Democratic Presidential Nominee
In the past, the Weekly has sometimes endorsed candidates out of support for their principles — electability (or common sense) be damned. This year is different. In 2004 our top priority is defeating George W. Bush. And so, while many of us admire the progressive values of Dennis Kucinich and honor the passion of still-on-the-ballot Howard Dean (who gave the invertebrate Democratic Party a spine implant), our choice comes down to the front-runners: Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and North Carolina Senator John Edwards. Both are serious men who would make strong presidents. Both currently run ahead of Bush in the polls. And though both proved distressingly weak in the face of the Iraq War Resolution (changing their minds only after that invasion produced, in The Daily Show’s great phrase, a “Mess O’ Potamia”), we feel confident of one thing: As president, neither would have waged a pre-emptive war on Iraq after lying about the reasons for doing so.
L.A. Weekly’s recommendations for state and county races and ballot measures.
Kerry is, in many ways, the stronger candidate. He certainly has a longer, more liberal record than Edwards. His health-care plan is more expansive, and unlike Edwards, he opposes the death penalty (Kerry would, however, make an exception for terrorists; Edwards believes the death penalty is “the most fitting punishment for the most heinous crimes” but supports reforms “to ensure that defendants receive fair trials” and sponsored the Innocence Protection Act, allowing federal defendants to apply for DNA testing). More important, in an election that will likely turn on national security, Kerry has a deeper understanding of foreign policy and, as a Vietnam War hero, a stronger résumé. Although, like everyone else, we wish he’d stop saying, “Bring it on,” we take his point: Having served bravely in a war that the president ducked, he will be hard for Republican smear artists to tar as a coward, pushover or traitor. So what is our reservation about Kerry? Too often he is a sententious Brahmin whose fondness for maundering “nuance” looks suspiciously like hedging. While he is sometimes good on the stump (he shone in Iowa and New Hampshire), he’s more frequently the politician you saw claiming victory in Wisconsin: The moment Kerry began his monotonous soliloquy, the room turned gray. One had unhappy flashbacks to Al Gore.
Which brings us to Edwards. If Kerry has better credentials, Edwards is undeniably the better campaigner. Sunny, engaged, energetic — he’s a natural. This isn’t simply a matter of “likability” (although Edwards possesses it) but of knowing how to present ideas to the public. And though he’s no revolutionary, Edwards has been campaigning to the left of Kerry. A crackerjack trial lawyer, he has no peer at showing how Bush presides over “two Americas” — one for the privileged, the other for the rest of us — and at explaining clearly how the administration favors “wealth not work.” Instead of talking about the Clintonian “forgotten middle class” he addresses the poor — 35 million Americans and counting. Plus, Edwards consistently confronts the issue of racism. Miraculously, he does all this while exuding optimism. Even finishing second in Wisconsin, Edwards was alluring; his “objects in the mirror” line only underscored Kerry’s drabness.
John Edwards is the candidate we want to see more of — the one who deserves more exposure on the national stage. And that is why we urge you to vote for him. In such a crucial election, we want to make sure that George W. Bush faces the strongest possible opponent, and the best way to assure this is by keeping the race going a few weeks longer. Although we fully expect that the eventual winner will be Kerry — and will strongly support him should he be nominated — only good can come from keeping Edwards’ candidacy alive. Consider that early in the race Kerry was thought the worst of all the major democratic candidates among fair-trade activists, but after pressure first from Howard Dean and now from Edwards — who was against NAFTA as early as 1995 — Kerry has moved his position closer to the fair-trade, pro-labor left. Edwards will force Kerry to be sharper (he’s best when challenged), keep the newscasts filled with the pair’s criticism of Bush, and at the very least, give America a deeper sense of Edwards — helping to make him a national figure that Kerry could use to brighten the Democratic ticket. And if Edwards just happens to pull out the nomination, we’ll endorse him again this November.
