The president of the California District Attorneys Assn., John J. Meehan, a friend and former colleague of U.S. Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III, said Saturday that California Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird was wrong to link Meese to the current campaign against Bird and other members of the court.
Meehan, whose group is opposing Bird's reconfirmation, was responding to comments by Bird Friday that described the district attorneys' association and other court critics as the right-wing "progeny" of "Eddie" Meese and said that their attacks on the court were similar to Meese's recent criticism of the U.S. Supreme Court.
"These are bully boys," Bird said of her critics. "Meese is trying it on the Supreme Court," she said in reference to Meese's statements that the U.S. Supreme Court is not following the intent of the framers of the Constitution.
Meese is a former Alameda County prosecutor.
'Never' Discussed Contest
Meehan, who is now the district attorney for Alameda County, said he and Meese became friends while serving together as deputy district attorneys between 1960 and 1967. He said they are still friends but that they have "never" discussed the current state Supreme Court race.
Meehan described himself as a "moderate Democrat" who does not share Meese's conservative philosophy of government.
In reference to the district attorneys' opposition to Bird and other justices, Meehan said "he (Meese) was not consulted with, had nothing to do with and no control over the district attorneys association's decision" to oppose Bird and two of her colleagues, Justices Joseph R. Grodin and Cruz Reynoso.
Moreover, he said that Meese's criticism of the U.S. Supreme Court bore no relation to the kind of criticism leveled by the district attorneys' association at members of the California Supreme Court.
Bird 'Out of Sync'
"We would be very happy to see the California Supreme Court follow precedents established by the U.S. Supreme Court," Meehan said.
As for Bird, he added, by consistently voting to reverse death sentences, she has been "out of sync" not only with the U.S. Supreme Court but with other members of her own court.
The district attorneys' opposition to Bird and other members of the state court's liberal majority is based on the court's handling of criminal cases, especially death penalty reversals.
Meese could not be reached for comment. But a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice said that Meese had purposefully avoided discussing the California State Supreme Court contest.
"Although, since becoming attorney general, Mr. Meese has been in California a number of times to speak on a number of subjects, he has deliberately avoided any mention of Rose Bird and her compadres in the state justice system because that is a matter best left to the California electorate. He (Meese) chooses to confine himself to national issues," said the spokesman, Patrick Korten, deputy director for public affairs for the Justice Department.
'Right to Criticize'
Kern County Dist. Atty. Ed Jagels, who also is a leader of a group seeking Bird's ouster, said "it won't do her (Bird) any good" to invoke Meese's name because there are "very few people in this country who think he doesn't have the right to criticize decisions with which he doesn't agree."
"There's nothing inappropriate about criticizing a court," Jagels said.