Should We Judge the Judges?

judging-the-judges.gifOn Tuesday, June 3rd, Californians will go to the polls. Many will struggle over which candidates to select for the Superior Court Judge offices. Two weeks ago, I posted an article, “Judging the Judges.” In it, I said I’d get back to you before June 3rd.

In preparation for this post, I learned from Progressive Democrats of L.A. that retired judge Ralph Erickson who is a member of PDLA, spent hours conducting interviews and doing research on the candidates. He participated in the L.A. County Democratic Party endorsement committee. The committee endorsed:

Office No. 69 Harvey A. Silberman
Office No. 72 Hilleri Grossman Merritt
Office No. 82 Cynthia Loo
Office No. 84 Lori-Ann C. Jones
Office No. 94 C. Edward Mack
Office No. 95 Patricia D. Nieto
Office No. 119 Jared D. Moses
Office No. 123 Kathleen Blanchard
Office No. 125 James N. Bianco
Office No. 154 Rocky L. Crabb

Learning that a progressive, who is also a retired judge, was heavily involved in the endorsement process, gives me a greater sense of ease but I’m still not thrilled about the overall process of electing judges. And I hope to see a change one day. If the amount of feedback I received from my last article on this topic is any indication of the hopelessness felt by voters on this issue, then we need to question whether this process is really serving us or would it be just as effective to select judges based on the toss of a coin.

In a piece he entitled, “Why We Vote for Judges,” Jeremy Oberstein of laist.com argues that the act of voting for judges could be contributing to the problem of overcrowded prisons. According to Oberstein, “Judges, beholden to elections and hoping to avoid the perils of negative campaign attacks, seek out ways to toughen their stances on crime by sending offenders to jails and prisons that have skyrocketed our state and federal incarceration rates and further plunged state and federal governments into debt.”

I am very appreciative of the work done by the endorsement committee of the LACDP and will likely use their list when I go to vote on Tuesday.

But, gauging from the tremendous amount of feedback received from the last article on judges, I believe there are many who want to be heard on this issue. I invite anyone to comment on the overall process or on a particular judicial candidate. Any judicial candidates reading this are welcomed to post comments as well. To post your comment, please scroll to the bottom of this article and post it directly sharon-kyle.gifin the “Comments” field this will enable others to read your comment and respond to it.

Let’s see if we can get a dialogue going on these very important underreported campaign races.

– by Sharon Kyle

Other articles by Sharon:
24 May 2008 The Love of a Gay Man

About Sharon Kyle

Sharon Kyle, J.D. is the Publisher of the LA Progressive which she co-founded with her husband Dick Price. Ms. Kyle is an adjunct professor of law at Peoples College in Los Angeles. She sits on the board of the ACLU Pasadena/Foothills Chapter and is on the editorial board of the BlackCommentator.com. Photo courtesy Wadeva Images. www.wadevaimages.com

Comments

  1. Peter Eisenhardt says:

    Hi Sharon -

    Just got back from voting, and looked at this. Like you I was frustrated by how much effort I had to put into getting information about the candidates, but after a while I turned up the LWV and LACBA sites, both extremely helpful. With those in hand, and the links within those sites it was actually
    easier to get info about the candidates for judge than say about the democratic candidates for Congress in the 26th district. I was pleased to see that I agreed with most of the Judge Erickson/LACDP endorsements. But I found NO current information about Cynthia Matthews or Russ Warner.
    Presumably they don’t think they have a chance of beating incumbent Dreier so didn’t put in much effort. I didn’t even try to get info on the Democratic Party Central Committee candidates, and hence did not vote for any.

    It seems to me it should be a requirement of ballot candidates and measures to provide at least some minimal information about themselves.

    • Sharon Kyle says:

      Peter,

      You’ve characterized a problem that stems from the media (the fourth estate) falling down on its job to inform the public. One would think you’d be able to get the info needed to make an informed decision simply by tuning in to your local news provider — instead one is fed a steady stream of politically and socially irrelevant info about celebrities.