LOS ANGELES COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY
CAREER PROSECUTOR STEVE COOLEY was not your typical law-and-order Republican when he defeated incumbent Gil Garcetti four years ago. To his credit, he bucked fellow Republicans (and Democrat Garcetti) with a more reasonable interpretation of California’s three-strikes law. Cooley said he would soften office policy by not pursuing 25-years-to-life sentences for nonviolent crimes. He proved as good as his word.
Unfortunately, he has disappointed in too many other ways, most notably his handling of the Rampart police scandal. After campaigning on Rampart, he seemed, once in office, determined to wrap up the investigation as quickly as possible, keeping its scope frustratingly narrow.
Granted, many of these police-corruption cases had statute-of-limitations issues and problematic witnesses (because many of the alleged victims were gang members). And on the plus side, Cooley improved the methodology of the Rampart probe by insisting on written dispositions of outstanding cases, which were then reviewed by senior managers. He also established protocols that will govern the handling of alleged police misconduct in the future. That’s a real and helpful incremental step.
But Cooley simply misled voters into thinking that something more fundamentally sweeping would occur if we entrusted Rampart to him. We had a right to expect more. For one thing, Cooley never sufficiently looked into potential corruption in other divisions. And to all appearances, his office failed to pursue obvious leads turned up by reporters at both the Weekly and the Los Angeles Times. His administration implicitly undermines the imperative of reforming police culture when it issues press releases referring to the “so-called Rampart scandal.” Cooley’s tepidness on Rampart alone would justify a non-endorsement.
But there’s more. Though an able prosecutor, Cooley learned too well but none too wisely from the troubles of Garcetti with the O.J. Simpson case and its like. Apparently, Cooley deduced that tough prosecutions are to be avoided when possible. At other times, Cooley seemed content to win a small conviction — as against the developer of Newhall Ranch, when a major prosecution was called for.
All in all, Cooley appears reluctant to take on not only big developers but also powerful political players, including Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger — Cooley wanted no part of an investigation into groping allegations. And though Garcetti was overly political, Cooley can be nonpolitical to a fault. He’s just temperamentally unsuited to using his office’s bully pulpit to seek helpful legislation or funding in either Sacramento or Washington.
Other than Rampart, Cooley’s main campaign pledge was to go after those responsible for the Belmont Learning Complex debacle — the country’s most expensive and still-unfinished high school construction project. The upshot of the Belmont probe — zero prosecutions — is difficult to assess; the tortured project embodied a challenging, nuanced set of facts, replete with statute-of-limitations problems and the conundrum of determining when bad decisions, profiteering and ethical transgressions rise to the level of criminal violations.
It’s how Cooley managed the Belmont investigation that is most disturbing. The D.A. presided awkwardly over a task force of prosecutors, investigators and outside consultants who waged war among themselves over whether crimes were committed. Cooley then sat on his office’s Belmont report until, it appears, a peripheral L.A. Times story flushed it out. It looks like Cooley was stalling because he feared political fallout over the report would haunt him. Such cautiousness is textbook Cooley, but not the sort of calculation we can endorse.
Yet we’re also not comfortable endorsing any of Cooley’s challengers. We’re nonplussed, in fact, at the lack of an “A-team” opponent from the Democrats or anyone else:
Nick Pacheco: Pacheco, a former elected official who says he’s also counting on his Spanish surname to attract votes, has the best chance of making a runoff. As a D.A., says Pacheco, he’d be in the mold of L.A. City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, both of whom have law degrees but have deeper résumés as politicos.
Pacheco worked as a prosecutor for about four years, before he won election to the L.A. City Council. On the council, he showed a workmanlike competence. Then he was ousted last year, after one term, by the more charismatic, more visionary Antonio Villaraigosa.
