Bird Urges Greater Access to TV for Candidates

Times Staff Writer

Former Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird, voted out of office in a rancorous political battle last fall, urged Monday that candidates be granted wider access to television during election campaigns.

"We've got to do something about opening up television on a more equal basis," she said after a speech here.

Bird did not endorse public financing for political campaigns or make any other specific proposals, nor would she blame her defeat and that of two other justices on a lack of campaign funding.

She did note, however, that although she and Justices Cruz Reynoso and Joseph R. Grodin raised only about $2 million for the campaign, their foes were able to spend millions more.

"I'm not saying that's why we lost," the former chief justice told reporters. "But we need to do something about the cost of TV. That's the fundamental way people communicate now in the political process."

Bird spoke with reporters after a wide-ranging question-and-answer session at the conclusion of an address before the American Library Assn. At ease and occasionally joking with her audience, she offered her views on several subjects.

She steadfastly refused to criticize the new state Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Malcolm M. Lucas and containing a majority of appointees of Gov. George Deukmejian, her leading critic during the fall campaign.

Asked about the court's recent dismissal, without decisions, of about two dozen cases the court under Bird had agreed to hear, she replied:

"The people voted to have a change on the court, and they voted for the governor who made those changes. When I came on the court 10 years ago, I was under attack from the moment I walked in the door. I vowed to myself I would never do that to anyone else."

Bird added that she wishes the new court "the very best."

On other subjects, the former chief justice:

- Said she is writing two books--one on her experiences on the court and the other she would only describe as "reflections . . . on a lot of different things." She said she has "no interest" in running for public office but intends eventually to practice law and "just may" make appearances on television.

- Called for passage of the equal rights amendment, a long-stalled proposal to amend the Constitution to specifically bar discrimination by sex. "If people would just read it . . . (they would find) it doesn't say women should get special privileges but just says women should not be discriminated against."

- Expressed concern over the use of the military in roles ordinarily reserved for police, such as in the campaign against illegal drugs. "There is a fundamental danger," she said. "Once you meld police and the military, you have a very different society."

In her speech, Bird made a strong appeal in behalf of freedom of the press, citing an opinion she wrote as a member of the court urging that the news media be free to criticize official conduct without fear of libel suits.

She also criticized abuses of power by the press, as well as its frequent focus on the private lives of public officeholders.

Responding to questions from the audience, Bird expressed considerable concern about the high cost of obtaining access to television during election campaigns.

'Very, Very Difficult'

"It's very, very difficult to raise the money that's necessary," she said. "We as a society need to think of ways . . . to ensure there is access at the time of elections for all the different candidates--and that it's not all just based on how much you can raise."

She said she believes that the most effective television advertisement used against the three defeated justices was a commercial telling viewers that the way to vote yes on the death penalty was to vote no on retaining Bird, Reynoso and Grodin.

Bird, speaking later with reporters, said that although her forces were raising $2 million and spending most of it on television, Deukmejian and other candidates who opposed her were able to spend much more in their campaigns for office.

Campaign reports indicated that Deukmejian spent about $5 million in his bid for reelection and that groups opposing Bird, Reynoso and Grodin spent $10 million.

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