The California Supreme Court and Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird came in for withering ridicule and mockery at the state Republican convention this weekend, raising debate among some Republicans as to whether the anti-court campaigns have become too partisan and too nasty.
One half of the press conferences at the opening sessions Friday and Saturday of the 1,300-delegate state convention were by groups seeking the ouster of Bird and her Democrat-appointed court colleagues. Five justices are up for statewide voter confirmation 20 months from now, in November, 1986, and four of them are under varying degrees of attack by groups branding them as soft on crime.
Stage props employed to draw attention to the various anti-Bird committees included a three-foot-tall stuffed and mounted wild turkey called "Rosie," bumper stickers that read "Bye, Bye Birdie" and brochures that referred to the chief justice and her targeted colleagues as "the gang of four."
Party Link Denied
Press conference organizers insisted that their efforts were not to be confused with the partisan activities that normally occur at party conventions.
"It would be very, very inappropriate for the party to be formally involved," said Assemblyman Ross Johnson (R-La Habra), who helped organize two separate anti-Bird committees and news conferences. "If this was a party matter, I'd fight it," echoed Proposition 13 co-author Paul Gann, the founder of one committee along with his sometime associate from the tax-cutting movement, Howard Jarvis.
Johnson and others said the reason that the anti-Bird committees were so strongly in evidence at the convention was because of the density of news reporters on the scene.
As for the biting tone of the assembled court critics, many Republicans, even some of those involved, wondered if the attacks had become too inflammatory.
"We shouldn't be involved in ridiculing or name calling," said Johnson, who appeared at the podium with the mounted turkey and later with the anti-"gang of four" group.
He acknowledged, "I'm uneasy by some of this."
Turkey on Display
The turkey was taken to the convention on behalf of Rep. Bill Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton), whose personally organized anti-Bird committee is headquartered in the same office with his exploratory campaign for the U.S. Senate. After his press conference, Dannemeyer put the mounted carcass on display and offered Republicans an invitation to come by and have their picture taken with it.
Gov. George Deukmejian, himself a frequent court critic, told reporters "I think it is more appropriate to . . . address the merits" in the campaign. Deukmejian said he is not worried at this point about generating a backlash, but added "obviously, campaigns can turn on any number of issues or techniques."
Kern County Dist. Atty. Edward Jagels objected to questions on the tenor of the early campaigning. "There seems to be an unbelievable interest in tone and style at the expense of substance," he said.
Jagels spoke at the press conference called to criticize Democratic state Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp for finding the anti-Bird efforts "mean."
During a Saturday luncheon speech, Deukmejian criticized the court for not allowing death penalty executions since restoration of capital punishment in California. But earlier, he told a group of visiting YMCA students that "personally I'm not involved" in the various anti-court political committees.