Okay, that was a bad break for Pacheco, but it’s no reason to make him D.A. Especially because Pacheco’s background includes a too-close-for-comfort association with dirty campaign tricks. Pacheco, who speaks persuasively of his altar-boy sensibilities, denies any wrongdoing. He points out that no one has ever proved his personal involvement in a smear campaign. But they did involve his political allies, his supporters and his senior staff.
In addition, as a council member, Pacheco awarded city grants to a nonprofit that operated out of the same address as a group that performed “independent” campaign work for him. In one instance, the amount of a city grant to the nonprofit almost exactly matched the amount of money the political organization said it intended to spend on campaign work. Just a coincidence, said organizers. No charges were brought, so once again, there was no proven illegal activity.
Overall, however, Pacheco seems a poor ethical fit for the D.A.’s job, an opinion that’s shared by a handful of prosecutors we polled on the matter. Moreover, his intellectual investment in the race is not compelling. His last-minute candidacy seems based mainly on the notion that he’s probably got the best shot at pushing Cooley into a runoff.
Roger Carrick: A private attorney who specializes in environmental law, Carrick brings with him an impressively wide-ranging background, except that it’s almost bereft of actual prosecutorial experience. We like many of his ideas, such as his desire to focus on the entire life cycle of a gun to prosecute its makers, sellers and owners — at every possible opportunity whenever laws have been violated. Carrick’s politics are decidedly more progressive than Cooley’s, and his thinking more intellectually expansive. The eloquent Carrick wouldn’t hesitate to use the bully pulpit of the office, for example, to lobby Washington and Sacramento for more funding.
But in the end, we’re not persuaded that Carrick, also a last-minute entry, is up to the prosecutor part of the chief prosecutor’s job. And we worry about his ability to manage an office of prosecutors. Cooley made Carrick part of his Belmont task force because of Carrick’s background in environmental law and also because of his participation in the school district’s internal Belmont investigation. At the D.A.’s Office, however, Carrick hardly covered himself with glory. He now blames Cooley for the lack of prosecutions, though Cooley dearly wanted a Belmont prosecution to show for his campaign promise. After he left the Belmont task force, Carrick, as a private attorney, initiated a civil lawsuit over Belmont, which was dismissed. Carrick is appealing that dismissal.
Tony Patchett: Patchett combines much of Carrick’s progressivism with a career of experience in the D.A.’s Office — as the D.A.’s personal driver, as an office investigator and finally as a prosecutor until his retirement in the mid-1990s. His experience in prosecuting environmental crimes and his desire to go after major polluters and big players of all sorts add to an appealing package.
Yet when Cooley brought Patchett back to head the Belmont task force, the results were unimpressive at best. Patchett wanted to indict the lot of Belmont participants for grand theft and blames Cooley for the lack of prosecutions. He also complains that he’d have accomplished more except that his three top prosecutors were, respectively, sick, off-kilter and obsessed with playing basketball. But he had chosen them personally for this task force; they were his former colleagues in the environmental unit.
Rightly or wrongly, most of the staff simply disagreed with Patchett’s interpretation of the Belmont case. Some came to view Patchett as having questionable judgment. Patchett, in turn, says he would have obtained convictions if he’d been allowed to finish his work.
Ultimately, Cooley removed Patchett from the leadership of the task force in July 2001. Patchett retired again from the office six months later. We’re unconvinced that Patchett is capable of being an effective District Attorney.
Denise Beryl Moehlman: The same goes for Moehlman, a veteran prosecutor with some attractively progressive views of her own. In her career, however, she’s not typically been entrusted with seminal cases or a senior management role. Moehlman claims that her rise has been impeded by retaliation for a sexual-harassment complaint against a colleague. She faults former D.A. Garcetti for thwarting her career and Cooley for opposing her lawsuit over the matter. We offer no opinion on the merit of her allegations, but there’s insufficient evidence that she’s deserving of the top job.
