Metropolitan News-Enterprise
March 9, 2000
Page 8

2000: a Year of the Woman, and Not the 'Professor'

Yesterday morning's unofficial final results in the county's judicial elections showed that being a woman was more of a vote-drawing factor than being a supposed "professor." And, as always, being a prosecutor proved an election plus.

There were nine Superior Court contests on Tuesday's ballots. Eight of them, however, started out as municipal court contests and remained on the ballots that way, even after the municipal courts were swallowed up by the Superior Court.

This was a year of the woman in judicial elections in the county. The only woman to fare poorly at the polls was Susan Borges, whose loss in a Los Angeles Municipal Court race was predictable at the outset. She staged an unfunded campaign against an incumbent, Richard Rico, and had no campaign issue—in fact, she had no noticeable campaign.

In the Inglewood Municipal Court race, a victory by a woman was a certainty; both candidates are women.

In other races in which there was a female contestant:

•Deputy District Attorney Katherine Mader won election outright to the only Superior Court seat voted on countywide, toppling two male rivals.

•Attorney Maria Vargas-Rodriguez came in first in an Alhambra Municipal Court race, with the incumbent, John Martinez trailing her, and another male coming in third.

•While incumbency was not enough of a factor to catapult Martinez to victory, the female incumbent in an Antelope Municipal Court race, Pamela Rogers, did prevail over two male challengers. She did so despite the onus of having been reprimanded by the Commission on Judicial Performance and having incurred negative publicity in connection with her erstwhile drug problem.

•Sole practitioner Vicki Roberts made it into a run-off in a Los Angeles Municipal Court contest for an open seat. Roberts had nothing going for her, whatsoever, from a political standpoint, other than being the only woman in a six-person race. The candidate filed a "short form" with the Registrar-Recorder's Office in which she pledged to spend no more than $1,000 (exclusive of the filing fee and cost of a candidate statement). Despite a virtually non-existent campaign, a "not qualified" rating from the Los Angeles County Bar Assn., and negative publicity in the Los Angeles Times in connection with her ill-fated effort to gain an order restraining the County Bar from releasing its evaluations, Roberts came in second. In a close election (in which she bobbed up and down through the night between second and third place), Roberts wound up with 20.71 percent of the vote, behind Deputy District Attorney David M. Mintz, who bagged 21.08 percent.

By contrast, the "professor" designation did not prove to be of so much significance as the candidates who utilized that title apparently anticipated.

•Douglas Carnahan ran as a "Court Commissioner/Professor." He's actually not a professor; he's a once-a-week lecturer at a community college, but Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Yaffe spurned Mader's writ petition challenging the ballot designation. It didn't matter. Mader drew 56.27 percent of the vote and Carnahan captured only 24.29 percent.

There were, of course, factors in the race other than Mader's gender and Carnahan's link (or illusion of a link) to academia. Mader had three other significant advantages: name recognition, having served as inspector general of the Los Angeles Police Department; the ballot as a "Criminal Prosecutor"; and an endorsement by the Los Angeles Times. Carnahan, on the other hand, had two big plusses: he had a candidate statement in the Voters' Pamphlet while Mader did not, and he was represented by Cerrell Associates, Inc., whose expertise in judicial elections dwarfs that of Mader's consultant, Fred Heubscher. At least it can be observed that Carnahan's pretense of being a "professor" was not enough to get him into a run-off.

•Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner John Slawson, also a once-a-week lecturer at a junior college, claimed in his candidate statement that he is a "law professor." That bit of deception was not enough to put his candidacy across in the race for the Los Angeles Municipal Court open seat. Slawson ran fifth in a field of six candidates, coming in ahead of former disbarred lawyer Ron Silverton.

•Larry Layton, listed on the ballot in the former Antelope Judicial District as an "Actor/Attorney/ Professor" came in last in the contest won by Rogers. (Layton's reference to being a "professor" is possibly in compliance with the Election Code provision which restricts designations to a candidate's "principal" pursuits; he teaches law classes to seven students on weekends, comprising the entire faculty of his law school.)

On the other hand, three candidates whose ballot designations referred to teaching at institutions of higher education did well in balloting. Vargas-Rodriguez listed herself as an "Attorney/Law Professor." Mintz was billed as a "Criminal Prosecutor/Professor." And Richard Stone attained victory over three opponents in the race for a Beverly Hills Municipal Court open seat, running as a "Prosecutor/University Instructor." It cannot be said that the references to teaching activities were ineffective. However, Vargas-Rodriguez had the additional advantages of being a woman, and being a challenger to an incumbent who has detractors and who engaged in little campaigning. Mintz and Stone had potent designations as prosecutors. Mintz had the additional benefit of the Times endorsement (which is meaningful in countywide races and in the Los Angeles Judicial District, though not so significant in outlying districts). And Stone has the same name as his father, a former Beverly Hills mayor, and was on numerous slates.

It might be that false readings were taken of campaigns in which purported "professors" prevailed. Patrick B. Murphy started the trend in 1992. Then an obscure lawyer, he ran as an "Attorney/Law Professor," toppling Abraham Aponte Khan as a judge of the Citrus Municipal Court. While the title of "Law Professor" did lend this once-a-week teacher credibility, the election victory was probably tied far more to his "electable" name contrasted with that of Khan, whose name sounded Middle Eastern. At the time, the Gulf War was in progress.

Then-Assemblyman Terry Friedman copied Murphy' technique six years ago; he ran as a "Law Professor/Lawmaker." The Third District Court of Appeal allowed the designation even though he had been only an "adjunct professor" and had not taught a class within the past year. A statute limits designations to principal activities within one year preceding the filing. (Within the previous year, the appeals panel observed in an outrageous result-oriented decision, Friedman had graded papers.) Although ballot designations are highly significant factors in judicial elections given the general ignorance on the part of the public concerning the candidates' respective qualifications, it might be that Friedman's phony designation was not the major reason he won. Armed with a $400,000 budget, largely derived from Democratic officeholders' surplus campaign funds, Friedman outspent his rival, attorney John Moriarity. The Times endorsed Friedman. Too, as an assemblyman, he had significant name recognition.

There were five judicial races this year in which a prosecutor ran. In all of those races, the prosecutor came in first.

As noted, Mader and Stone won outright; Mintz faces a run-off with Roberts. In Inglewood, Patricia Titus, identified on the ballot as a "Criminal Prosecutor," won over Deborah Christian, listed as a "Commissioner Municipal Court." The victory came for Titus despite Christian having a heftier financed campaign and the endorsement of the Times.

In Antelope, Christopher G. Estes, labelled a "Deputy District Attorney," outpolled David Bianchi, a "Family Law Attorney."

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