OpinionEndorsements
Endorsement

For L.A. Superior Court

Justice SystemPoliticsCourts and the JudiciaryElectionsJuvenile DelinquencyGovernment
Who should you vote for in L.A.'s Superior Court races?
There are 15 judicial races on the June 3 ballot. The L.A. Times editorial board weighs in

Voters will see 15 Los Angeles Superior Court races on the June 3 ballot, but there is literally no contest in three of them, because only one candidate filed in each. In the other 12, the Times recommends:

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FOR THE RECORD:
Endorsement: The Times' endorsement of Emma Castro for Superior Court judge said that both she and her opponent were rated "not qualified" for the position by the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. In fact, Castro was rated "qualified." —

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Office 22: Pamala Matsumoto

Voters can't go wrong in this race, because both candidates are competent and prepared to serve as judges. Amy Carter is well regarded as a trial lawyer and has 15 years of experience in the courtroom. Her current assignment is the difficult task of prosecuting sex offenders. But the edge goes to Matsumoto for the breadth of her experience and her time on the bench in the state attorney general's office, as an administrative law judge and as a Superior Court referee — an on-call bench officer doing much of the work of a full-time judge.

Office 48: Charles M. Calderon

If they could, voters would be wise to pick the two candidates for Office 22 and pass these two by, but that's not an option. Both Calderon, a member of the Legislature going back to the early 1980s, and Carol Rose, a veteran prosecutor, drew "not qualified" ratings from the Los Angeles County Bar Assn., a lawyers' group that investigates candidates and scores them on their fitness to serve.

Rose is a prosecutor with 30 years of courtroom experience — but a presence that could hardly be described as judicial. Even if her chatty and slightly scatterbrained demeanor is part of an act that she puts to good advantage when prosecuting cases, it is not appropriate for a judge who must command respect in the courtroom and make lawyers, litigants and defendants believe they are in competent hands. Defense lawyers complain that she doesn't always stick with an offer in plea bargaining.

Calderon hasn't tried a case in years. He wouldn't exactly be a stranger to the courtroom, but he left us with the impression that the bench was a place to go after legislative term limits finally caught up with him. In a race that should make voters sigh, The Times recommends Calderon.

Office 54: Debra L. Losnick

This is another race to make voters sigh, but for the opposite reason. Both Shannon L. Knight and Losnick should be on the bench, serving the people of Los Angeles County as Superior Court judges. Knight, a deputy district attorney, ran two years ago, and The Times noted that "we would not hesitate to endorse her if her opponent was also not of such high caliber." We said that voters would be fortunate to see Knight on the bench "either through a gubernatorial appointment or in a vote two years from now."

And here we are, two years later, and it's just bad luck — for voters as well as for Knight — that she is again matched against an opponent who is a better choice.

Losnick is a highly regarded Superior Court commissioner who presides over child custody cases. In this difficult, emotionally fraught role, in which she must weigh the statements of child welfare workers and parents who may lose their children — a role for which few judges volunteer or are suited — Losnick excels. She is an asset that voters should be unwilling to sacrifice.

Office 61: Jacqueline Lewis

Of all the candidates running for Superior Court judge each year, one sometimes stands out as the hands-down best of the class. This year that candidate is Lewis, who is, like Losnick, a commissioner serving in Dependency Court.

Lawyers for parents, for children and for the county note her expertise and her judicial demeanor. That's important for any bench officer but especially in Dependency Court, where proceedings are closed to the public, with no opportunity for jurors, let alone the public at large, to scrutinize the performance of the lawyers or the judges. That makes it all the more important to know whether the lawyers and the parties have confidence in a bench officer's ability. Lewis routinely gets high marks.

Her opponents are Deputy Dist. Atty. Dayan Mathai and attorney B. Otis Felder. Mathai might make a good judge someday. But in this race, Lewis is the easy choice.