Tom Higgins: By contrast, Higgins looks to be a solid prosecutor with extensive management experience within the District Attorney’s Office. He also can boast of a long background in crime prevention through his anti-truancy program. He points out that in his best year as a trial lawyer he put away 26 defendants who went to trial — not a bad total. But, he adds, his anti-truancy program immediately improved the attendance of 1,150 of the 1,200 students it dealt with on an annual basis.
Cooley earned Higgins’ ire by reducing funding for this anti-truancy program and by reassigning Higgins from the juvenile division to the worker’s-comp unit. Instead of sulking, Higgins, to his credit, has worked to revive this unit, which had been a sort of exile for managers who’d fallen out of favor.
Higgins, however, is running to the ideological right of Cooley. He would push a harder line on three-strikes prosecutions, undoing a Cooley policy that we actually support. Higgins, like the other challengers, is underfunded to a fault and, like them, has little realistic chance of forcing a runoff.
THUS, WE EXPECT THAT COOLEY WILL WIN, but we want to send the message that he needs to build on his achievements, which are sometimes too incremental. He has to police cops vigorously. He must pursue power brokers and outlaw corporations. He should adopt a greater sense of urgency and civic responsibility. Some room exists for optimism, given the experience that his public-integrity division has developed in its pursuit of corruption in South Gate, Carson and Compton. We also like Cooley’s attention to requiring government agencies to do their business in public, though his office erred last year in clearing the county Board of Supervisors of violating the Brown Act. He should keep a more watchful eye on the supervisors.
Steve Cooley, if the voters grant you a second term, we need to see more — and better.
JUDGE OF THE SUPERIOR COURT
In non-contested races, the Weekly does not typically endorse.
The candidates for this office include Pat Campbell, a deputy district attorney whose name isn’t Pat. It’s Dave. Or at least that’s how he’s known around the D.A.’s Office and to opposing counsel. To the State Bar, he is P. David Campbell, but for purposes of the election he is Pat. Could it be a bid to rack up votes from women who think he’s one of them? One more thing: He originally wanted his candidate designation to be “Criminal Prosecutor/Professor.” Campbell had to drop “professor” because of a lawsuit brought by opponent Mildred Escobedo, who challenged the claim. This “professor” stuff is a big deal on ballots, because most people don’t know anything about judicial candidates. They decide how to vote only when they get in the ballot booth and read the names and candidate designations. Campbell’s rating from the Los Angeles County Bar Association is “qualified.”
Another candidate, Daniel Feldstern, is an 18-year prosecutor, well regarded, who supervises the Glendale and Burbank branches. He formerly handled civil cases at a private firm. His Bar Association rating is “well qualified.”
Miguel Angel Dager, a deputy city attorney, works in the Public Finance Division, drafting laws and handling issues related to public bonds and taxes in court. He previously spent five years in the office’s criminal division. Also got a “well qualified” rating.
Our pick is Mildred Escobedo, a Superior Court referee since 1998, a job that has nothing to do with wearing a striped shirt and blowing a whistle. She is hired by the full-time judges on an hourly basis to handle cases when there aren’t enough judges, which is always. She can do trials on stipulation, or “stip,” which means that lawyers from both sides agree to have her as judge — and most do. Because the word “referee” is obscure in this sense, she tried to get herself called a “judicial officer” or “temporary judge” on the ballot. Pat/Dave Campbell sued, and won, so “referee” it is. You have to be very well regarded by the judges and by attorneys on both sides to keep a referee job for this long. The L.A. Superior Court, with 429 judges, has only a handful of Latinas. We’re all for promoting another capable one like Escobedo. Her Bar Association rating is “qualified,” which isn’t the highest in this contest, but then the Bar ratings are not always the last word on who’s best for the job.
Six largely qualified candidates are vying for this office. Three of them work as prosecutors for D.A. Steve Cooley. Running down this list, we start with Edward Nison, a well-regarded prosecutor with 18 years of experience. Rated “not qualified” by the Los Angeles County Bar Association for reasons not apparent to us. “It appears someone, somewhere, was out to get me,” he said. The “instructor” part of his candidate designation is for teaching police officers how not to screw up evidence.
