Thursday, July 14, 2016

2016 Judicial Elections - Some Sexy Ballot Titles Suffer Electile Dysfunction

Six days before the Primary Election, the LA Times published an article on the thorny topic of ballot designations - “Campaigning for a judge's seat? A sexier title could get you elected — or sued.” The article addressed one of the less seemly aspects of the ballot title bonanza; that some who aspire to be judges, a position that surely demands the epitome of honesty, integrity and candor, may be attempting to mislead voters with their ballot titles.

Rather than re-hash the LA Times’ observations on the propriety of some candidates’ apparent willingness to stretch their credibility, we look instead at how well those much-prized ballot designations performed in the Primary Election, and ask the question; which is the best ballot title in 2016, and which failed to rise in the election?

Our analysis is based on the number of votes cast for candidates who used ‘non job title’ ballot designations which have proven to be more attractive to voters than simple job titles such as “Deputy District Attorney.” Where several candidates used the same ballot title, the total number of votes has been divided by the number of candidates to achieve an average vote for ease of comparison.

#1 Violent Crimes Prosecutor 562,995 votes
Deputy District Attorneys Debra Archuleta and David Berger clearly had the voters’ attention with a time-proven ballot title which garnered a total 1,125,989 votes - the only ballot title to score above a million votes. The popularity of this ballot title is likely a result of voter concern about the staggering increase in violent crime in the past 2 years. Vastly eclipsing the more crime-specific ballot titles like “Child Molestation Prosecutor” and “Gang Homicide Prosecutor,” it is probable that voters see themselves more likely to be victims of generic crimes of violence than specific crimes involving gang members and sex offenders.

#2 Criminal Fraud Prosecutor 531,349 votes

Deputy District Attorney Susan Jung Townsend’s ballot title’s second place may also signal that voters are more concerned about the kind of crime that potentially could affect them directly. In a world where there are few who have not experienced some kind of fraud, such as identity theft and credit card fraud, voters perhaps saw this ballot title as more worthy of their support than the “specific crimes” candidates in this race.

#3 Domestic Violence Attorney 488,289 votes
Immigration law attorney Alicia Molina shocked experts by emerging in first place in the hard fought battle for Office No. 42. It is highly likely that voters viewed Molina as a prosecutor given the first two words of her title, much in the same way that Andrew Stein achieved success in the 2014 primary using “Gang Homicide Attorney.” Stein subsequently lost the runoff when his ballot title was challenged ahead of the runoff. Molina’s runoff opponent, Efrain Aceves (see #5 below) did not challenge Molina’s creative use of this ballot title in the primary election, however, he may well do so now. 

#4 Supervising Criminal Prosecutor 455,403 votes
Deputy District Attorney Javier Perez may be thanking his lucky stars that he was forced to use this ballot title after a court ruled that he could not use “Supervising Gang Prosecutor.” Gang-related ballot titles appear to have lost much of their former potency (see #6 below) and while Perez’s supervisory ballot title left him with a shot at the runoff, it does not have much of a track record. In 2014 it did not serve well; the Hon. Judge Songhai “Sunny” Miguda-Armstead, then a Deputy City Attorney ran using that ballot title, but lost the election. She did, however, succeed in capturing Governor Brown’s attention and was appointed to the bench in 2015. 

#5 Child Molestation Prosecutor 355,716 votes
Deputy District Attorneys Efrain Aceves and Fred Mesropi were likely as stunned as the rest of the experts when what was once considered the Holy Grail of ballot titles spectacularly failed to perform on election night. The title that handily carried the Hon. Judge Carole Rose into office in 2014, couldn't get the vote up in 2016, leaving Aceves in second place to Molina in Office No. 42, and eliminating Mesropi altogether in Office No. 158. In both cases it appears that voters felt a greater connection to more generic forms of crimes of violence.

