Efrain Matthew Aceves is a well-regarded Los Angeles County deputy district attorney with 18 years of trial experience who also serves as a member of the Whittier school board. The Los Angeles County Bar Assn. has rated him “well qualified” to be a Superior Court judge.
His opponent in the race for Superior Court Office 42, Alicia Molina, is an immigration lawyer who tried to pass herself off on the ballot as a “Domestic Violence Attorney.” That designation in the June 7 primary just might have helped her land a spot in the Nov. 8 judicial runoff, but last week a judge blocked her from using it again. The judge also blocked Molina from using her second and third choices: “Victims Right Attorney” and “Crime Victims Attorney.”
Molina has yet to try a case in front of a jury in any court. The Los Angeles County Bar Assn. has rated her “not qualified” to be a judge.
The Times endorses Aceves as clearly the better of the two candidates in the runoff.
Our concern with Molina is not her chosen field of practice. Good immigration lawyers are vitally needed in Los Angeles, a city of immigrants and of unscrupulous people who prey on them. It is true that immigration lawyers, by the nature of their work, rarely appear in Superior Court and would be strangers to the law, procedures and customs of Superior Court trials. Immigration law is a federal matter, usually practiced without juries in administrative law courts, while Superior Courts hear only matters of state and local law. But diversity of experience is needed on the bench, and there is no reason a good immigration lawyer couldn't do a fine job on the Superior Court, albeit with a potentially steep learning curve.
The problem is rather with Molina mischaracterizing the nature of her work in order to appeal to more voters. It is a kind of sleight of hand that has no place in any courtroom, whether it be immigration court or Superior Court.
Molina is hardly the first judicial candidate to elevate garden-variety resume inflation into voter deception in order to become a judge. The three-word ballot designations are among the few decision-making tools available to most voters, and judicial candidates can't seem to resist the opportunity to over-market themselves. Aceves calls himself a "Child Molestation Prosecutor" — a sure hit with voters, even though there is no such actual job title. One of many differences between him and Molina, though, is that his designation accurately describes the majority of criminal cases he prosecutes, while Molina's clearly crosses the line between puffery and dishonesty. Aceves is the better choice.
In the primary, The Times supported Superior Court Commissioner Cyndy Zuzga for Office 42, but she did not make the runoff. The Times endorsed candidates that did make runoffs in the other three races, and we reiterate those endorsements: Steven Schreiner in Office 11, Susan Jung Townsend in Office 84, and David A. Berger in Office 158.