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It's a secret in the judicial system that Family Law is the ugly stepchild of the law. "No one" wants to be a Family Law judge anymore than anyone wants to change diapers.

family law

Listening to poor parents squabble about who is responsible for each child raising expense just isn't as legally fulfilling as sitting as a judge over high-paid lawyers arguing nuanced points of legal grammar in a corporate merger, or contract dispute involving millions, or even billions, of dollars. Judging whether to blame two- (or three-) job parents or underpaid school teachers for a child's developmental problems can't carry the same cachet as imposing excessive prison sentences on such children once their problems lead them to adult criminal court.

Our ministers deliver long speeches and sermons about the importance of "family values". Our politicians and "conservative" pundits speak endlessly about "personal responsibility." But when it comes down to the reality of providing legal services and judicial attention to the families who do the work to keep our stores and infrastructure running, and our restaurants serving, and our gardens flourishing, we turn away.

We care as little about the legal health of society's most troubled families as we do for the medical health of society's most disabled and needy.

Judges have a seniority system, like many other jobs. Someone newly appointed as a judge will start out by sitting on traffic ticket assignment, to learn the basics of how a courtroom functions. From traffic court, a new judge will be moved to a Family Law court. They will stay there for two or three years, until they have the seniority to ask for a "better" assignment - civil, or criminal, or probate.

(New Judges with sufficient political connections can avoid the Family Court assignment altogether, and be placed in a more desirable position.)

Generally, this official contempt for Family Law and for using the best judges to provide judicious, insightful decisions that will affect the future of today's children, and therefore, of the wellbeing of our entire society, is beyond the control of everyday citizens, like the readers of LA Progressive. But there are occasional exceptions to the general rule, and judicial elections are the main opportunities voters have to improve the judicial system.

The most prominent feature of judicial elections is the number of prosecutors who run to become judges. They do their time as prosecutors, until their pensions are locked in. Then they apply for judgeships, where they can start building a second, even more lucrative pension, while drawing a salary with benefits, including the full, high-quality healthcare that many people appearing in their courts can only dream about.

In every judicial election, there are other candidates who might make real differences. Bar associations routinely evaluate judicial candidates, ranking them as qualified, unqualified, or well qualified. Some even reach the exalted rank of exceptionally well qualified. But these ranking generally reflect the evaluation of how well the candidate has performed in "respectable" legal work, like representing corporations, or prosecuting low income children to put them into prison as punishment for having poor upbringing, poor educations and poor prospects for the future.

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I am not aware of any judicial evaluation that ranks judicial candidates on their knowledge of Family Law, or their understanding of the complex dynamics that impact families or the children caught up in their parents' divorces. In our legal system, children are not "parties" to their parents' divorces or other legal fights. A couple might end up in court over domestic violence claims. But the children, even if they are domestic violence victims, will not be "parties" to their parents' legal actions.

The California Family Code provides that a judge sitting on a divorce case must always make "the best interests of the child(ren)" the most important consideration for the Court. But when children are not "parties" to a case, and when there is no time to consider, or even learn about the needs and developmental details of children in cases, the Family Code requirement becomes a hypocritical joke on the population.

In the June 5th election, this coming Tuesday, we see an opportunity to improve the system, even if in only a slight degree. Two of the candidates for judicial office actually practiced Family Law when they were attorneys. They were then selected by other judges to be "Court Commissioners," which is an archaic term for a person who serves as a judge, but without a judge's full powers. Both of the candidates have been sitting as Court Commissioners in Family Law court assignments. Both are now seeking VOTER approval to be promoted to full Judge status.

These two judicial candidates, A. Veronica Sauceda, for Superior Court Office #4, and Armando Duron, for Superior Court Office #146, have experience practicing Family Law and then sitting as Family Court judicial officers. Each of them brings decades of experience dealing with the real, everyday problems of families, and the way families end up in Court.

These two judicial candidates are the only candidates on the entire ballot who have experience with Family Law. Giving both of them the chance to continue using that experience to deal with the complex issues when families and children arrive in the courtroom will benefit not only the families involved, but rather the entire society that will benefit from better, more informed judicial decisionmaking.

The Courts of our legal system are OURS. Our tax dollars pay for them. They exist to protect our legal rights (and responsibilities). In this election, each voter has the opportunity to improve the judicial system by providing two better judges for the Family Law Courts. This will impact families and the children who will define our society's future.

At the same time, voters should look at voter guides to see what judicial candidates say about themselves. Any candidate who self-identifies as a "prosecutor" is trying to exploit public fears about "crime." Prosecutors who are "supported by law enforcement" are those who will continue the tradition of ruling that police officers are never at fault when they gun down unarmed civilians.

We have decades of experience electing judges who promise harsh sentences. We pay far too much of our state budget to maintain overcrowded prisons and to build new ones, while prosecutors looking to double dip the pension system latch on to the ever popular promise that they will make us "safer" by locking more of us up. It hasn't worked for any society in the past, and hasn't worked for our society.

In the long run, we will all be safer if we provide families in crisis with better judges to help them into situations where they raise their children, our society's future leaders and voters, better. A. Veronica Saucedo, office #4, and Armando Duron, office #146, are judges who will deliver real benefits today and into the future.

Tom Hall

Tom Hall

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