Liberals Form Panel to Boost Besieged Justices

Times Staff Writer

Former Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown said this week that he will head a new committee that will work to combat efforts of conservative groups to defeat members of the state Supreme Court who face reelection in November.

Brown and others involved in the committee said its purpose will be to get out the message that the attacks on the justices are motivated by the desire of conservatives to gain control of the court.

"It is part of what is going on all across the country right now, an effort by very right-wing conservatives to take over the courts," Brown said Tuesday.

Work of Democratic Activists

The new group, called the Independent Citizens Committee to Keep Politics Out of the Court, is the culmination of several months' work by mostly Democratic activists to shore up support for the court at a time when many party regulars are reluctant to publicly back reelection of the state's controversial chief justice, Rose Elizabeth Bird.

By establishing a committee that represents all the justices, the organizers hope to attract people who have shied away from the campaign as long as it was focused mainly on Bird.

The announcement last week by the principal group opposing Bird, Crime Victims for Court Reform, that it intends to focus greater attention on unseating Justices Joseph Grodin and Cruz Reynoso has given the new committee added impetus to organize on behalf of the court.

"It reinforced what we have been saying all along," said John Emerson, one of the architects of the committee, "that what's going on here is an effort to fashion a new majority on the court."

Attempt to Redirect Debate

Emerson, a Los Angeles lawyer who ran Colorado Sen. Gary F. Hart's 1984 Democratic presidential campaign in California, said the committee will attempt to direct the debate over the court away from the death penalty and the personalities of certain justices to an emphasis on what the court is supposed to be.

"Part of what we are trying to do is change the framework of the debate to get people thinking about the danger of a court that is answerable to politicians," Emerson said. "The point is to have a court that reviews what the politicians do and not vice versa."

The new group was formed with the help of labor, environmental and women's organizations that have applauded many of the court's rulings, according to Emerson.

Despite its liberal hue, Brown said, the committee will be working for the retention of all six justices on the ballot, including the two, Malcolm Lucas and Edward Panelli, who were appointed by Republican Gov. George Deukmejian. Moreover, Brown said the committee intends to appoint a Republican co-chairman to share the leadership of the committee.

Many supporters of Bird, Grodin and Reynoso, the three justices who are the main targets of conservatives, have long advocated the formation of an independent committee because they did not think the justices would be free to campaign effectively for their own reelection.

Reelection Committee Formed

Nevertheless, Bird last year decided to set up her own reelection committee, arguing that the only way she could ensure an ethical campaign was to run it herself. Subsequently, Grodin and Reynoso organized campaigns of their own. A fourth justice, Stanley Mosk, associated with the court's liberal majority, has not said whether he plans to run for reelection.

With the campaign against Bird emphasizing her votes in favor of reversing death penalties in every capital case that she has ruled on, public opinion polls have reflected a growing erosion in the chief justice's popularity. The same polls, however, have indicated that Grodin and Reynoso, who have sided with Bird more often than not in death penalty opinions, are holding their own.

Harold Meyerson, the committee's executive director, said the committee is the brainchild of a number of political activists representing the California Federation of Labor, the California League of Conservation Voters, the National Organization for Women, Women For and the National Women's Political Caucus.

He said the committee has raised about $25,000 and hopes to raise $1 million for a statewide television campaign on behalf of the court.

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