Op-Ed: One voter, 28 candidates for Superior Court judge — how will she decide?
I got an email from Patricia “Patti” Hunter, asking for my vote in the June 5th election. She’s running for Los Angeles Superior Court judge, Seat 16. I know her, I like her, I like her kids. Sure, I thought, why not? Then I thought, I have no idea how qualified she is to be a judge, especially in comparison to her opponents, Sydne Michel (The Times endorsed her) or Hubert S. Yun.
I love voting. I love walking over to the elementary school and saying hello to the poll workers as I sign my name in the big book. I wear my “I Voted” sticker all day. I know it’s not enough to just press the little inky stick in the holes. I pride myself on being informed. I don’t blindly follow what the newspaper says or a party line.
The Official Voter Information Guide is 95 pages long and it doesn’t include a word about the 165 “elections” for judge in the Los Angeles County Superior Court. “Elections” is in quotes because for 154 of these judgeships, incumbents are running unopposed. Only the names of 28 candidates in the contested judicial elections — 11 this time — will even show up on your ballot.
That kind of information gap may explain why no more than a quarter of the dismal 11% of eligible voters who go to the polls bother choosing judges at all. Most of us just leave those bubbles blank. It’s embarrassing, but I’ve voted for judges solely based on candidates’ gender or their job description: public defender. Once I voted for a judicial candidate because I recognized his name. That’s an especially dumb move. Before he ran for president, I’d heard of Donald Trump, too.
Being a Superior Court judge is an important job. She sees people at their worst, in divorce and custody battles or as the victims or perpetrators of a crime. She needs to be a good listener, to apply the law without considering popular opinion or her own political beliefs. How’s a voter supposed to figure out who best fits that description?
I turned on my computer. First, I found judgevoterguide.com. Craig Huey, the site’s producer, has been offering recommendations on California court races for 20 years. He asks candidates to fill out a questionnaire, which is posted, but not the answers. His Twitter feed makes it pretty clear he’s a conservative and his ratings (0 to 5 stars) no doubt reflect it.
So for another side, I went to the Stonewall Democratic Club’s site. If you didn’t know the significance of the name, the rainbow flag in the banner would be a dead giveaway about where they stand. Sure enough, the two sites were diametrically opposed. On the Stonewall site, Anthony Lewis was endorsed for Seat 64. I clicked through to his website. He’s a civil rights attorney with a long history of fighting against discrimination of all kinds. On Craig Huey’s site, Lewis gets a grayed-out star with a cautionary red line through it.
But the race I was most interested in, Seat 16, wasn’t included on Stonewall — I guess none of the candidates measured up. On Huey’s website, though, Hunter was redlined; Michel got four stars and Yun got five.
Time to dig deeper. The candidates’ websites are very … judicious — innocuous almost to the point of being uninformative. They repeat the same three words: fair, experienced and dedicated. All the candidates have been lawyers for years, although Michel began as an actress. It’s L.A. after all.
I tried to read between the lines and definitely got a more conservative vibe from Yun and Michel. He calls himself a “gang murder prosecutor” and Michel wants to keep “society safe.” But “vibe” was exactly what I was trying to get past.
On the neutral Voter’s Edge website, Yun, Michel and Hunter were lined up together and each answered (or didn’t, in the case of Michel) the same three questions. Great, I could compare and contrast. Under an additional heading, “political philosophy,” only Hunter had anything to say: “I believe that elections are important and that voters have a right to know about their candidates.” She was pulling ahead.
Google located a Metropolitan News-Enterprise article on the race. Most of what it revealed — education, years in practice — was familiar by now, with some added detail about Yun’s commitment to his children and a cute picture of Michel in the movie “Carrie.” Then one sentence stopped me cold: “Michel has been married to attorney C.D. “Chuck” Michel for 20 years … known for representing the National Rifle Assn. in high-profile litigation.”
Wait. What? I don’t hold anyone responsible for their partner’s choices, but it made me curious. I kept Googling. At calguns.net, “the California Firearms Enthusiasts Home,” I found this post: “Don’t forget to vote for Sydne Michel,” with many affirmative responses, and then these tidbits: Apparently, Michel’s son’s name is Colt, and her dog is called Heston.
My mother always said, “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” I complain a lot, so I have to vote. Which means I have to choose. All I had on Yun was his Huey rating and a law-and-order vibe, which made me hesitate. Michel’s gun associations? A deal breaker for me, just as they will be a deal maker for others.
Hunter will get my vote. Now, how many days are there until June 5? I’ve got 25 more judicial candidates to go.
Diana Wagman is a contributing writer to Opinion.
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