Governor Says Bradley Isn’t Being ‘Honest’ on Bird Issue

Times Sacramento Bureau Chief

Gov. George Deukmejian charged Thursday that Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, in remaining neutral on Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird, has not been “honest with the people.” And he gave a civics lesson to a Town Hall audience about why her reelection effort is fair game for politics.

Although judges “are independent from the executive and the legislative branches of government,” he said, “they’re not independent from the people. . . . The power still rests with the people.”

As his reelection race against Bradley nears its finish next Tuesday, Deukmejian increasingly has been called upon by audiences to explain his justification for leading the charge against three state Supreme Court members--Bird and Associate Justices Cruz Reynoso and Joseph R. Grodin--who are part of a separate, independent branch of government. Indeed, Bradley’s rationale for remaining neutral on the justices’ reelection efforts has been that he does not want to further politicize the court.

Politically, public opinion polls have shown that opposing the unpopular chief justice wins votes for Deukmejian or almost any other candidate. Surveys also have shown that whichever stand Bradley took, it was a “no-win” situation. Opposing Bird--normally the politically wise thing to do--would have left the mayor vulnerable to a “flip-flop” charge because he was a co-chairman of Bird’s last reelection effort in 1978.


Deukmejian, speaking to approximately 500 people at a Town Hall luncheon in Los Angeles, said:

“For 24 years, I have advocated the need for tough, common sense judges in our state. As governor, I have now had the opportunity to appoint nearly 400 new judges, and I can assure you that these judges are as concerned about the rights of victims of crime as they are about the rights of the accused.

“The people know exactly what kind of judges I will appoint in the future. Unlike my opponent, I have been honest with the people, telling them exactly where I stand on the reelection of Rose Bird. Chief Justice Rose Bird has voted to overturn every death penalty case that has come before her. Next Tuesday, it’s time for the voters to overturn Rose Bird.”

The audience erupted into applause with those words, the only time it did during the governor’s speech.


Contrast in ‘Leadership’

Throughout the campaign, Deukmejian has used Bradley’s neutral stance on Bird to contrast the “leadership” qualities of the two candidates.

The governor’s defense Thursday of what his political critics denounce as “court bashing” came on the same day that Bird’s campaign released the text of a new television commercial to be shown throughout California before Election Day. In the ad, the chief justice is sitting behind her desk, telling viewers:

“You’d think I ran every branch of government in California. . . . The politicians are trying to fool you. They’re running against me to avoid the real issues. Think about it--why are they so afraid of a chief justice who follows the law rather than political expediency?”


After Deukmejian’s speech, a member of the Town Hall audience asked the governor what he thought the role is of partisan politics in the judicial process. He replied that California citizens, many years ago, determined that “there would be no partisan political activity within the selection process of the judiciary.”

Right of the People

“When someone becomes a judge, they do not run on a political label, unlike (in) some states,” he continued. “Further, there is no organized political party that puts up a candidate against an incumbent judge or justice. To further insulate justices from political pressures, they are given longer terms than people who, let’s say, serve in the Assembly or the Senate or the governor. . . . Having said that, people also reserve unto themselves the right to decide whether or not judges should remain in their office.”

Deukmejian pointed out that most judges are appointed by a governor. He noted that appellate judges--such as state Supreme Court justices--must be confirmed by the Judicial Appointments Commission and then approved by the voters at the next general election, or whenever their terms expire.


“At that point,” he continued, “the people have said, ‘OK, the governor appointed these individuals, that’s all right, but we want to have the right to say whether they should be given another term. . . . So in this election that we have right now, with six justices of the California Supreme Court on the ballot, this is a normal step in the elective process. This is not a recall election. This is a time when the people have a chance to vote.”

For months, Deukmejian has been saying that in criticizing Bird--and to a much lesser extent, Grodin and Reynoso--he is merely letting Californians know how he intends to vote.