It all seemed a little too easy and caused many to believe that the 2016 Judicial elections could see an even bigger field of candidates vying for an equally large number of open seats. That does not appear to be the case. There are, perhaps, 23 candidates who have expressed an interest in running, but the big surprise (or disappointment) is the very small number of open seats; 4 or 5 at best.
Rumors abound as the the reason for the low number of open seats in this election cycle. In 2014 it was rumored that the 14 sitting judges who announced their retirements, timed their announcements deliberately to deny Governor Brown the ability to appoint their replacements. This was seen as "payback" either for Brown's slashing of the LA Superior Court budget, or criticism of his 'eclectic' choice of appointees, or both.
And so to the rumor mill now churning regarding the reason for the low number of 2016 open seats - that Judges considering retirement have been 'prevailed upon' to time their retirements in such a way as to restore Governor Brown's appointment powers and thereby restore the somewhat 'crusty' relationship between the LA Superior Court the Governor, and thereby restore much needed funding to the Court - he who holds the budget strings, etc. There's also a certain amount of criticism as to performance of a few of the 2014 elected judges; while most have proven to be excellent judges garnering glowing reviews in legal journals, others have not done so well (I'm sure the comments section will fill in those details.)
Governor Brown, for his part, has no real reason to be miffed by the results of the 2014 election. Since that time he has appointed no less than 38 Judges to the LA County Superior Court, 34 of which are up for election in June, and have not yet drawn a challenge. So perhaps any desire to reign in the number of open seats emanates from Los Angeles, rather than in Sacramento. Or perhaps the whole thing is mere coincidence.
Whatever the reason for the low number of open seats, the Wednesday, February 10, 2016 deadline to file declarations of intent to run will likely see a very crowded race, and some ugly clashes between candidates who have cashed in their retirement accounts to fuel a robust campaign, estimated to be somewhere in the region of $250k.
So here's the current state of the 2016 Judicial Race:
Office Number 11 - Open
When Judge Michelle Rosenblatt (not to be confused with Judge Marsha Revel - see Office Number 34 below) failed to file her Declaration of Intent on the first day of filing (February 1), it was at first thought that she was going to file later in the week. At 63, she's not necessarily in the retirement zone. However, the Los Angeles Metropolitan News-Enterprise reported that she was, indeed, retiring, and Deputy District Attorneys Debra Archuleta and Javier Perez quickly filed for her seat, as did Superior Court Commissioner Cyndy Zuzga. All three are represented by Gould, creating a problem as Gould will not represent candidates who run against each other. The problem may have been partly solved by Perez also filing for Office 84 (see below). Zuzga, who has also filed for Office 120 (see below), told the Met News that she hoped Gould "works his magic" and and finds her another seat. It appears that Archuleta will remain in this race and not contest Office 34 (see below), and will likely face a challenge or challenges from other candidates who, as we go to press, have not yet designated their seat.
Office 34 - Not In Play
according the the Met News, there may have been some confusion between Judges Marsha Rosenblatt and Michelle Revel, leading to Deputy District Attorneys Steven Schreiner and Debra Archuleta to file papers for Judge Revel's seat. Neither Archuleta nor Schreiner had any intention of running against Judge Revel. Archuleta has now filed for Office 11 (above) and Schreiner, who ran unsuccessfully in 2014, is likely to file for a different open seat.
Office Number 42 - Open
Susan Jung-Townsend was an early filer for Judge Alan Rosenfield's seat, taking out Signature in Lieu of filing fee papers on January 22, 2016 to stake her claim to what appears to be an open seat in the absence of Rosenfield's filing a declaration of intent. Rosenfield has not issued a statement confirming or denying his retirement, however, it is widely believe he is indeed leaving the bench. Thus far, Jung has yet to draw a challenger; hardly surprising as she is a formidable candidate who is well financed. Although she has been seeking appointment for some time, she has likely become frustrated by the vagaries of the appointment process, which some believe does not favor LA County Deputy District Attorneys. Regardless of the strength of her candidacy, given the number of as yet unseated candidates, Jung-Townsend will likely face at least one challenger by the time filing closes on February 10.
Office Number 60 - Not Open, but possibly In Play
According to the Met News, Sherman Oaks attorney Stepan Baghdassarian took out Signature in Lieu papers indicating he was going to run for Judge James Kaddo's seat. Baghdassarian declined to give the Met News any reason why he had chosen Kaddo's seat, and also would not say whether or not he would actually run. Judge Kaddo has had a long career on the bench, he was appointed to the Municipal Court in 1991, and later drew sharp criticism from the Met News over his campaign for a seat on the Superior Court. He was also the subject of somewhat messy controversy in 2004. He currently sits in Dept. I at Van Nuys East (civil) and has filed papers indicating his intention to seek reelection. It is unknown whether Baghdassarian's filing arises from a courtroom clash with the veteran jurist similar to that leading to then Deputy DA Carol Najera's 2014 run against sitting Judge James B. Pierce.