#6 Gang Homicide Prosecutor 293,233 votes
Deputy District Attorneys Steven Schreiner, Paul Kim and Hubert Yun all ran with either "Gang Homicide Prosecutor" or "Gang Murder Prosecutor." Another sacred cow of ballot titles, so highly prized that it even prompted Kim to challenge Schreiner’s use of the title, resulting in a head-scratching ruling that Schreiner could not run as a Gang Murder Prosecutor, but he could run as a Gang Homicide Prosecutor - a Pyrrhic victory for Kim if ever there was one. When the votes were counted, it mattered little to voters.

In Office No. 11, where last minute entrant Kim undoubtedly split the vote between himself and Schreiner, Kim lost to Scheiner and was eliminated from the race. Tellingly, their combined vote of 40.97% was eclipsed by rival Archuleta’s staggering 47.33%. In Office No. 84, Yun’s late entry fared no better than Kim’s and left him a distant third placed loser.

Opinions differ as to why gang-related ballot tittles appear to be suffering the most from electile dysfunction. Part of the reason may be that Kim and Yun were both late entrants, lacked effective campaigns, and appeared to be substantially relying on the potency of their ballot titles. However, the same cannot be said of Schreiner, who did mount a well funded campaign long before Kim and Yun likely even thought about running.

Another possible reason for gang-related ballot titles’ flaccid performance in this election cycle may be due to voters perception that gang crimes have been overshadowed by violent crime in general, and that voters now seem themselves most at risk from generic violent and fraudulent crime.

#7 Prosecutor 118,619 votes

Deputy City Attorney Onica Valle Cole’s decision to use the single word “Prosecutor” rather than using her job title netted her last place in the race for Office No. 158. Cole may well have fared better had she used her job title, as “Prosecutor,” without any reference to the kind of crimes prosecuted, may have been too generic and failed to wow. Cole may be hoping that her candidacy nevertheless attracts the attention of the Governor with a view to an appointment.

Whether the potency, or lack thereof, of certain ballot titles carries through to the November 8, 2016 runoff, is far from certain. The runoff will be a different election and many expect a higher voter turnout. A high voter turnout may well be the cure for electile dysfunction as a greater proportion of the electorate will not have received the slate mailers that influence high-propensity voters, and cast their ballots based solely on the candidate's name and ballot title.

As for the 'job title' ballot designations, unsurprisingly "Superior Court Judge" topped the list with an overall vote of 1,066,068,  "Deputy Attorney General" came in second at 515,020, "Superior Court Commissioner" was third at 405,233,  and varied permutations of "Attorney" came in last at 230,819.

In the interests of full disclosure, the Los Angeles Dragnet is edited by David Berger, candidate for Superior Court Judge, Office No. 158. Any and all opinions expressed here are personal and are not reflective of any opinion, position or view of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office. 


Monday, June 27, 2016

Results of Judicial Elections Remain Unchanged as Ballots Continue to be Counted

Although the results of the 2016 Primary Election were declared on June 8, 2016, there remained a large number of ballots yet to be counted. Those ballots were either vote by mail ballots received past the deadline, provisional ballots issued at polling stations and subject to verification, or damaged/unclear ballots where, for example, a voter had written 'X' instead of filling the bubble.

KPCC reported that, as of Friday, June 24, 2016 about 605,800 ballots remain to be counted statewide, and the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorder issued a bulletin stating that approximately 175,000 ballots remain to be counted in LA County.

Despite the seemingly high number of uncounted ballots, there is no likelihood that the remaining ballots will change the outcome of the election. As the uncounted ballots are counted (there have been 5 counts or canvases since June 8) the results remain more or less the same. Thus far, approximately 325,000 previously uncounted ballots have been tabulated, and no significant changes have resulted. The remaining 175,000 uncounted ballots cannot, statistically, change this trend.

The only one of the Judicial races where there was some hope of a change was in Seat 42 where Superior Court Commissioner Cyndy Zuzga missed a place in the runoff by 1.5%. However, as the results of the canvases were released, it became clear that there would be no change in that race, indeed, Zuzga's margin increased to approx 1.75%.

