Oct. 25, 1996
L.A. Times Falls Down on Job in Making Judicial Endorsements
The Los Angeles Times, as this county's most widely circulated newspaper, is the most influential newspaper here. Its endorsements, though somewhat less significant than in years past, before the advent of slate mailers, still have a substantial impact on elections. If it chose to, that newspaper could provide meaningful guidance to voters in connection with judicial races.
It doesn't choose to. To its discredit, it consistently provides sketchy editorials announcing its endorsements. And to its utter disgrace, it has in recent years abdicated its responsibility to its readers by deciding endorsements based not on independent analysis, but rather, on what the County Bar's judicial evaluations panel has said.
In its Wednesday editions, The Times carried an editorial endorsing Karl Jaeger for election to the Los Angeles Superior Court in preference to his rival, Citrus Municipal Court Presiding Judge Pat Murphy. We agree with that endorsement. We decry the rationale. After briefly stating Jaeger's background, The Times said:
"[Jaeger] has earned the highest rating from the Los Angeles County Bar Assn.—'well qualified.'
"Murphy, on the other hand, was not only rated 'not qualified' in this contest but received the same rating in 1992 when he ran for a seat on the Citrus Municipal Court that he now holds. That is reason enough to support his opponent.
"The Times endorses Karl Jaeger for the Los Angeles Superior Court."
In essence, the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times lets a County Bar committee decide whom the newspaper will endorse in judicial races. As important as judicial independence is to judges should be editorial independence to newspapers. We regret the surrender by our county's largest-circulated newspaper of editorial independence when it comes to judicial races, rubber-stamping determinations by a committee of a private organization.
While the County Bar committee is generally on target, in our view, an independent analysis of the qualifications of candidates will sometimes produce differing conclusions. We believe this year's committee was dead wrong when it rated Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald Sohigian "not qualified" for his post, as was the 1994 committee in finding then-Assemblyman (now Superior Court Judge) Terry Friedman "well qualified" for the Superior Court. The Times, though rejecting the committee's conclusions in certain elections in the 1980s, now defers to its findings—and in Wednesday's editorial says, in effect, that the voter need look no further than the County Bar ratings in deciding which candidate deserves a vote.
The Times is not so slipshod in making endorsements in non-judicial races. Apparently, it regards judicial elections as ho-hum affairs. As Jaeger has been mentioning in his speeches, no public official other than a Superior Court judge has the power to terminate a life, end a marriage, or decide who will have custody of a child. Indeed, the outcome of litigation in many instances can be a major event in a person's life. We suggest that the composition of our judiciary is a matter of large importance to the public, not the insignificance The Times apparently ascribes to it.
While we understand that a reporter at The Times is preparing an article on the Superior Court race, it remains that the newspaper botched its opportunity to enlighten readers by way of an editorial other than to robotically adopt labels affixed to the candidates by others.
The brief editorial endorsing Jaeger, appearing at the bottom of Wednesday's editorial column in The Times, compares quite unfavorably with the considered editorial in the Long Beach Press-Telegram on Oct. 9 endorsing Jaeger. The Daily Breeze editorial on Oct. 20 endorsing Jaeger also had more meat in it.
We call upon The Times to wake up to the significance of judicial races and accord those contests the same attention in the form of editorials that it lends to races for district attorney or county supervisor. At present, the attention given those races in the editorial column is nothing other than shameful.
Copyright 1996, Metropolitan News Company