Orange County Elections : 2 Judges Who Face Opposition Irked by Opponents' Tactics

Times Staff Writer

The two Orange County Municipal Court judges who face opposition on the June 3 ballot are more than a little irked by what their opponents are saying about them.

North County Municipal Judge Betty L. Elias, who faces two challengers, is frankly displeased they did not go after another seat.

"Sure I'm upset," she said. "I've done a good job. I don't think what they're saying about me is fair."

Brian R. Carter, presiding judge in Harbor Court, said it doesn't bother him that Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert E. Thomas decided to challenge him. But Carter is upset about Thomas' criticisms.

Both Carter and Elias are depicted by their opponents as too liberal and too insensitive to the victims in the cases before their courts. Both incumbents reject the charges.

Sixteen other Municipal Court judges also appear on the June 3 ballot, but none faces opposition.

Meanwhile, three candidates are seeking the seat given up by Judge Bobby D. Youngblood, who is running for sheriff. And three candidates are running for the North Court seat held by Logan Moore, who is retiring.

Here is a look at the individual races:

North Municipal, Seat 2

Elias is challenged by two attorneys, James A. Bates of Fullerton and William H. Randall of Santa Ana.

Both have criticized Elias' ruling last year that the newly established drunk-driving checkpoints in Anaheim are unconstitutional. The state Supreme Court has yet to decide the issue.

Elias said her ruling did not reveal an insensitivity to the victims of drunk drivers, noting: "It was a constitutional question. As a judge, I have to rule on the issue before me."

However, Bates and Randall said the ruling was wrong, and the effect has been to damage police efforts to enforce drunk-driving laws.

"The checkpoints were meant as a deterrent," Bates said. "If the police had been stopping cars in an investigation, she (Elias) might have been right. But she missed the point."

Elias has been angered by Bates' paid candidate statement in the ballot handbook--that goes to registered voters in the district--in which he attacks her decision in that case.

"What about the rights of the drunk driver's next victim?" Bates asked. "With properly administered roadblocks, there will be fewer victims, and Orange County will not become a haven for intoxicated drivers."

Elias has responded that anyone who checks her record would know she has been tough on drunk drivers.

Appointed to the bench by Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. in 1976, Elias, 58, of Orange was previously a private attorney in Anaheim for 14 years. In her campaign literature, she said that courts should "reflect the needs and ideas of our community."

The only way to do that, she added, is to be involved in community work. Elias has emphasized her membership on the board of the Orange County YMCA and the adult advisory board of the Fullerton Union High School district.

Bates, 41, of Fullerton has been practicing law for seven years. He had worked previously in radio and television journalism.

While Bates plans to invest money in a mail campaign and put up signs to get his name known, he has also been going door-to-door every day for the past six weeks.

"I've talked to about 2,000 people, and the overwhelming majority of them agree with me about the drunk-driver roadblocks," Bates said. "That's why I'm convinced I've got a good chance of winning."

Randall, 52, of Santa Ana did not raise the $4,400 required to file a candidate's statement in the voters' handbook but predicted he will raise enough money by Election Day to run a formidable campaign.

Randall worked in the aerospace industry for 20 years before going into a private law practice in 1972. He teaches night classes in government contracts at UCLA. He said that he has retained private business interests in the aerospace industry.

The challenger called Elias "a fine lady" but said that he was disturbed by her performance on the bench after being in her courtroom one day.

"It just seemed to me she didn't give enough consideration to the victims' side of things," Randall said.

Elias has steadfastly rejected those attacks, saying: "I am a fair judge, but I'm also a tough judge."

Harbor Municipal, Seat 1

Judge Brian R. Carter does not directly criticize his opponent but says some of his supporters call Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert E. Thomas a "Lyndon LaRouche" type of candidate. LaRouche's arch-conservative organization is placing candidates in races across the country.

While Thomas has no connection with the LaRouche organization, Carter's inference was that Thomas is an unreasonable conservative, as LaRouche is often depicted.

Meanwhile, Thomas has not been subtle in his attacks on Carter. His strategy is to convince voters that Carter is too liberal to give prosecutors a fair shake in criminal cases.