Lori Jones, another Cooley trooper, has 15 years of experience as a prosecutor. The Bar Association rates her as “qualified.” That’s about right.
The third Cooley deputy, Jeffrey S. Gootman, walks around with a computer database of thousands of case summaries, presumably so lazy judges don’t have to look things up when he’s in their courtroom. Formerly a civil practitioner, he’s been in the D.A.’s Office for 20 years. The Bar Association calls him “well qualified,” the highest rating in this race.
Deputy public defender C. Edward Mack lists his occupation as “trial attorney” for ballot purposes. He told voters at a candidates forum that he wants to do something about the court’s budget, but, in fact, judges have no budgetary control unless their peers elect them to their executive committee. He also said he would work outside the courtroom to stop violence and gang killings — again, not part of the job, though a laudable aim. His Bar Association rating is “qualified.”
Law school professor Larry Layton has run four times before. And he’s really a professor, but that’s because he hired himself. He owns and operates a law school in Acton which, last time we checked, had only six students. Rated as “qualified.”
Gus Gomez also makes a living as a prosecutor, but he’s with the state Attorney General’s Office. He started out as a transactional lawyer, a nice way of saying he never went to court. He became an expert in municipal finance (tax law, bonds), then went to the A.G.’s Office 11 years ago and has handled both criminal and civil litigation. Also a member of the Glendale City Council. His rating is “qualified.” He gets our nod in a close call.
Laura F. Priver
Priver is a prosecutor who serves as the grand jury adviser, which means she pretty much tells the grand jury whom to indict. A prosecutor for 19 years, she’s well regarded, with an impressive array of endorsements, including both D.A. Cooley and his predecessor Gil Garcetti. Even people who don’t like the idea of voting for prosecutors might be okay with her. The Bar Association rates her as “well qualified,” the only candidate for this office to achieve that high a rating.
The other candidates are administrative law judge John C. Gutierrez and prosecutor Larry Diamond. Both have “qualified” ratings from the Bar Association. Gutierrez works as a Workers’ Compensation Appeals Court judge in Van Nuys. He got his law degree in 1978 but didn’t become a member of the State Bar until 1983. It’s not clear how broad his legal knowledge is outside workers’ comp. He refers questions to a media representative. Diamond’s notable case was the conviction of Robert Rosenkrantz, the convicted killer who, in 2000, was denied parole by Gray Davis in the face of public pressure that rallied behind the idea that Rosenkrantz deserved to be paroled. Diamond disagreed. The group Justice for Homicide Victims gave Diamond an award for his work in opposing such paroles.
Daniel Zeke Zeidler
Zeidler has been a Superior Court referee since 1998, handling juvenile dependency cases, which are closed to the public. His varied political background includes a failed run for the state Assembly and successful bids for the Redondo Beach school board. He’s a former ACLU law clerk, and a well-known gay activist. His endorsements include Burt Pines, the judicial-appointments secretary for Gray Davis, which could mean they hoped to appoint him to the court, but got recalled before they had the chance. Rated as “well qualified,” he’s the best of this lot.
Another aspirant is Bob Henry, a prosecutor in the state Attorney General’s Office who is endorsed by retiring Judge Rosemary Shumsky to replace her. Henry started in the public welfare section back in 1974, and was responsible for closing diploma mills. It’s the next part of his career path that gives us some discomfort. He became something of a superstar in making sure the gas chamber/injection room could be kept busy. He defended eight death verdicts, and has a perfect 4-0 record in appeals of death penalty decisions to the state Supreme Court. As an aside, he wanted a ballot statement without having to pay the required $65,000 fee. He sued the county for free space and lost. Just like he did back in 1992, when he tried it the first time. Bar Association rating is “well qualified.”
