Judging the Judges
Here we go again. I just received my "Official Sample Ballot" in the mail. I open it and scan each page. I see the list of candidates running for governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, controller, treasurer, and so on. I know, without any doubt who I will be casting my vote for in all of the races except one. Which one?. . . You guessed it. THE JUDGES!!!!
When I get to the section of the sample ballot and count the number of candidates running, I find 21 names. 20 of these people I know nothing about. Zilch, zero, nil, never remember hearing of them. One, Alan Schneider, spoke at a meeting I attended during the primary season. He then had dinner with a bunch of us after the meeting was over. To be honest, I almost felt like crying. It just shouldn't be this hard.
How in the world does the average voter know which candidate will make the best judge? Do they get a chance to have dinner with them? How many voters can go to candidate forums?
Every election cycle, we are asked to vote for judicial candidates few of us have heard of for offices that few of us know very much about. Yet these offices carry tremendous power. Studies have shown that the average voter goes to the polls with little to no information on judicial races. Some skip that portion of the ballot. Others select a candidate on the basis of the candidate's name -- still others use gender or assumed ethnicity to decide.
For the past few years, I have gone to judicial candidate endorsement meetings. In this venue, usually a community center or some other public space, the judicial candidates show up and make a stump speech. The ones I've attended give each candidate about a minute to tell the voters why they should vote for him or her and then they take another minute or two for questions. I've got to be honest here, I find this process to be a waste of time -- for the voter. The candidate, on the other hand, gets an opportunity to get endorsed by the organization they are pitching to. That endorsement is then added to a list of endorsements that will appear on the candidate's website, mailers, fliers, etc.
The candidates arrive, deliver their stump speeches, wait for the votes to be tallied, listen to see if they have been endorsed, and then leave. The information they present is little more than what is on their website or the other sites that I link to below. Most of the time, not all candidates show up. Some candidates will send a surrogate to speak on their behalf. Still others don't send anyone. In that case, they are unlikely to get endorsed. To say the process is flawed is an understatement. The candidate with the most energy and the deepest pockets is in a better position to be elected regardless of their qualifications.
To arm the voter with more information, the Los Angeles County Bar Association established a Judicial Election Evaluations Committee whose purpose is to evaluate candidates running for contested judicial elections in Los Angeles County. The Bar Association rates each judicial candidate and makes their rating available to the public on the LA County Bar website. This is worth reviewing before you go to the polls. Their ratings can be found here.
One of the most comprehensive sources of information can be found on the League of Women’s Voters site. This site is user friendly and packed with information. The League of Women Voters site can be found here.
Superior Court Judges endorsed by the Los Angeles County Democratic Party
Office No. 28 ------- Mark K. Ameli
Office No. 117 ------ Alan Schneider
The Los Angeles Times wrote a piece on October 1, 2010 covering the judicial race including endorsements.
Tom Hall, a regular contributor to the LA Progressive told me about this site -- April Halprin Wayland. Check it out. She puts a lot of effort into it.
An LA Progressive reader told me about the Metropolitan News Enterprise. This is a daily publication that features articles on law and the courts, government, politics, business and health.
One of my dreams is to make the LA Progressive the "go to" place for progressives needing information on candidates. Please feel free to recommend other sites in the comments section of this article.
-- By Sharon Kyle