Office Number 84 - Open, Possibly
Philip Marshall and Javier Perez filed papers Friday February 5, to run for her seat. Judge Diesman, a distinguished former Deputy DA, was appointed to the bench in 2008, and currently sits in Dept 27 at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse. No statement has been made regarding whether she is indeed retiring, or why. Both Marshal and Perez are clients of David Gould, suggesting there is something of a conflict to be resolved in this race as to who will have access to Gould's valuable slates. If indeed Judge Diesman is retiring, it is likely that one or other of the thus far unseated candidates will enter this race.
Office Number 109 - Not In Play
Met News reported that Ribons, who practices real estate and business litigation, was told by the LA County Recorder/Registrar's Office that he had to pick an Office to run for when he filed his papers, and that he could change the seat later. Ribons told the Met News that he chose number 109 at random, and does not intend to run against the incumbent. Nevertheless, Sztraicher is leaving nothing to chance and has recently launched a reelection campaign website www.SztraicherForJudge.com and has a FaceBook page at https://www.facebook.com/JudgeSztraicher.
Office Number 120 - Open
Met News reported that Judge Ray Santana would likely not seek reelection based on a colleague's comments regarding health issues. Deputy District Attorneys Efrain Aceves and Fred Mesropi filed papers for the seat, as did Superior Court Commissioner Cyndy Zuzga and sole practitioner Eric Ibis. Aceves is represented by David Gould, as is Zuzga - a situation where Zuzga hopes Gould can "work his magic" and find here another seat, however, that's looking increasingly less likely given the paucity of seats. Aceves had a brief judicial campaign in 2014, but dropped out for reasons given to the Met News. According to the Net News, Mesropi has hired Cerrell Associates as his consultant, and Ibisi has hired Jasper Jackson who has previously handled local and legislative campaigns. Aceves is a formidable candidate, with strong backing, a solid record, and experience in local politics.
Office Number 158 - Open, Hopefully
the Met News reported that while the veteran jusrist could not be reached for comment, a source said that he had “only told about 300 people” that he was going to retire. Accordingly, Deputy District Attorney David Berger (aka Joe Friday) filed Signature in Lieu papers for Judge Fox's seat on January 27, 2016 and Deputy Attorney General Kim Nguyen filed her papers on February 1, 2016. Surprisingly, Judge Fox filed his Declaration of Intent on February 3, 2106. It remains to be seen whether Judge Fox will retire, as one observer put it "Judge Fox may be retiring, the question is when." Adding fuel to the rumor mill is speculation that if indeed there is an edict to defer retirement from the bench until after the election, Judge Fox may complying in order to be able to sit on assignment in the future. Berger is represented by David Gould with Nguyen having the services of Parke Skelton through her husband Mike Shimpock. Nguyen has said she will not run against Judge Fox, Berger has hinted that he will, stating "In an ideal world, there would be plenty of open seats, but it is not an ideal world." he said, adding "It's a good time for Judge Fox to enjoy some time away from the bench." If Judge Fox bows out of the fray, the battle between Berger and Nguyen will likely be interesting, with Berger vying to be the first English-American Judge in Los Angeles, and Nguyen seeking to be the only actively serving Vietnamese-American Judge on the local trial bench, according to her website, the Met News reported.
Other known candidates yet to nominate a seat (listed alphabetically):
- Deputy District Attorney Alfred Colleta, a 27 year veteran of the DA's Office, recently launched his campaign and has retained David Gould as consultant.
- Susan Jerich, an attorney representing police officers and firefighters in civil, administrative and criminal matters, has retained David Gould as consultant.
- Naser Khoury, a former Deputy DA currently practicing civil and criminal law, has been running his own campaign for some time and is widely liked and respected.
- Sydne S. Michel, an attorney for the City of Redondo Beach, recently launched her campaign and has retained David Gould as her consultant. Despite the lack of open seats, it is understood that Michel is pressing forward with a planned fundraiser in the South Bay area on March 3, 2016. In all likelihood, Michel will pick a race by the close of filing on February 10, 2016.
- Deputy District Attorney Taly Peretz was one of the first to start her campaign last year, retaining David Gould as her consultant.
- Andrew Stein, a renowned and revered defense attorney, run for judge in 2014, winning a place in the November runoff election, but ultimately losing out to then Deputy City Attorney Thomas Griego. Stein has been actively pursuing his candidacy ever since, and has said he would prefer a race that did not pitch him against a prosecutor. That does not appear to be an option in this election cycle.
- Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Stodel launched his campaign last year, retaining David Gould as his consultant.
- Aaron Weissman, a business litigation attorney with Century City-based Novian & Novian, launched his campaign over a year ago, and was hoping to find an open seat.
Of the eight races above, four appear to be definitely open (11, 42, 84, and 120), two more (60 and 158) may see a battle between a sitting judge and challengers, and the remaining two (34 and 109) will likely not be on the ballot, the putative challengers having dropped out of those races.
21 confirmed candidates are chasing between 4 and 6 seats (there were 28 candidates for 15 seats in 2014), meaning that few, if any, of the races will be decided in the June primary, and in all likelihood most races will be decided in a runoff election in November, a far cry from 2014 when all but 2 of the 15 races were decided at the primary.