      Dick and I hope we are providing a valuable service. There are many sites like ours in cyberland. Let’s hope the powers that be don’t develop policies that will impact our ability to exchange info via the web.

      Thank you for accessing our site.

      Sharon

  2. stephen gary says:

    in the valley John Gutierrez (sp?) is running for position # 84 and is well qualified. He would be an agent for change with compassion…..I know as i am a workers comp attorney for the injured workers.

    He is a judge I’ve appeared before many times…He gives a damm about the people, and fairness..always..

    key to him is his compassion for people….
    He definitely is not a rubber stamp for corporate interests and insurance companies
    i feel this would benefit our system
    and im a bleeding heart liberal

  3. stephen gary says:

    in the valley John Gutierrez (sp?) is well qualified. He would be an agent for change with compassion…..I know as i am a workers comp attorney for the injured workers. He is a judge I’ve appeared before many times…He gives a damm about the people, and fairness..always..

  4. Patricia J. Barry says:

    VOTE FOR SINGER, OFFICE #4 ON TUES., JUNE 3, 2008.
    Singer has 19 years of experience in the law, was a defense civil litigator, is now a solo practitioner taking plaintiffs’ cases, and has re-registered as a democrat from being an independent. She is endorsed by NOW, San Fernando Valley Chapter, and Latino Bar Ass’n. She has done a lot of volunteer work with kids. She had appeared before Ralph Dau, the incumbent, and had won. She was so appalled at how he treated people in his courtroom she decided to run against him, although she is taking a big risk of judicial retaliation if she loses (legal culture assumes there will be judicial retaliation against attys for running against incumbent judges no matter how bad they are.) She was rated “qualified” by LA County Bar Ass’n. Democratic Party endorsed Dau but refused to interview Sydnee because she had not yet completed changing her registration. Guess who is checking out the candidates for judicial election? Some retired judge. Also, what kind of endorsement is Democratic Party’s of Dau if it is only along party lines and not on whether Sydnee might be better qualified than Dau if only because she has promised to be respectful and courteous towards all who appear in her courtroom? LA Times endorsed Dau but said according to “more than a few attorneys” that he is “autocratic” and “disrespectful”. (Apr. 21, 2008, Opinion Section). Metropolitan News Enterprise Apr. 29, 2008, in endorsing him said he is “arrogant and bullheaded “, “lacking in humility and ‘people skills’,” “Dau is hardly ‘Mr. Congeniality.’ There are colleagues who endorse him publicly but, in private conversation, ridicule him.” In earlier article, Feb. 19, 2008, by an attorney named Roger Grace, he said Dau’s courtroom conduct was “despicable”.

    I also researched cases on appeal where he was the trial judge or attorney for O’Melveny & Myers. Many of the cases were affirmed on appeal. I could not find one case in which he ruled for the “little guy” against the big corporation or government or employer except where employer sought to strike CA Labor Comm’r regulations on penalties on unpaid wages and overtime pay. He ruled for CA Labor Comm’r. He did make what I believed to be fair rulings in some other cases on appeal. However, these did not involve parties with power and money lopsided to one side (“Little Person” against big govt, employer, or corporation).

    Here are what I believe to be representative rulings from Dau:
    This article is from CounterPunch, included because it shows that the ruling was bad enough for Counterpunch to write about :

    1. Rights of Workers in LA City subordinate to constitutional rights of corporations per Dau (ruling Feb. 2008):
    Discriminating Against the Big Fish?
    Court Rules Against Grocery Workers

    By DAVID MACARAY

    On February 11, a decision was handed down by a Los Angeles County Superior Court that has the potential to negatively affect the lives of California grocery workers. The ruling overturned an ordinance (the Grocery Worker Retention Ordinance) passed in December 2005 by the LA city council requiring large grocery stores to retain the existing workforce for at least 90 days following the takeover of another store.

