#82 Referee Cynthia Loo
#84 Commissioner Lori-Ann Jones
#154 Commissioner Rocky Crabb
#72 Dep DA Hilleri Grossman Merritt
shown here Lori Ann Jones(l) and Cynthia Loo(r)
These three judicial officers are sitting bench officers, doing the work of a judge, just as I was prior to my election as Superior Court Judge. Referees and commissioners were practicing lawyers with at least 10 years experience as a lawyer who went through a rigorous interview process and were then hired by the Superior Court and assigned to courtrooms that are not covered by judges. The interview process is very competitive. Often times there are 10 times as many applicants as there are positions.
Referees and commissioners are full-time judicial officers. They are often assigned to the most difficult assignments – juvenile, family, mental health, high volume arraignment courts. These are the assignments that are most demanding, and also viewed as the least desirable from the point of view of judges (too much hard work!) who get priority in the choice of assignments.
There are approximately 620 courtrooms in Los Angeles county — approximately 445 are staffed by judges, and 172 referee and commissioners filling courtroom assignments where there are no judges available.
In my view, all new judges should come up from the ranks of commissioners and referees, where it can be determined whether that person is fit to hold the title of judge. Each of the commissioners and referees running for a judge seat, has a proven record of fitness on the bench. It is unfortunate that there is no official path from referee or commissioner to judge – the judicial officer must either run for election or seek appointment by the governor. They are no better situated to succeed in their quest to become a judge than an attorney who has no bench experience. Many referees and commissioners never get the opportunity to become a judge, either because they may be overlooked by the governor for a judicial appointment (“law and order” prosecutor appointments are politically expedient), and may not have the stomach to engage in a county-wide election, which takes an inordinate amount of time and money.
As to the other races, of fices #72 and #94, there is no referee or commissioner running.
But if you choose to vote in each of these races where there is no commissioner or referee running, here are the better candidates among the attorneys running for judge:
#72 Deputy DA Hilleri Grossman Merritt. Even if you would rather vote for a “consumer rights attorney,” than a “Criminal Trial Prosecutor,” do not pick the “consumer rights attorney” in this race. At candidate forums I attended, I heard “Consumer Rights Attorney” Steven Simons twice start off his campaign pitch by making a reference to his “church.” E.g. – “good evening everyone, this audience looks like my church on Sunday morning,” or something else geared to bring home the point that he is a church-going man. Not something I find relevant to judicial races, and a bit scary that he thinks it does. Hilleri Grossman is the better of these two; my first choice in this race was another candidate who was eliminated in the primary election and unfortunately he didn’t make it to this runoff.
#94 Deputy Public Defender C. Edward Mack. I don’t know much about Deputy DA Michael O’Gara, but I have seen a lot of C. Edward Mack. He is determined to win a judicial position. He is a veteran of at least 3 other judicial elections which he lost, but has not given up the fight. He impresses me with his dedication to serving the community through his sought after position as a judge. His stated goals are: “To provide justice to all litigants, no matter what background and to run my courtroom with expediency and dignity, exemplifying efficiency; Establish a mental health court/diversion program; Establish a juvenile court “Early Prevention/Parental Intervention program to stop gang killings, violence and other gang crimes.”
Deputy DA O’Gara’s goals are: “To ensure Justice is served in our County. To ensure a fair hearing for all parties in court. To ensure that violent offenders are off our streets.”
I give credit to C. Edward Mack for suggesting solutions to the problems which lead many to commit crimes. Deputy DA O’Gara merely wants to lock up offenders.
Whatever you may think about judicial elections, they afford an opportunity to voters to diversify the bench. The governor appoints mostly former prosecutors to the bench, and although our present governor has a better track record of appointing judges of different cultural, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, the bench still strongly lags behind the demographics in LA County. Each election cycle offers the opportunity to diversify the bench by choosing people of color, or candidates who have backgrounds other than as prosecutors. Don’t misunderstand me, prosecutors make good judges, but not every judge should be a former prosecutor. We need judges with different backgrounds, different cultural experiences, and varied perspectives. A diverse bench instills public confidence in our judicial system. A diverse bench promotes opportunities for judges to benefit from someone else’s experience and the opportunity to see things through a different lens.
For further information about the candidates, follow the link to the League of Women Voters’ site.
Judge Donna Quigley Groman