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Judging the judges for June 3 election

Local Commentary

Posted: May 25, 2008 1:27 a.m.
Updated: July 26, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 
Hold on, Santa Clarita, there is another election on the horizon!

I was scanning over my ballot earlier this week thinking about whom I am voting for in the June 3 California Primary. Though it is considered by many a rather ho-hum nothing election, there is a great deal at stake in two weeks. Your participation in this upcoming election is really very important. First, the easy choices:

* U.S. Rep. 25th District Howard "Buck" McKeon ... YES.

* State Sen. 19th District Tony Strickland ... YES.

* State Assembly 38th District Cameron Smyth ... YES.

* County District Attorney Steve Cooley ... YES.

* County Supervisor of the 5th District Michael Antonovich ... YES.

Thanks, gentlemen, for a job well done. Keep up the great work.

The rest of this commentary is going to address the overcast and opaque sky of the non-partisan judicial elections. I have always puzzled by this no-name recognition list of judicial candidates. How will I cast my vote? I called my friend attorney Brian Koegle of Poole and Shaffery and asked him to point me in the right direction. Brian referred to me two Web sites:

www.judgevoterguide.com (a private site run by marketing executive Craig Huey)

www.cba.org (the official site of the Los Angeles County Bar Association)

After counting the actual number of judicial candidates (there are 30), I gave a serious second thought to what I was undertaking. Am I biting off more than I can chew? Nevertheless, I was determined and affirmed I was going to be an informed voter, and make every conceivable effort to know who these anonymous judicial candidates are. I am writing this commentary in hopes of helping you, the responsible voter, make an intelligent, clear, and informed choice for Judge of the Superior Court.

Mind-boggling facts
First, let me give you some facts that may boggle your mind.

The Judicial System in California is massive. There are more than 2,000 judicial officers in California, 22,000 court employees, hearing more than 9 million cases annually. The California Courts serve more than 37 million people. Los Angeles County has more than 450 judges up for re-election every six years. Commissioners and referees are appointed and number an additional 150. In Los Angeles County alone, the system is huge. There are more than 600 judges, commissioners, and referees serving the judicial needs of 9.5 million Californians, over 4,000 square miles. Whew!

My initial instinct was to ask these candidates where they stood on the issues: matters like the recent California Supreme Court decision on overturning the ban on gay marriage. Wisely so, judges are precluded from making any such public pronouncements by judicial ethics code. I would have to find another way to learn who these judges are.

I could check their Web sites. I did that. According to their Web sites, each judicial candidate was eminently qualified to be a sitting judge and proudly displayed various awards and recognitions. No, that wouldn't work. I would need to continue to persevere and dig. I would need to speak to the candidates, directly. I did that. Talking with the candidates was very helpful. I began to communicate in code. Strict Constructionist: Conservative. Judicial Activist: Liberal.

Go strict constructionist
I cannot stress more strongly the importance of electing judges who are Strict Constructionist, that is, who interpret law not legislate law. As you are keenly aware, the California Supreme Court in a 4-3 vote overturned the will of California citizens by negating Proposition 22 which defined marriage as a relationship between a man and woman. The Judicial Activist California Supreme Court by overturning the ban negated my vote on Prop. 22. That is flat out wrong!

Not to worry. The California Supreme Court justices are up for election every 12 years. You and I will have the opportunity to express our opinion when the four who voted to overturn the ban of Prop 22 run for election. Remember their names: Chief Justice Ronald George, Justice Joyce Kennard, Justice Kathryn Werdegar, and Justice Carlos Moreno will ask for your vote, in 2010.

Let's look at the non-partisan judicial elections. For sake of brevity, I will discuss races where there is more than one candidate running for office. There are a total of seven contested judicial races:

* JUDGE SUPERIOR COURT OFFICE 4: Ralph Dau, judge of the Superior Court, vs. Sydnee Singer, trial attorney

Though attorney Singer considers herself a Strict Constructionist, Dau rates slightly higher, and is a sitting judge. No registered complaints here. Dau is rated as exceptionally well qualified by the County Bar Association. I recommend Judge Ralph Dau.

* JUDGE SUPERIOR COURT OFFICE 69: Serena Raquel Murrillo, criminal prosecutor vs. Harvey A. Silberman, Superior Court commissioner

Both candidates were NOT rated by the County Bar Association. Judgevoterguide rated Prosecutor Murillo slightly higher than Commissioner Silberman. Mr. Silberman is a strong advocate for children and children's rights. I am voting for Serena Raquel Murillo.

* JUDGE SUPERIOR COURT OFFICE 72: Marc Allain Chomel, supervising district attorney criminal prosecutor vs. Hilleri Grossman-Merritt, criminal trial prosecutor vs. Steven A. Simons, consumer rights attorney

Candidate Grossman-Merritt rated Well Qualified by the Country Bar, and states plainly, "Judges are there to enforce the law, not rewrite it." Candidate Simons, a Constitutionalist, sees himself as a moderate. Prosecutor Chomel also rated well-qualified rises above his competition as a Strict Constructionist. I recommend Marc Chomel.

* JUDGE SUPERIOR COURT OFFICE 82: Mark Lee, criminal prosecutor/professor vs. Cynthia Loo, superior/juvenile court referee vs. Thomas Rubinson, criminal prosecutor

Any candidate on this slate would make an excellent Superior Court judge. Candidates Lee and Loo were rated Qualified by the Bar, Candidate Rubinson was rated Well Qualified. All are superbly competent. Very tough choice here. Commissioned Cynthia Loo, an East Lake Juvenile Court judge deals fairly and firmly with some of the County's toughest minors. Santa Clarita resident Mark Lee was rated highest as a Strict Constructionist by judgevoterguide. He is also endorsed by D.A. Cooley. I am voting for Mark Lee.

