By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Prosecutor Carol Najeraisn’t our pick, but she’s the best-known prosecutor running for judge this year, having successfully prosecuted the Menendez brothers, the Wonderland murders and the only successful part of the Reginald Denny–beating trial. She also helped launch the hate-crimes unit. And she’s not coy: "We need qualified Hispanic women because we are so underrepresented on the bench." The Bar Association rated her only "qualified," so she appealed, which she is allowed to do. Bad move. On appeal, she got downgraded to "not qualified," and no one is saying why. She seems to think it’s because her appeal panel included prominent defense lawyers she’s offended or beaten over the years. One disagreement had to do with her attempt to have old case files destroyed to free up storage space. The move drew ire because the files would be needed to review these cases for potential misconduct. One attorney whom Najera blames for her rating is Leslie Abramson, who defended the Menendez brothers. A MetNews story, which didn’t print the profanity, quoted Abramson, who actually said, "She flatters herself if she thinks I give a shit."P. Michael Erwin and Mitchell W. Roth also are rated as "not qualified." No argument here. Erwin’s an attorney in the state Department of Industrial Relations, a workers’-comp unit that theoretically is permitted under some law to prosecute some kinds of cases. But it never has. So his claim of being a prosecutor is a reach. Roth devoted much of his time at a candidates forum denigrating the Bar Association rating process.
Office 72David S. Wesley
Judge Wesley clearly deserves reelection. He faces a challenge only because of a notorious Memorial Day incident last year. Wesley was angry that D.A. Cooley’s prosecutors acted like they owned the court, taking their own sweet time to present criminal defendants for arraignment, then holding court employees past closing time to process their cases, forcing the court to pay overtime to clerks, bailiffs, etc.
So Wesley took action on the day before the Memorial Day weekend, and some commissioners interpreted his angry memo as meaning that he should let suspects go free if not brought in for arraignment by closing time at 4:30. So he did, and one of these suspects (allegedly) killed someone. The Association of Deputy District Attorneys took out a newspaper ad to persuade people to run against Wesley and two other judges. But D.A. Cooley, for one, later endorsed Wesley and appeared at his fundraiser. The Bar Association rates him "well qualified."
His less qualified challengers — according to our evaluation and the Bar Association ratings — include prosecutor Daniel Lee Bershin, police sergeant Kevin Burke and "crime victim advocate" Herbert R. Lapin.
Office 95Dan Thomas Oki Judge Oki, rated "well qualified" by the Bar Association, is being challenged for the same reason as Wesley. He was in charge of criminal courts during the Memorial Day incident. The controversy has already led him to withdraw his bid for assistant presiding judge, which could have led to his becoming the Superior Court’s most powerful judge in two years’ time. He was the insider’s insider.
It could be argued that Oki, as the supervising judge of the criminal division, really did have control over whether suspects were released, whereas Wesley was simply sending a memo to underlings. If this makes you anti-Oki, prosecutor Marc Debbaudtalso rates as "well qualified." He prosecuted the Hawthorne rapist and the USC rapist.
Two candidates rated as "not qualified" are prosecutor Hilary Anne Rhonanand Attorney Eugene M. Salute. Rhonan, at a campaign forum, said, "Public safety will always be number one in my court." Most judges would prefer that justice be number one, as required by law. But no one can accuse her of being boring. She’s worked as a counselor in methadone clinic, as a nuclear medicine technologist, and as a coast-to-coast driver of an 18-wheeler. Tried unsuccessfully to get herself declared indigent, so she could get a free ballot statement. Salute didn’t bother to show up at the candidates forum. He also tried and failed to get himself declared indigent.
Office 111Stella Owens-Murrell
The main problem with Judge Chesley McKay Jr. is that he appears to be too ill to serve. He’s been on disability leave for several months, and for some time refused to answer questions from reporters. Now, he’s released a statement in which he acknowledges grave health problems. He had a brain tumor removed in 2001 and then was diagnosed with severe heart failure. Somehow, he returned to work for a while in 2003, before doctors determined that he’d suffered extensive permanent heart damage. "It does not appear that my condition will improve," he noted in the release. He’s been rated "well qualified" in the past, but did not participate in the Bar Association process, which, along with his physical condition, would explain his current "not qualified" rating.
McKay has been known as a no-nonsense, evenhanded judge, but he’s taking a position that we find difficult to support. He argues that by running against him, his opponent has somehow wrongly attempted "to take advantage of my misfortune." He urges voters to re-elect him and "let Governor Schwarzenegger appoint my successor," presumably after he resigns or dies.