California Death Penalty Is 'Alive and Well,' Bird Says

Times Political Writers

In the audience were the men and women who control California's airwaves. And Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird asked Monday for their help in communicating that the death penalty is "still alive and well" in California despite the state Supreme Court's deliberative and time-consuming review of the law.

"My role is not to reflect what my personal view is," Bird told members of the California Broadcasters Assn. "My role is to respect the people's view. The people voted for and wanted a death penalty. We in the court are trying our very best to implement that within the restrictions of the Constitution and within the restrictions of due process.

"It is such an emotional issue that it's very difficult to have people see what the court is trying to do--that it's trying to ensure that when you execute somebody here in California, you can sit there with a clear conscience and know that the person was executed not to reelect a justice, not to ensure that the judicial branch of government is popular, but the person was executed under a constitutional law after a fair trial."

Voted Against Death

Bird has voted against the death penalty in every case on which she has ruled, and no murderer has yet faced the gas chamber since capital punishment was made the law in California in 1977. But she twice declared: "The death penalty? It's alive and well in California."

Bird has said previously in the campaign that she thinks it is only a matter of time before executions begin on California's overcrowded Death Row, but she had not described capital punishment in such spirited language before.

After receiving a standing ovation when introduced, Bird gave a speech and a question-and-answer session that focused on a campaign theme she has raised several times--the role of the news media in covering the politics of the high court and the death penalty.

She pointedly suggested that news executives ought to recognize that they have their own stake in her November confirmation election, in which voters have a chance to say yes or no to another 12-year term for the chief justice. Five other members of the seven-member court stand for confirmation with her.

'Mutual Interests'

"In a sense, the courts and the press both review each other's work," Bird said. "The court oversees the press's claims of First Amendment protection, and the press summarizes and critiques the court's decisions for the general public. . . .

"The press and the judiciary must recognize their mutual interests in ensuring the preservation of a strong third branch of government."

The television and radio executives group also summoned the other four top candidates in California's 1986 elections for back-to-back campaign appearances at a resort hotel here. It was the closest thing yet to a grand campaign debate this election.

At their separate appearances, Gov. George Deukmejian continued to rebuff Democratic challenger Tom Bradley's demands for direct debates, and U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston continued to insist that it wasn't his fault there was no agreement on debates with his Republican challenger, Rep. Ed Zschau of Los Altos.

Zschau said he has accepted an offer from the California League of Women Voters for three debates with Cranston, and called on his opponent to join him.

"We need the debates," Zschau told the broadcast station owners and managers.

"We need for Sen. Cranston and me to discuss the politics and what that has meant to this country and we need to discuss the 'new principle' and what that could mean to the future of the country."

Zschau charged that Cranston represents "the old politics . . . based on the concept that a lawmaker demonstrates his or her deep commitment to a cause by showing how much money they are willing to spend on it.

"The new principle is that . . . the spending under the old politics is threatening the future of this country."

'Too Inconsistent'

Cranston charged that Zschau's House voting record showed him to be "too inconsistent," and added:

"The people, I believe, understand that without leadership that comes from conviction, California will lose its advantage in the Senate, and in the nation. . . .

"You may not always agree with me," Cranston added, "but you always know where I stand."

The three-term Democratic senator said he welcomed debates with Zschau, but only if the challenger's campaign would sit down and negotiate terms.

Bradley, the mayor of Los Angeles, cast his desire for debates in the lofty fashion. He listed candidates, from sitting Presidents on down, who made face-to-face debates a growing tradition in American politics.

"The fact is, those candidates placed the public's right to know above their own desire to control the political dialogue," Bradley said.

Adhering to Plan

"Today George Deukmejian is willing to appear in the same room with me. I hope the time will come soon when he will be willing to stand side by side with me in order that we debate the important issues before the people of California."

Asked about his underdog campaign, Bradley insisted that he was adhering to his game plan. "We deliberately planned to start slowly."

Deukmejian, for his part, signaled again his view that anything resembling a debate with Bradley would be not differ much from political mud wrestling.

"I would imagine that some of you perhaps believe that because I'm appearing in this forum and that my opponent is also appearing that there is likely to be an exchange of very strong personal attacks, one against the other.

"Well, if any one of you are anticipating that from me, you're going to be a little disappointed because I frankly feel the public is fed up with that kind of smear campaign, that kind of personal attack campaign."

Only Deukmejian and Bird, who represent vastly different political views, brought the convention of broadcasters to its feet.

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