The LA County Registrar Recorder has until July 1, 2016 to complete the count and certify the election, at which time detailed results will be available indicating where the various candidates scored the most votes.

As of Friday June 24, 2016, 1,889,065 votes had been counted, representing a turnout of 39.3% of eligible LA County voters.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

2016 Judicial Elections; Primary Postmortem - Incumbents Win Handily, Upsets/Surprises Abound in Open Seats

The preliminary results of the 2016 Primary Elections yielded a mixed bag of relief, surprise and disappointment. In the relief department, all three sitting judges demolished their opponents with crushing defeats. Judges Kaddo, Santana and Solorzano were all returned to office for six-year terms.
There had been concerns among LA County Superior Court bench officers that the surprise 2014 defeat of incumbent Judge James B. Pierce had made them vulnerable to challenge. However the results of the June 2016 primary will not only have restored confidence in the power of incumbency, but will also have deterred long-shot challengers like Baghadassarian and Ibisi.

In the four open seats, the results provided as much surprise as inevitable disappointment. As expected there were no outright winners in these races; the likelihood of any single candidate achieving the necessary 50% plus one vote was slim to none in all four races. The top two vote-getters in each race will face off in the November 8, 2016 General Election.

And so to the races:

Runoff: Archuleta v. Schreiner - Violent Crimes Prosecutor v. Gang Homicide Prosecutor

Although a runoff between bitter rivals Deputy District Attorneys Debra Archuleta and Steven Schreiner was widely expected, the big surprise here was the 21 point lead that Archuleta netted over Schreiner. Indeed, equally unexpected was that Archuleta came within 2.5% of winning the race outright.

While the result must be a disappointment to Schreiner, he can take some solace from the fact that his vote was split by the presence of late entrant Deputy DA Paul Kim on the ballot. Both Schreiner and Kim had virtually identical ballot titles, and undoubtedly, Kim split Schreiner's vote. Had Kim stayed out of the race Schreiner could have been expected to have netted 40.96%, however that still leaves him 8 points behind Archuleta.

Many experts attribute Archuleta's success to her having what appears to be three essential attributes in this year's election cycle; Gender, Occupation, and Race. First, the prospect of electing a female President is clearly engaging female voters who, unsurprisingly, are also favoring female candidates in other races. Second, voters' historic support of prosecutors in judicial elections seems to be holding true, and third, the Latino community are increasingly more engaged in the electoral process. Thus a female, Latino prosecutor makes for a formidable candidate in this election cycle.

Baring some major upset, Archuleta looks certain to benefit from the dynamics of the Presidential election in November.

Runoff: Molina v. Aceves - Domestic Violence Attorney v. Child Molestation Prosecutor

There were big surprises and upsets in this race.

First, perhaps, is that Deputy District Attorney Efrain Matthew Aceves, running with the historically powerful ballot designation "Child Molestation Prosecutor," has ended up in second place.

Second is that Alicia Molina, previously not considered to be a serious threat to a likely Aceves-Zuzga runoff, has ended up in first place.

Third, was that Superior Commissioner Cyndy Zuzga was eliminated from the runoff.

Molina's surprise success looks like being due to her having the same combination of factors as seen with Debra Archuleta; she is female, Latino, and also has a ballot title that sounds prosecutorial - "Domestic Violence Attorney."

Molina also enjoys support from MABA-PAC, the Mexican American Bar Association's Political Action Committee, which will likely redouble it's efforts in support of Molina in the runoff. Although there has been some criticism of Molina's ballot title being misleading (she is more properly associated with immigration law than domestic violence), the reality is that there might be little to be gained in a costly legal challenge, as Molina will likely fare just as well as an "Immigration Attorney" ballot title given the dynamics of the runoff.

All in all, Molina looks set to present a formidable challenge in November, and a race that once seemed certain to favor Aceves, now looks hard to call.