In the first paragraph of Thomas' candidate statement to the voters, for example, he says that "we need to rid ourselves of liberal judges who serve themselves and fail to protect our citizens."

Thomas adds that the only way the public can feel safe on the streets is to vote out judicial appointees of former Democratic Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.--"such as Rose Bird and my opponent."

After learning about the Carter's "Lyndon LaRouche" comment, Thomas said it only proves that Carter "is even more liberal than Rose Bird if he sees me like that."

Carter, 60, of Corona del Mar said the liberal tag by Thomas is inaccurate. While he is a Brown appointee, Carter points out that he is a Republican and sees himself as fair to both sides in the courtroom.

"I think I've done a good job," said Carter, who was appointed four years ago. "We'll see what the voters say."

Thomas, 38, of Santa Ana has worked in the district attorney's office for eight years. He is a son of former Orange County Administrative Officer Robert E. Thomas. Thomas' biggest problem will be matching Carter's $64,000 campaign war chest.

Central Municipal, Seat 9

The candidates seeking Judge Bobby D. Youngblood's seat include Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. James M. Brooks, Long Beach Deputy City Prosecutor Paul S. Robbins and Santa Ana attorney Diane Nordby.

The two key issues in the campaign focus on which candidate has the most experience and whether it is fair to raise a carpetbagger issue.

Brooks appears to have an early lead with name recognition. His campaign signs have been plastered all over the district. But the other two candidates said they plan to catch up with mailers and post their own signs sometime this month.

An Orange County prosecutor for 13 years, Brooks, 48, of Westminster now heads the county's new narcotics unit.

Robbins, 49, of Irvine has been a Long Beach prosecutor for 12 years. He ran unsuccessfully four years ago against incumbent Judge Robert J. Polis in the Harbor District. This time, however, Robbins said his campaign is more organized.

Nordby, 27, of Santa Ana is the only woman on the judicial ballot this June 3 who is not an incumbent. She points to her quick progress in becoming a lawyer as evidence of her qualifications. She said she was graduated from high school at 15, got through college by the time she was 17 and was graduated from law school at 20.

The three candidates disagree on the issue of who is the most qualified. Brooks said that Nordby lacks experience and that Robbins has misled voters by saying he is a criminal prosecutor. Most of Robbins' work has been in misdemeanor prosecutions, and the last few years he has worked mostly in administrative law, Brooks said.

However, Robbins counters that the variety of his work gives him more experience than Brooks. Meanwhile, Nordby said both men lack experience because they have not handled much civil law, which is her specialty, although she has practiced criminal law, too.

Nordby has also raised the carpetbagger issue, pointing out that neither Robbins nor Brooks works or lives in the judicial district. (Although Brooks' headquarters is the district attorney's office down the hall from Central Court, he actually works in court buildings outside the district.)

"I think if you want to be a judge in a district, you should know something about it," Nordby said. "I'm the only one who lives there and works there."

Robbins admits Nordby is right on one point, but added: "If you think you should vote for your neighbor, then you should vote for her. But I think voters want the most qualified candidate."

North Municipal, Seat 3

While this is the least controversial Municipal Court race, all three candidates are campaigning actively for the seat.

The candidates are Richard E. Behn, a Municipal Court commissioner in the North District; Roger B. Robbins, a Riverside County prosecutor, and Robert A. Von Esch, a private attorney who is on the state Board of Corrections.

Behn, 45, of Santa Ana became a commissioner in 1983. Commissioners essentially have the same duties as a judge and are selected by the judges of the court. Previously, Behn was an attorney for 12 years and a deputy marshal in Orange County for eight years before that.

Robbins, 48, of Anaheim has been with the Riverside County district attorney's office for 10 years and now heads its child abuse unit. Robbins is sensitive to any criticism that he is a carpetbagger, pointing out that he is a third-generation Orange County resident.

Von Esch, 62, of Fullerton is not considered a strong candidate by his two rivals because he did not raise enough money to pay for the candidate statement which goes to the district's voters. Von Esch concedes that his two opponents have titles by their name on the ballot which might give them an edge, but he said that his hard work will overcome that by Election Day.

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