevitably experienced by an office-holder whose job is in jeopardy.
Judges whose performance in office or whose moral character is subject to question are legimate targets of election challenges. The electorate should have the power that it does to oust jurists unworthy of their posts and replace them with persons better suited for judicial service. But Rico’s fitness to serve is not questioned by Borges. In fact, she says she knows nothing about the incumbent. She paid her fee to run for Office No. 44, unaware that Rico had been appointed to the office — and, after learning that the office was not vacant, decided to stay in the race.
Not only does Borges know nothing of Rico’s background or attributes, she displays little knowledge of other matters an aspirant for a judgeship on the Los Angeles Municipal Court would be expected to have. She has no idea who the presiding judge of that court is — or, for that matter, who the presiding judge is of the Los Angeles Superior Court. She has no inkling of the prospect that the winner of the contest she has entered will be sworn in as a member of the Los Angeles Superior Court, apparently knowing nothing of the unification vote in progress. Borges subscribes to the Los Angeles Times and no other publication, isolating herself from information of particular significance to attorneys.
It is plain that Borges, who acknowledges that she seldom appears in court, lacks the qualifications for the office of Municipal Court judge — except in the narrow constitutional sense.
Rico, on the other hand, was found by the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation to be "well qualified" for the post — a conclusion concurred in by collegues and substantiated by his background. He was a partner in the law firm of Breidenbach, Swainston, Crispo and Way, and served as a senior attorney for the Court of Appeal, preparing drafts of opinions. Rico has broad knowledge of both criminal and civil law. His temperament is exemplary.
It is regrettable that this promising jurist has incurred an election challenge.
We strongly endorse Richard Rico for election to the Los Angeles Municipal Court.
Copyright Metropolitan News Company, 1999