Feb. 24, 2000
Roberts Blasts County Bar for Tolerating Receipt by Candidates of Endorsements by Judges
Vicki Roberts, a sole practitioner who is running for the Los Angeles Municipal Court, has a beef against the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. for rating her "not qualified," while giving higher ratings to other candidates who committed the momentous delict of accepting endorsements from judges.
Or, at least, Roberts thinks that accepting endorsements from judges runs afoul of County Bar rules.
She says she intends to amend her complaint against the County Bar, pending in the Los Angeles Superior Court, to make an issue of this.
Roberts, you may recall, on Feb. 10 sued the County Bar to block it from releasing its judicial ratings and for damages. In her complaint, filed by attorney Richard G. Sherman, she alleged:
"The entire procedure employed by LACBA was not only contrary to their own printed rules, but also constituted a lack of due process to plaintiff which resulted in an unfavorable rating to plaintiff."
Not surprisingly, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Yaffe declined to issue a temporary restraining order, citing the heavy burden required—and not met by Roberts—to justify a prior restraint. That morning, the County Bar proceeded to release the ratings of its Judicial Election Evaluations Committee. Roberts' quest to have the County Bar prohibited by a judge from expressing its opinions in itself confirmed the accuracy of the group's assessment.
Her stunt backfired. The Los Angeles Times, which relies on County Bar ratings in making its endorsements but generally does not report the ratings when they are released, this time found news value in them—or, actually, in just one of the ratings. It carried an item on Roberts' effort to gag the County Bar and told of her rating—though not mentioning the ratings of other candidates, and not even naming her five rivals in the race. (They are Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioners John Ladner and John Slawson and Deputy District Attorney David Mintz, all found to be "well qualified," Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney David Stuart, adjudged to be "qualified," and attorney Ronald Silverton, labelled "not qualified.") What Roberts succeeded in doing was causing her "not qualified" rating to be publicized to a broad audience that would otherwise not have known of it.
In addition to seeking a temporary restraining order and injunction—now moot—the candidate's complaint seeks declaratory relief and damages for fraud. She claims she was defrauded—the complaint does not quite make clear how—and avers that the "conduct of the committee also constitutes a fraud on the public," without showing how she has standing to sue on behalf of the populace.
Roberts advises that she intends to amend the complaint to allege a cause of action based on the committee having given higher ratings to candidates with judicial endorsements than to those, such as herself, who have no endorsements from judges. (She does boasts endorsements of comedians Fred Travalena and Red Buttons.) Roberts explained in a letter she sent me last week:
"[I]n my race and the race for Downey Municipal Court, the committee rated as well qualified or qualified candidates with judicial endorsements, contrary to LACBA's own prohibition against judicial endorsements, whereas those of us who did not seek or receive judicial endorsements were rated not qualified. Rule IIF of LACBA's Guidelines for the Conduct of Campaigns for Judicial Office, a copy of which I enclose herewith for your review, specifically and clearly prohibits candidates and judges from endorsing a candidate for public office, which includes this race. It reads, in pertinent part, 'A judge or other candidate should not, during the campaign for judicial office:...publicly endorse a candidate for public office.' Yet in my race for Office No One, Judge of the Los Angeles Municipal Court, a public office, as well as the race for Judge of the Downey Municipal Court, also a public office, LACBA appears to have rewarded those candidates with judicial endorsements and penalized those without judicial endorsements. Indeed, those candidates with judicial endorsements on their ballot statements and campaign literature are clearly attempting to attract voters by the inclusion of such prohibited judicial endorsements."
Scads of endorsements from judges are, in fact, boasted by Slawson in the race for Los Angeles Municipal Court Office No. One and by Downey Municipal Court Judge Jesse Rodriguez, who has drawn an election challenge. (The challenge is by attorney Kirt Hopson, who was rated "not qualified" by the County Bar, and who executed a declaration, appended to Roberts' complaint, attesting to the unfairness of the evaluation process.)
Slawson and Rodriguez are both candidates who have retained the political consulting firm of Cerrell Associates, Inc. Cerrell candidates traditionally boast myriads of judicial endorsements.
Ladner and Mintz, who, like Slawson, were rated "well qualified," are also ballyhooing endorsements by judges. No one prior to Roberts has challenged the propriety of such endorsements.
The County Bar guidelines do not purport to bar a candidate for judicial office from telling of endorsements from judges. If they did say that, this would create no cause of action; contrary to the assumption expressed in Roberts' complaint, the County Bar, having no governmental status, is not required to afford due process, either substantive or procedural. It could, if it wished, mark candidates down if they did not drink eight glasses of water a day, or utilize whatever other criteria it wished. Obviously, if its criteria were bizarre, it would no have no credibility, but that's quite a different matter from whether it may establish whatever guidelines it wishes.
