County Bar Assn. Ratings of Candidates Find Three Sitting Judges ‘Not Qualified’
The Los Angeles County Bar Assn. on Wednesday released its ratings of candidates in judicial elections in the June primary, finding a sitting Superior Court judge and two Municipal Court judges “not qualified” for the bench, but refusing to specifically say why.
The Bar ratings also give some contenders for judicial positions better ratings than others with designations of “well qualified,” “qualified” or “not qualified.” But its most controversial decisions involve sitting judges.
Association leaders said that a 58-member evaluation committee had decided that Superior Court Judge Henry Patrick Nelson and Los Angeles Municipal Judge Michael Nash “lack judicial temperament” and that Southeast Municipal Judge Russell F. Schooling “exhibits bias and lacks judicial temperament.”
The head of the evaluation committee, Howard Halm, declined to be more specific, saying the Bar had to protect its confidential sources. Anyone wanting to know the particular criticisms of the Bar should ask the judges themselves, who have been informed of the specifics, Halm said.
The Bar’s definition of bias, for example, says it can be “based on race, sex, sexual preference, national origin, handicap, social status, religion, political affiliation, (or bias toward) plaintiff, prosecution or defendant.” Asked what kind of bias Schooling had allegedly exhibited, Halm refused to say.
“To do so would violate the confidentiality requirement that we are under,” he explained.
Schooling did not respond to a telephone call, but Nelson and Nash immediately issued scathing statements about their ratings.
Nelson said: “I refuse to accept this irresponsible and misguided rating by a group of discontented lawyers. I deplore the process which was used to reach this conclusion, and the petty, baseless criticisms which have been leveled at me. . . . The main gripe this committee has against me is that I move cases along quickly, that I make lawyers work too hard.”
Nelson’s opponent, attorney Joe Ingber, was rated “qualified” by the evaluation committee.
Nash said: “This outrageous rating is the result of a concerted effort by a small but vocal segment of the legal community to attack me and the Hollywood courthouse, because of our tough but effective system of dispensing justice.”
He added that he is incensed that he was given only 30 minutes to defend himself when he appeared before the committee and that “quite frankly very few specific complaints were presented to me. . . . I had no meaningful opportunity to respond.”
Nash’s opponent, attorney Enda Thomas Brennan, was rated “qualified,” and Schooling’s opponent, attorney Carlos de la Fuente, was rated “well qualified.”
Halm confirmed that each judge or judicial contender appearing before the committee was limited to 30 minutes, but Halm said he was “satisfied that our procedures were followed,” which he declared resulted in “extensive, thorough evaluations” developed from a broad base of information.
County Bar President Larry Feldman challenged the reasons that Nash had stated for the adverse rating, saying: “He’s not right. This very group he says attacks him on this issue is comprised of district attorneys. It’s ridiculous to suggest there’s any bias in this.”
As for Nelson, Feldman said that even he as Bar president was not privy to the deliberations of the evaluation committee, so “I don’t know what it was he did or how many times he did it.”
In other judicial races, the Bar committee rated Superior Court Judge Roberta Ralph “qualified” but her opponent, attorney Harvey A. Schneider, “well qualified.”
A similar distinction was made between Beverly Hills Municipal Judge Judith O. Stein, rated “qualified,” and her opponent, attorney Brian S. Braff, who was rated “well qualified.”
Los Angeles Municipal Judge Barbara A. Meiers was rated “qualified,” while her opponent, attorney Tonly L. Cogliandro, was rated “well qualified.”