    To anyone who’s been paying attention to what’s been happening lately, the decision should come as no great surprise. From the family leave act to plant closure notification to pressuring the NLRB, Big Business has been challenging employee entitlements at every turn, gradually chipping away at what constitutes the workers’ core set of “rights.” It’s a shocking environment. Arguably, there hasn’t been this much naked hostility and aggression directed toward working people since the 1920s.

    Passed by an 11-2 vote of the Council, the GWRO was designed to provide a modicum of job security (continued health care and income) to workers and their families facing lay-off. Under the ordinance store employees had at least 3 months to figure out what their next step would be, should they be laid off as part of the change in ownership. After 90 days the new ownership retained the right to do as they wished-keep the existing workers, or get rid of them.

    The GWRO was supported and lobbied for by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, a pro-labor, non-profit organization committed to improving the wages and benefits of low-income workers in the city. The Alliance is the same organization that successfully fought to raise the minimum wage at hotels in proximity to LAX-a move, incidentally, that was upheld in a subsequent court challenge (It should be noted that the hotels have asked the California Supreme Court to review their case).

    In his ruling, County Superior Court Judge Ralph W. Dau declared the ordinance to be “unconstitutional” in that, one, it was in conflict with California food safety and food handler laws and, therefore, was superceded by the state’s Retail Food Code, and two, by applying only to stores with areas of 15,000 square feet or more, it arbitrarily discriminated against larger (rather than smaller) grocery stores.

    Judge Dau wrote, “The city has advanced no justification for treating establishments 15,000 square feet and under differently than larger stores.”

    Of course, the obvious argument is that targeting larger stores rather than smaller ones not only reflects a stark reality of the marketplace but appeals to common sense. Big fish eat smaller fish. Big stores gobble up smaller ones. Etc.

    To suggest that an ordinance designed to limit the manner in which grocery conglomerates devour smaller stores is “discriminatory” unless it also limits the manner in which smaller grocery stores devour the big ones seems to miss the point.

    Not surprisingly, the California Grocers Association (which represents the store owners and managers) praised the decision, going so far as to claim that since the GWRO was initially passed grocery store chains have more or less ceased to expand into the LA area. The Grocers Association depicted the grocery owners as paralyzed-traumatized, terrorized-by the specter of municipal government intrusion.

    It’s hard to believe that the prospect of having to keep some employees on the payroll during the transition period would be enough to torpedo a major business deal, but that’s what the Grocers Association claims.

    The good news is that, according to reports from the Alliance, it’s almost a certainty that the LA city council will appeal the Superior Court’s decision. While there’s no guarantee the decision will be overturned, it’s good to know the parties have no intention of giving up on it.

    David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and writer, was president and chief contract negotiator of the Assn. of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, Local 672, from 1989 to 2000. He can be reached at: dmacaray@earthlink.net

    2. Community organization trying to stop Billboard Blight not allowed to intervene in closed-door settlement between City Attorney’s Office and renegade billboard companies. Companies got to grandfather in many illegal billboards and to digitize billboards which cast such strong light that even blinds and shades cannot block it from shining into homes nearby. Dau ruled that the intervening organization could not show its members would suffer any harm and denied their motion to intervene. Dau lives in La Canada-Flintridge where I have never seen billboards when I visit Descanso Gardens located in that city. I have settlement agreement and I think city atty’s office caved and violated the public interest in doing so.

    Vista Media Group, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles, et al., Case No.BC 282832.

    3. Court granted anti-SLAPP motion of Defendants ABC, Amer. Broadcasting Companies, Inc., ABC Radio Network, Inc., KABC Am RAdio , Inc. holding that McIntyre’s statements on talk radio that school was a madrasa school, was training Aztec revolutionaries, that Aguilar was terrorist, separatist, and racist, other such statements, and that school should close were all opinions of McIntyre and touched on matter of public interest (tax supported charter schools) and so claims of school’s and Aguilar’s defamation were dismissed — even when school and Aguilar received death and bomb threats after McIntyre’s tirades were aired . Defendants now want Dau to award them $198,000 in fees and costs against the school and Aguilar. Plaintiffs have appealed.