This race includes three Cooley deputies. Two of them, David Lopez and Craig Allen Renetzky, are Bar-rated as “qualified.” Neither stands out as much as Craig Jordan Mitchell, rated as “well qualified.” He’s spent two years as a civil practitioner and 10 years as a prosecutor, after having worked 17 years as a high school teacher. But he seems too much on a personal crusade. In his closing statement at a candidates forum, he called out the names of victims of people he prosecuted, then said, “I know what it means to be a victim of crime,” and proceeded to discuss his brother, who was “killed in Compton” by someone who has not been found. A person’s personal demons should not be the centerpiece of a judicial campaign.
The remaining candidate, attorney Michael D. Shook, is the son of a judge and rated “not qualified” by the bar association.
Richard Van Dusen
Judge Van Dusen would make a worthy character in a movie. On most days this judge would be one of the plot’s good guys — we think. Certainly the guy playing him would be up for best supporting actor. The former prosecutor told the Daily Journal that he has “no patience for chronic offenders.” He carries a love-him-or-hate-him reputation based in part on off-the-cuff remarks that some find inappropriate and others find colorful. He once sentenced a bike thief to 60 days because, he said, his own bike was stolen as a kid and he never got over it. He’s perfectly capable of pissing off either side depending on how he sees a case, and he does not suffer fools lightly. He flies a single-engine airplane so he can more easily visit the family ranch in Visalia. He once reportedly started playing “Jingle Bells” on his musical tie during jury selection.
Opponent Daniel K. Dik jumped in, apparently, only after he saw that some prosecutors were targeting Van Dusen along with Judge Oki and Judge Wesley. It’s not clear why Van Dusen merited their wrath. Dik, a civil litigator, is endorsed by Crime Victims United of California. Both candidates are Bar-rated as “qualified.”
The strongest candidates, both rated as “well qualified” by the Bar Association, are prosecutor Judith Levey Meyer and Superior Court Commissioner Donna Groman. Meyer — an accomplished prosecutor, first in Ventura County, then here — got caught up in a childish spat with a Groman supporter over her ballot statement, which says that she was assigned to a Special Victims Unit. The critic, a screenwriter who sits on an L.A. County Bar panel, accused Meyer of improperly trying to ride on the popularity of the television show called “Special Victims Unit,” according to a story in the Metropolitan News-Enterprise. For what it’s worth, the formal name of Meyer’s unit is the Victim Impact Program. At a campaign forum, Meyer described a diverse background that includes work on the ski patrol, as a whitewater-rafting guide, and as an ambulance medic, showing, in her words, that she can “remain calm under fire.”
That’s fine, but we’re going with Groman, who as a Superior Court commissioner is one step above referee (See Office 18). She’s a full-time bench officer, hired by the judges. Like a referee, she must be approved by the lawyers before presiding as judge over a trial. Well regarded by lawyers and judges, Groman has been a commissioner for seven years, and before that was an attorney in private practice for 17 years. She’s openly gay and emphasizes that she supports diversity on the bench. Don’t try that in Texas. According to the MetNews, she was “papered” by the D.A.’s branch office in Inglewood — meaning that prosecutors there refused to stipulate to her serving as judge for their cases. Which meant she became useless there and had to be transferred to another courthouse. It’s not clear whether this happened because they thought she leaned too much toward the defense, or because someone just had it in for her.
Prosecutor Carol Najera isn’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.
David 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.
Dan 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 Debbaudt also rates as “well qualified.” He prosecuted the Hawthorne rapist and the USC rapist.
Two candidates rated as “not qualified” are prosecutor Hilary Anne Rhonan and 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.
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.
We urge voters instead to opt for Stella Owens-Murrell, a labor and civil rights litigator currently serving as senior trial counsel to the director of the California Department of Industrial Relations. She won a huge discrimination case against Vons grocery in 1988 — $12.2 million. She’s married to a minister, lives in Palmdale and belongs to the NAACP. Rated “qualified” by the Bar Association.