A careful reading of the guidelines shows, however, that they do not admonish against publicizing endorsements from judges. Paragraph E.1 sets forth: "A candidate, in his or her appearances and campaign materials, may refer to endorsements received by the candidate, other than endorsements prohibited in Paragraph E.2." Paragraph E.2 does not mention endorsements from judges; it bars endorsements from persons with causes before a candidate who's an incumbent or person who are likely to come before the candidate as a judge.
Roberts appears to assume that the County Bar guidelines purport to bar any judge from endorsing. To the contrary, only applies to "a judge or other candidate"—that is, it applies to a judge only if he or she happens to be a candidate.
The County Bar guideline, unlike Canon 5(A)(a) of the Code of Judicial Ethics, does not permit endorsements of other judicial cancidates.
Inasmuch as Rodriguez has endorsed Slawson (a partial list by Slawson of his endorsements appears on his website at http://www.SlawsonForJudge.com/endorsements/default.htm), there is a violation by Rodriguez of the guideline—as there are undoubtedly violations by other judicial candidates.
If Paragraph E did not exist, expressly authorizing the dissemination of all endorsements not expressly barred, it might be construed as being impliedly contrary to the guidelines to draw attention to an endorsement which was made in contravention of the prohibition. But Paragraph E does exist.
Contrary to Roberts' premise, there was no violation by Slawson of the guidelines based upon his touting the endorsement from Rodriguez—and, as seen, no violation by any of the three candidates in her race who were rated "well qualified" based on their publicizing endorsements of judges who are not candidates.
Roberts' discussion does, however, give rise to questions about the County Bar guidelines. Does the County truly take the stance that a judicial candidate such as Rodriguez should be deterred from endorsing other judicial candidates when such is expressly permitted by a judicial canon? Do the guidelines need updating, or have they outlived their usefulness altogether? I'll focus on that in tomorrow's column.
SEXISM ALLEGED: In her Superior Court complaint, Roberts takes issue with the County Bar for questioning of her in the subcommittee as to her supposed bizarre dress in court. She protests that this and other charges were not disclosed to her in advance of the interview, which she says violates the County Bar's own rules of procedure.
Roberts said in her letter:
"It must be mentioned that with respect to the allegation that I dressed inappropriately for court and other negative allegations that were purportedly hurled against me, those false and slanderous charges were supposedly made to the LACBA sub-committee by confidential sources, and certainly raise the specter of sexism, to say the least. As is apparent from the Official Sample Ballot, I am the only female in the race for Office No. One, Judge of the Los Angeles Municipal Court. It certainly raises eyebrows that an attack of that nature would be leveled against the only woman in that race. I can tell you that I have received numerous calls on that issue alone, and the response from both men and women, particularly those who have witnessed my professional courtroom attire over the course of the last 17 years, is the same: outrage at the sexist and seemingly desperate nature of the comment."
I've never seen Roberts in court and don't know if her attire is unconventional. But I don't quite follow her argument that the questioning of her in connection with the allegation was "sexist."
Los Angeles Superior Court Rules, rule 8.2, which stems from County Bar guidelines, provides:
"Persons in the courtroom should not dress in a bizarre manner such as to be distracting to others of usual sensibilities. Counsel shall so instruct parties they represent, witnesses they call and persons accompanying them.
"Attorneys and court personnel should be dressed in accordance with current customs as to their business or work attire."
Uniform Rules of the Municipal Courts of Los Angeles County, rule 2.2(d), still applicable to the former municipal courts, is phrased identically.
These are rules applying to both sexes. If an allegation were made to the County Bar's Judicial Election Evaluations Committee that a candidate regularly violated these particular rules, or any court rule, the committee presumably would confront the candidate with the allegation. Roberts presents no basis for inferring sexism because it confronted her with this particular accusation.
It is difficult to see how the conduct of the subcommittee harmed her inasmuch as neither the subcommittee nor the full committee made any finding that the allegation was true and neither made any public mention of the matter. The only person who has publicly brought up the allegation of bizarre attire is Roberts.
A jpeg of Roberts in casual, but not unconventional, attire appears on her website at http://www.restmycase.com. The real reason to visit the site is the cuteness of the pooch on Roberts' lap.
Roberts is involved in animals' rights causes. When political consultant Fred Huebscher reacted to her boast that she would win the contest outright in the primary by pledging to donate $10,000 to charity if she did, Roberts expressed the hope that Huebscher would give the money to one of those causes.
In light of the County Bar's rating of her, the candidate has acknowledged the unlikelihood of bagging 50 percent of the votes plus one in the March 7 balloting.
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