Runoff: Townsend v. Perez - Criminal Fraud Prosecutor v. Supervising Criminal Prosecutor

No big surprises here, nor any huge disappointments. Deputy District Attorneys Susan Jung Townsend and Javier Perez were expected to be in the runoff, and they are. It was equally certain that late entrant and lackadaisical candidate Hubert Yun would be eliminated, as he was. However, Yun's candidacy has caused many to wonder the true nature of Yun's campaign. He does not appear to have been actively campaigning having missed all candidate forums, and aside from having a few randomly placed yard signs, did little to dispel the belief that he was nothing more than a name on the ballot. So was he campaigning to be a winner, or was he simply on the ballot to be a spoiler?

If Yun intended to be a spoiler, he certainly succeed in that regard. He succeeded in spiting the pro-prosecutor vote thereby denying both Townsend and Perez votes. However, he also split the Asian vote, hurting Townsend more than Perez. The unanswered question is why?

The sole GOP candidate in this race, Aaron Weissman, is probably disappointed that Republicans appeared to stay home on election day. As a result Weissman placed last, albeit with a respectable 14.71% of the vote. 

The November runoff looks certain to favor female prosecutors, suggesting that Townsend will likely maintain the narrow lead she has over Perez.

OFFICE No. 158
Runoff: Berger v. Nguyen - Violent Crimes Prosecutor v. Deputy Attorney General

Described by experts as the hardest of the races to predict, most nevertheless agreed that Deputy District Attorney David Berger (the editor of this Blog) would be in the runoff. If there was a surprise here, it is that Deputy Attorney General Kim Nguyen emerged as the challenger in the runoff, rather than late entrant and fellow Deputy DA Fred Mesropi. The once prized and highly rated 'Child Molestation Prosecutor' ballot title had promised to place Mesropi high in the rankings, perhaps even in first place. However, in this election cycle it failed to deliver,  just as it did for Aceves in Office No. 42.

Although Nguyen netted at 34.49% of the vote, six points ahead of Berger, that lead is somewhat illusory given that Mesropi clearly split Berger's vote. Indeed, if Mesropi's 17.25% is added to Berger's 28.14%, the resultant 45.39% perhaps represents a more accurate picture of this race; it is not unreasonable to expect voters attracted by Mesropi's ballot title to be easy converts to Berger, who ran with the ballot title 'Violent Crimes Prosecutor.'

As to the 12.21% garnered by Naser Khoury, the sole GOP candidate in this race, those votes seem more likely to go towards a candidate with a prosecutorial ballot title if historical data holds true. Deputy City Attorney Onica Valle Cole, another late entrant, garnered almost 8% of the vote, attributable as much to her gender as her ballot title, 'Prosecutor,' suggesting that her vote will split evenly between the runoff candidates.

Unlike the three other judicial races in the November runoff, this is the only one featuring a prosecutor against a non prosecutor. Although prosecutors generally do better than their opponents in the high-voter turnout General Election, Nguyen could benefit from being the only non-prosecutor on the ballot. With that said, however, data from the primary suggests voters still favor prosecutors in judicial elections.


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Election Day is Finally Here

The LA Times repeated its endorsements over the weekend, as did the Metropolitan News-Enterprise on Monday, ahead of Tuesdays' elections.

The full text of all the Met News endorsements can be read here.

The press have done their bit, now do yours and get out and vote!


Saturday, June 4, 2016

2016 Judicial Candidates - LA Times Declares "It's Almost Over!"

The seven judicial candidates who have been endorsed by the LA Times received a welcome boost to their campaigns ahead of Tuesday, June 7, 2016's primary election when the Times today repeated it's April 28, 2016 endorsements of their candidacies.

The value of the LA Times endorsement is immeasurable in that it not only provides free national media coverage for the candidates, but it also lends credibility to their candidacies in way far more effective than slate mailers and yard signs. While not a game-changer in its own right, the Times' endorsements when combined with well managed campaigns and attractive ballot titles, should give all endorsees some degree of comfort in the run up to election day.

The headline, "It's almost over," doubtless rings true for all 23 candidates in the 7 races on the ballot Tuesday.  All 23 are, to varying degrees, likely somewhat pensive ahead of Tuesday's election.