* JUDGE SUPERIOR COURT OFFICE 84: Pat Connolly, criminal gang prosecutor vs. John Gutierrez, administrative law judge, vs. Bob Henry, prosecutor deputy attorney-general, vs. Lori-Ann C. Jones, Superior Court commissioner

This is another very close, tough decision. There are two outstanding choices for Superior Court, Office 84. Voting for either Bob Henry or Pat Connolly is an excellent choice. Bob Henry rates highest as a Strict Constructionist, followed closely by Pat Connolly. DA Steve Cooley endorses Pat Connolly and Commissioner Lori Ann Jones. Based on the recommendation of judgevoterguide I would give my vote to Bob Henry.

* JUDGE SUPERIOR COURT OFFICE 94: Eduard R. Abele, criminal prosecutor vs. C. Edward Mack, criminal trial attorney, vs. Michael O'Gara, criminal prosecutor

Criminal Prosecutor Abele rates highest among all judicial candidates as a Strict Constructionist, Abele gets a strong endorsement from judgevoterguide. Both candidates O'Gara and Abele enjoy support from D.A. Cooley. O'Gara garners a Well-Qualified rating by the Bar as compared to a Qualified rating for Abele. Mr. Mack also rates Qualified by the Bar. I recommend Abele.

* JUDGE SUPERIOR COURT OFFICE 95: Patricia Nieto, Superior Court commissioner, vs. Lance R. Winters, criminal prosecutor

Commissioner Nieto is rated as a tepid Judicial Activist by judgevoterguide. Ms.Nieto also enjoys the support and endorsement of Los Angeles Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa; that raises a red flag. Lance Winters comes out of the Chief Justice John G. Roberts's school of thought, and states, "Judges and justices are servants of the law, not the other way around. Judges are like umpires. They make sure everybody plays by the rules." Prosecutor Lance E. Winters is hands down my choice for Superior Court Judge, Office 95.

* JUDGE SUPERIOR COURT OFFICE 119: Robert Davenport, retired lieutenant colonel vs. Jared R. Moses, criminal prosecutor, vs. Douglas Weitzman, criminal law attorney

Rates well qualified by the Bar, Jared Moses also is rated a Strict Constructionist. I am voting for Jared C. Moses.

* JUDGE SUPERIOR COURT OFFICE 123: Kathleen Blanchard, gang homicide prosecutor, vs. Allan A. Nadir, criminal gang prosecutor, vs. Richard A. Nixon, attorney-at-law

Despite his famous name, attorney Nixon (no relation to the former president) is rated Not Qualified by the Bar Association. Prosecutor Nadir rates slightly higher as a Strict Constructionist. But there is another story here: Kathleen Blanchard is a local product from the SCV. Ms. Blanchard also successfully prosecuted the Special Circumstances murder involving the stabbing death of a Signal employee five years back.

The jury convicted two of three suspects and those two are serving life without parole as we speak. The third defendant pled out to voluntary manslaughter. I am voting for Kathleen Blanchard for Superior Court Judge Office 123.

* JUDGE SUPERIOR COURT OFFICE 125: James N. Bianco, Superior Court commissioner, vs. Bill Johnson, international corporate lawyer

On face value, this decision seems like a slam dunk for Commissioner Bianco... No question Mr. Bianco is an excellent choice for Superior Court Judge and I believe Bianco would make an excellent judge.

However, there is a twist here. The notorious Los Angeles Times called candidate Johnson a racist. Coming from the Times, a charge like that is very much suspect. Maybe it's a cheap shot... The Times has certainly leveled its share of cheap shots at candidates it opposes. Nobody likes being called names and certainly not a pejorative one like racist. Judgevoterguide rates candidate Johnson very highly as a Strict Constructionist and was ready to endorse Johnson before the Times mess. Mr. Johnson denies he is a racist and takes his judicial role seriously. He chooses not to wade into the political interview arena. My e-mail communications with him do not detect any racist leanings. If confirmed for Judge of the Superior Court, candidate Johnson vows to be fair, balanced and hardworking. I believe him. I will vote for Bill Johnson for Judge of the Superior Court, Office 125.

* JUDGE SUPERIOR COURT OFFICE 154: Paul "Pablo" Bruguera, California deputy attorney-general, vs. Rocky L. Crabb, Superior Court commissioner, vs. Michael V. Jesic, criminal gang prosecutor

Candidate Bruguera was rated Not Qualified by the Bar, while candidates Crabb and Jesic garnered Well Qualified ratings. Criminal Prosecutor Jesic was rated highest as a Strict Constructionist, and was endorsed by judgevoterguide. D.A. Cooley also endorses Mr. Jesic. That's pretty good company. I plan to vote for Michael V. Jesic for Judge Superior Court Office 154.

The winning candidates will have to gather 50 percent plus one vote to be elected. Otherwise, there will be a run-off election in November. Upon election, the winning candidate will attend special training and take office, Jan. 5, 2009.

I will go to the ballot booth June 3 better informed than I was two weeks ago. I hope you will also go the polls informed, too.

Roger Gitlin is a Santa Clarita resident, teacher and Minuteman. He can be reached at ragitlin@aol.com. His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.

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