Office 76: Alison Matsumoto Estrada

This is another easy choice. On paper, it pits two Los Angeles County deputy district attorneys against each other, but Helen Kim, while indeed an employee of the office, works in a part-time position processing case filings and not actually trying them. It's an important job but not one that qualifies Kim for the bench.

Estrada is indeed a prosecutor and a good one, having handled 70 jury trials, including difficult domestic violence cases. She has as a prosecutor, and would be likely to have as a judge, a demeanor of calm, competence and control.

Office 87: Andrew M. Stein

There are good reasons to reject all three candidates in this matchup, but one of them will become a judge after being elected in June or in a November runoff, so voters ought to pick one. It should not be Tom Griego, who is a competent enough deputy city attorney but lacks the qualifications to make a good judge. Steven P. Schreiner is a deputy district attorney with, colleagues say, something of a temper. Andrew M. Stein is an experienced and accomplished criminal defense attorney who also can be volatile.

Because of the background he would bring to a court in which relatively few judges have experience as defense lawyers, The Times recommends Stein.

Office 97: Songhai "Sunny" Armstead

The Los Angeles Superior Court has more than 400 competent judges, many of whom came to the bench after careers as deputy district attorneys. Prosecutors can often make good judges because they are well trained in the law and in courtroom procedure and battle-tested over the course of dozens, and often hundreds, of trials. But a bench so dominated by judges from the same training ground can make for a culture too set in its ways and too unwilling to respond to changing needs.

Armstead is a prosecutor in the city attorney's office who has devoted much of her career to innovative programs geared toward not just punishment but rehabilitation and reentry. The Superior Court needs her kind of experience, perspective and energy if it is to keep up with a changing criminal justice system.

We'd like very much to see Armstead's opponent, Deputy Dist. Atty. Teresa Magno, on the bench as well. But between the two, Armstead is the clear choice.

Office 107: Emma Castro

We're back to one of those races in which neither candidate is ideal. Both were rated "not qualified" by the Los Angeles County Bar Assn., and in this case The Times finds itself in agreement. Joan Chrostek has an at-best adequate record as a prosecutor and now works in a division that seizes the assets of convicted drug dealers. Castro sought appointment to a judgeship but was found "not qualified" by the commission that vets such applications. As is too often the case, aspiring judges who are unsuccessful in the more typical route to the bench suspect they will have an easier time with voters than with the governor's office.

Of the two, The Times recommends Castro because of her service and experience as a Superior Court commissioner.

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FOR THE RECORD

The Times’ endorsement of Emma Castro for Superior Court judge said that both she and her opponent were rated “not qualified” for the position by the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. In fact, Castro was rated “qualified.”

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Office 113: Stacy Wiese

Of the many close matchups on this year's ballot between Juvenile Court bench officers and prosecutors, this is one in which The Times opts for the prosecutor. Both Wiese and Referee Steven Klaif would likely make good judges, but Wiese brings a compelling background that gives her important perspective on the defendants she prosecutes and those who would appear before her if she were elected judge.

Office 117: James B. Pierce

This is the only race in which an incumbent judge is being challenged. There are those who automatically reject any such challenge because it could make incumbents think of reelection day, rather than justice, when considering a ruling that could be politically unpopular. It is a legitimate concern. Yet each challenge should be considered on its merits and the relative merits of the candidates. Does prosecutor Carol Najera have legitimate grounds for seeking to oust Pierce?

She does not. Pierce can be ornery, but he is a competent judge who serves well and deserves to be reelected.

Office 138: Donna Hollingsworth Armstrong

This is a showdown between a good prosecutor and a good defense lawyer. The court could use more defense lawyers on the bench, and Marc A. Gibbons shows potential. But a judgeship would be too big a jump at this point in his career. Of the two, Armstrong is the better choice.

Office 157: Andrew Cooper

Here's another race in which it would be nice to enhance the diversity of the bench with a non-prosecutor such as Arnold William Mednick. But in the traits we seek in a judge — courtroom experience, a calm and confident demeanor, integrity, as vouched for by other lawyers and judges — Cooper gets the nod.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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