For the 3 sitting Judges who have been challenged; Judge James Kaddo (Office 60) Judge Ray Santana (Office 120) and Judge Kathryn Solorzano (Office 165), that headline is particularly apt - there will be finality to those races as there can only be one winner. The power of incumbency, coupled with the might of the Met-News and Times endorsements should be more than enough to see them all comfortably reelected.

However, for the 17 candidates in the 4 'open races,' (one where a sitting judge is not being challenged) the odds are against any candidate garnering the necessary 50% plus one vote to secure a victory on Tuesday. Therefore, a runoff between the two highest vote-getters is a virtual certainty in all 4 races.

But who are the two likely highest vote-getters in each race? We'll take an educated guess:

Deputy District Attorney Steven Schreiner holds the advantage of the LA Times endorsement, as well as the services of judicial campaign guru David Gould. Rival Debra Archuleta has run an aggressive campaign, and despite losing out on media endorsements and access to effective slate mail, is a formidable opponent. But for the late entry of Deputy District Attorney Paul Kim to the race, Schreiner could have won the race outright - Kim has an almost identical ballot title to Schreiner's. However Kim's candidacy, which lacks the finances to feature strongly in this race, will nevertheless likely erode Schreiner's lead to the point where a Schreiner-Archuleta runoff seems inevitable. It is also entirely possible that Archuleta may emerge from the Primary with more votes than  Schreiner. However, any such lead will have to be put into context by combining Shreiner's votes with Kim's. Also in this race is attorney Jonathan Malek, however, his candidacy is unlikely to impact the results.

Despite missing out on the LA Times endorsement, Deputy District Attorney Efrain Matthew Aceves has a powerful ballot designation and a well financed campaign managed by David Gould. Aceves, however,  faces stiff competition from LA Times endorsee Commissioner Cyndy Zuzga. In a straight fight between the two, Aceves' ballot designation would likely trump Zuzga's Times endorsement, as Gould's oft-cited prophecy, "Commissioners, in general do not necessarily do very well against D.A.s" has held true more often than not.  However, MABA-PAC endorsed attorney Alicia Molina is also in this race, and although not seen as a winner, she could easily erode Aceves' and Zuzga's votes to the point where they will face each other in a November runoff, at which point Gould's prophecy will likely be proven true. Also in this race is attorney Michael Ribbons who will not be a factor.

 Deputy District Attorney Susan Jung Townsend holds all the cards in this race; a well-funded campaign managed by Gould, the Times and Met-News endorsements, and a strong ballot title. Rival Deputy DA Javier Perez, despite losing out on media endorsements and the services of campaign strategist Gould, has a broadly supported campaign. Townsend and Perez are clearly the frontrunners in this race with Townsend, perhaps, having the edge. However, attorney Aaron Weissman and DDA Hubert Yun are also in this race. Weissman has grassroots support from the GOP, which will be worth a few points. Yun, despite not appearing to engage in any active campaigning beyond random sightings of yard signs, has a strong ballot title, also worth a few points. In all likelihood, it will be a Townsend - Perez runoff in November.

In the most crowded of the races, Deputy District Attorney David Berger faces four opponents. Berger (who edits this blog) has the advantage of the Met News and LA Times endorsements, a well funded campaign managed by Gould, and a strong ballot title. Deputy Attorney General Kim Nguyen was looking like a strong rival, enjoying the advice and influence of legendary big-league campaign strategist Parke Skelton. However, Nguyen's campaign has suffered some setbacks. At one point Nguyen looked like being the only female candidate in this race after Susan Jerich suddenly dropped out. However, that advantage dissipated equally suddenly when Deputy City Attorney Onica Valle Cole jumped in. Added to the mix was the loss of the LA Times endorsement, who said of Nguyen that she "could benefit from another few years of experience before taking the bench." Despite the setbacks, Nguyen has secured a slew of political endorsements and has an impressive campaign warchest. 