    Academia Semillas del Pueblo and Aguilar v. McIntyre, et al., Case No. BC 369626, Mar. 10, 2008.

    Note that in June 2001 Dau held that Survivor Entertainment Group could maintain its defamation claim against Plaintiff Stacey Stillman for stating publicly that SEG had rigged the show to kick her off — a statement clearly implicating the public interest (rigging t.v. shows) and clearly her opinion.
    Stillman v. CBS Corp’n, et la., Case No BC 248733.

    Also, I can provide a legal analysis showing how Dau’s opinion in Academia is not sound and while we must be concerned about protecting free speech, Academia and Aguilar should have been allowed to sue McIntyre and the big media corporations for defamation.

    4. Dau held in 2003 that whistleblower forced into disability retirement by retaliatory acts taken against her by university officials when she reported fraud in procurement did not state claim for constructive termination (which means that employer made life of employee so miserable she was forced into retirement.). Plaintiff’s harassment so bad that not even her own supervisors would document her for discipline when Defendants asked them to do so. Dau was reversed on appeal and Plaintiff was able to reinstate her case.

    Colores v. Trustees of Calif. St Univer. Los Angeles (2003)

    5. Plaintiff went to jury and won a small verdict against real estate and escrow companies and an individual def. She sought atty fees per contract she had with Defendants which had a clause for fees to prevailing party if lawsuit filed and won. Dau denied them and Plaintiff had to go to court of appeals to get a reversal.
    KANGARLOU v. PROGRESSIVE TITLE CO., INC., 128 Cal.App.4th 1174 (2005)
    6. Dau denied class action certification in WAGE AND HOUR CLAIM CASE, plaintiffs took appeal, and court of appeals reversed Dau and ordered him to look at other cases published after his ruling, and then reconsider his ruling. Plaintiffs did try to strike him from case and lost that one. So, stuck with him.
    Burdusis v. Superior Court (Rent-A-Center, Inc.), B183034.

    It is time for Dau to go. Please allow us to inform the electorate about Dau and Singer.

    Also, the ruling elites are so afraid Singer might win, that Met-News Enterprise felt compelled to run another article on Dau . The article trashed Sydnee and implied that her housemate and she are lesbian when they are not. So, Met-News engaged in sexual orientation baiting, forcing Sydnee to look like she is distancing herself from gays and lesbians when she supports their cause if she states truthfully she and her house partner are not gay. That’s how scared these elites running our courts are. Here is a portion of the article on Dau:

    then-Gov. Gray Davis reportedly expressed privately a disinclination to appoint him to a vacant position on the court when the jurist’s name was submitted in 2000. News reports at the time cited negative reviews Dau had drawn as a result of his temperament.

    TEMPERAMENT IS VERY VERY IMPORTANT, AND TO DISMISS IT AS A NONISSUE IS
    DISINGENUOUS AND DANGEROUS. Anger and disrespect from the bench means authoritarianism, and king-can-do-no-wrong mentality, and will affect rulings, since those who treat those they believe are at a lower rank tend to be obsequious and bow before those more powerful than they. He lacks independence.

    Pat Barry, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY

  5. Tony Butka says:

    Thanks for the good work. I usually vote against all incumbents on the grounds that the criminal justice system is broken and dysfunctional. This time I’ll try the endorsements for a change, and we’ll see what happens :-)

  6. Had Kathleen Blanchard attempted to receive the SFV/NELA NOW Chapter’s endorsement I would have had to recuse myself from voting but not participating in our PAC process over that race. Blanchard believes that it is perfectly alright to interfere with the representation of indigent defendants by having their defense investigators and/or attorneys disqualified using invented evidence. She also cruelly abused former NAACP Southern California Legal Redress Chair Valerie Monroe by representing to the court that she had been reported to be making court appearances when in fact Valerie had been bed-ridden with uncontrollable spasms for many months.

    Allan Nadir is a decent and ethical choice for Office #123.

    For ID Only: Jan B. Tucker, Co-President, SFV/NELA NOW, Chief Civil Rts Investigator for California LULAC

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