Endorsement: Six for the Superior Court
Of the nine Los Angeles Superior Court races in the June primary, the six in which no sitting judge sought reelection did not produce a majority winner. Runoffs between the top two finishers for each of those seats will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot. The Times previously endorsed a candidate in each of those races and endorses them again.
This year’s Superior Court election has drawn more attention than usual because of four candidates running together with the aim of putting a more criminal-defense-oriented perspective on the bench. They make some interesting points, but the central issue in these races should not be whether candidates gained their experience as prosecutors or defense lawyers, but how ready each of them is to preside with fairness and authority over any courtroom, whether criminal or civil. Besides, voters fill only a minority of Superior Court seats. Diversity in background and experience is largely up to the governor, who appoints most judges.
Because the vast majority of Superior Court seats are filled by gubernatorial appointment, voters have little sway over the broad composition of the court. But each judge elected to the court will nonetheless make a difference in the quality of justice handed down. The Times recommends candidates based on their experience, achievement, knowledge, demeanor and maturity.
The L.A. Times’ editorial board endorsements for statewide ballot measures, elected offices in Los Angeles city and county, L.A. Unified School District board, L.A. county superior court, statewide offices, the state Legislature and U.S. House and Senate seats.
Office No. 60: Abby Baron
Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Abby Baron is a career prosecutor who has won praise from defense lawyers for fairness and straight dealing, as well as strong backing from law enforcement and crime victims’ advocates. She is among a select few prosecutors who have been assigned, because of their sensitivity and skill, to the Stuart House, a program created by the Rape Treatment Center at UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center.
Her opponent is Deputy Public Defender Anna Slotky Reitano. Her prior experience includes civil and labor matters. She probably would make a good judge, but in the matchup between candidates, Baron is the better choice.
Office No. 67: Fernanda Maria Barreto
Deputy Dist. Atty. Fernanda Maria Barreto is a standout prosecutor, assigned to deal with particularly sensitive cases in the Victim Impact Program, working closely with the alleged victims of domestic abuse, elder abuse, trafficking and child molestation. She also has brief experience in a civil law practice. Importantly, she is respected by defense counsel as well as judges.
Running against Barreto is Deputy Public Defender Elizabeth Lashley-Haynes. She has the qualities to be a good judge. Between the two candidates, however, Barreto excels.
Office No. 70: Holly Hancock
Los Angeles County Deputy Public Defender Holly Hancock is an experienced and accomplished criminal defense lawyer who had an earlier career as a flight attendant and labor union leader, in which she helped to lead efforts to protect aircraft security after the 9/11 attacks. She has an impressive record of courtroom accomplishment, winning her clients reduced charges or outright acquittals in the majority of her cases.
Her opponent is Deputy Dist. Atty. Renee Yolande Chang. She is a well-regarded trial attorney, but of the two candidates, Hancock is the better choice.
The Times makes its recommendations after meeting with the candidates, studying their records and speaking with lawyers and others who have worked with or against them.
Office No. 90: Melissa Lyons
This race is a matchup between two criminal prosecutors. Melissa Lyons has been a deputy district attorney for 16 years, most notably in the Sex Crimes Division. Outside the office she has volunteered with the Summer Night Lights Program sponsored by Los Angeles’ Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development.
Her opponent, Leslie Gutierrez, might make a better candidate after more trial experience. Lyons is the more accomplished and the better choice for the bench.
Office No. 118: Melissa Hammond
Deputy Dist. Atty. Melissa Hammond has also served as a deputy public defender and a civil practitioner, acquiring valuable perspective and experience.
Carolyn “Jiyoung” Park has represented public employees in front of disciplinary boards and practices labor and civil rights law. She argues that her “Not Qualified” rating from the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. (as compared with Hammond’s “Well Qualified” rating) is a reflection of the legal establishment’s preference for a status quo dominated by prosecutors and big-firm lawyers, and she makes a point that’s well worth further examination. Bar association ratings aside, Hammond is the better choice.
Office No. 151: Patrick Hare
Deputy Public Defender Patrick Hare is a highly accomplished criminal defense attorney who enjoys the unusual distinction of being endorsed by dozens of Superior Court judges in a race in which his opponent is a prosecutor. He is widely lauded for his skill, trial experience and integrity.
His opponent, prosecutor Karen Brako, is a polarizing figure in the district attorney’s office, with some of her colleagues calling her a model prosecutor and some dismissing her as lackadaisical. She has received mixed reviews from judges before whom she has practiced.
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