Friday, June 13, 2014

Time for Reform of Judicial Elections?

While we eagerly await the release of the third update to the results of the June 3, 2014 primary election to see if the latest count of votes puts LA County Sheriff candidate Jim McDonnell over  50% plus 1 vote to win the election outright, our thoughts turn to the results of the judicial elections.

There were 15 Judicial Offices, or "seats," on the ballot, 3 of which were uncontested meaning easy wins for 3 Deputy District Attorneys. Of the remaining 12 seats, 11 were "open" meaning there was no incumbent. 24 candidates vied for those seats; 12 were Deputy District Attorneys, 3 were Superior Court Commissioners, 3 had been Superior Court Referees at some point in time, 2 were Deputy City Attorneys, and 2 were attorneys.

The results of two seats will not be known until November when runoffs will take place. However, of the 9 open seats where there were only two candidates, in all cases a Deputy District Attorney was elected. In the one seat that did feature an incumbent, Judge James B. Pierce, challenger Deputy District Attorney Carol Najera surprisingly emerged as the victor.

With Deputy District Attorneys sweeping the board in the elections, it is no surprise that some have expressed concern with the voters' choice.

Leading the charge against the voters is the LA Times. In an OpEd piece asking whether the voters should be ousted, columnist Robert Greene concluded that judicial elections should not be ended, but suggested more news coverage and candidate forums might cure any perceived shortcomings with the current judicial election process.  The Times, it will be recalled, endorsed only 4 Deputy DAs in the election. The Times clearly did not have the voters' pulse, much to the relief of several Deputy DAs who really should have gained the endorsement, but failed to do so for reasons previously discussed.

Although the Times had its nose bloodied with their woeful endorsements, they did not suggest any other meaningful reform to judicial elections, short of ousting the voters altogether.

But not so the Los Angeles Metropolitan New-Enterprise.

In a remarkably prescient editorial, published five weeks before the election, the Met News opined that the current electoral system would result in some unqualified candidates being elected, and some very well qualified candidates being excluded.

"As we have in the past, we observe that our present elective system makes no sense, and that all candidates for Superior Court open seats should run as a pack—a system used fleetingly in the early 1900s. There are 11 contests this year for open seats. There are 24 candidates for open seats. The names of all 24, with accurate, current, job titles under the names, should be listed on the ballot with no office numbers, and with those 11 drawing the highest number of votes being elected." The Met News said.

It's an intriguing idea, electing the overall top vote-getters. But we wondered whether the outcome would be any different? In order to attempt to answer that question, we analyzed the latest numbers released by the LA County Registrar-Recorder to find the top 12 vote-getters to see who would be judge under this system.

Interestingly, the same 10 Deputy DAs would have been elected, but Judge Pierce would have held on to his seat, and former Superior Court Referee Pamela Matsumoto would also have been elected. Of course this is not a very scientific or statistically accurate forecast of how the "top 12" approach would have worked, as two of the seats now headed to runoff featured 6 candidates, so the vote there was somewhat diluted. But overall the outcome does seem remarkably similar to the results of the primary election.

Some things, of course, do not change. Three of the biggest losers would remain unelected; Part-time filing Deputy DA Helen Kim, who blew at least a half a million dollars to try to buy the seat, still sucks. And so does B Otis Felder, the man who was stupid enough to run with a hybrid of Carmen Trutanich's disastrous ballot designation, "Los Angeles Prosecutor."  Reassuringly, we note that Deputy City Attorney Songhai 'Sunny' Armstead's race-baiting campaign would also have failed.

Seems whichever way you count the votes, some rotten apples will still be outed.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Seems like you've stirred up quite a hornets nest with your criticism of DDA Helen Kim. A lot of outsiders were wondering why she's a part timer. It's not like she has any child care issues, so what's the reason why she's not either pulling her weight as a full time DDA, or fired if she doesn't want to do the job that over a thousand applicants would give their right arm to do? I notice in ADDA Director Eric Siddall's latest communication, that he's in favor of "firing those who do not pull their own weight," an odd position for a union director, but I think focus on Helen Kim has prompted the debate. Bring it on. There are too many lazy bodies dragging the system down and causing more work for others. Time to clean house.