It is, however, a very crowded race for Office 158.  Unlike some of the other races, there are no 'deadwood' candidates - all appear to be seriously campaigning. Cole, who despite limited campaign finances, has successfully leveraged her strong ties to the community. Cole splits the female vote that otherwise belonged to Nguyen. Deputy DA Fred Mesropi splits the prosecutor vote and has a strong ballot title, but his late start on the campaign puts him at a disadvantage. Added to the mix the is the candidacy of GOP endorsed criminal defense attorney Naser Khoury, and it's not as easy to predict the two highest vote getters in this race compared to the others - in a five way race, all could conceivably poll somewhere within five points either side of 20% and the margins could be wafer thin at both ends of the scale.

Most experts believe that the benefit of the LA Times endorsement, coupled with a well planned campaign that has been active since January 2015, likely puts Berger into the runoff. Who else makes the runoff? Most believe that it will be between Mesropi and Nguyen; Mesropi because of his ballot title, and Nguyen because she has campaigned long and hard.

The analysis provided above is an educated guess at best, and the high voter turnout expected for the Presidential Primary could change the analysis considerably.

This year, because of the candidacy of the editor, the Dragnet is not making any endorsements, so vote the way you think best. 

In the interests of full disclosure, the Los Angeles Dragnet is edited by David Berger. Any and all opinions expressed here are personal and are not reflective of any opinion, position or view of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.


Monday, May 2, 2016

Met News Endorses Susan Jung Townsend for Judge - Office No. 84

Friday, April 29, 2016, the Los Angeles Metropolitan News-Enterprise made, perhaps, the hardest choice of any of the races, endorsing Deputy District Attorney Susan Jung Townsend for Judge of the Superior Court, Office No. 84.

The Met News said all four candidates in this race are "worthy," but found Susan Jung Townsend to be "Poised, intelligent, skilled in communicating her thoughts with precision, we believe she would excel as a judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court. We discern definite potential on her part for higher judicial office."

In what might be considered a 'split endorsement,' the Met News also taped Deputy District Attorney Javier Perez and Attorney Aaron Weissman for appointment saying "While we endorse Susan Jung Townsend for election to the Los Angeles Superior Court, we endorse Weissman and Perez for appointment by the governor." Townsend's endorsement followed the Met News' in-depth reportage of all the candidates.

For Townsend, the Met News endorsement caps a successful week in her campaign, having secured the LA Times endorsement the previous day.


Friday, April 29, 2016

LA Times Judicial Endorsements 2016

The Los Angeles Times this week delivered its verdicts on those they found most suitable in the 2016 race for robes.

On Wednesday, April 27, 2016, the Times considered the three sitting Judges who have drawn challenges and found Judge James Kaddo, Judge Ray Santana* and Judge Kathryn Solorzano all more than worthy of reelection.

On Thursday, April 28, 2016, the Times reviewed the 17 candidates for the 4 open seats in this years' election cycle, finding as follows:

Office No. 11 Deputy District Attorney Steven Schreiner “has the most experience,” “with the calm demeanor that a judge must have,” and is “a candidate who would likely make a model judge.”

Office No. 42 Superior Court Commissioner Cyndy Zuzga is “already is doing much of a judge’s work. And by all accounts, she is doing it well.”

Office No. 84 Deputy District Attorney Susan Jung Townsend has “17 years on the job” and “possesses the most integrity and the best judgment.”

Office No. 158 Deputy District Attorney David Berger “was never shy about expressing his opinion, including about his rivals. He has a long and successful record as a prosecutor” adding “Berger is the best choice.

The primary election is on June 7, 2016, and the 'down ticket' nature of judicial elections means that for the vast majority of voters the LA Times is the only source of information and makes their endorsement a most valuable asset. Our hearty congratulations to the 2016 LA Times Judicial Endorsees.

*Judge Ray Santana is not pictured above as he has not yet established a campaign website and we are unable to locate a suitable photograph.

In the interests of full disclosure, the Los Angeles Dragnet is edited by David Berger. Any and all opinions expressed here are personal and are not reflective of any opinion of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.