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June 5 Primary: One-Third of L.A.'s Judicial Candidates 'Not Qualified,' Report Says

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Six of the 16 candidates running for a judge's seat in the Los Angeles County Superior Court on June 5 are not qualified to do the job, according to a report released Thursday. In one race between two candidates, neither is qualified.

A "not qualified" rating means that a candidate does not adequately possess certain attributes deemed necessary to perform the job of judge, according to the report. Among those attributes are integrity, judgment and intellectual capacity, fairness, experience, temperament, knowledge of the law, and an absence of health problems.

The Los Angeles County Bar Association, a voluntary professional organization for attorneys, issues the report every two years when a pool of judges reach the end of their term and must seek reelection or retire. The ratings are the culmination of an exhaustive background investigation conducted by the association's Judicial Elections Evaluation Committee, which pores over court records, interviews the candidates' peers and judges who have worked with them, and more.

"The process that the JEEC goes through is one where there are a lot of checks and balances," said Gretchen Nelson, the chair of the committee and former president of LACBA, in a separate interview. "We do not accept information that's anonymous. If you want to make a point about a candidate, you have to provide us with your name, and we have to be able to corroborate in some way, shape or form the information that you're disclosing."

Other judicial candidates received ratings of "qualified," "well qualified," or "exceptionally well qualified." Candidates who received a "not qualified" rating were given an opportunity to appeal before the report was made public.

The candidate ratings, along with the office that each is running for, appear below:

SUPERIOR COURT OFFICE No. 3
Candidate Rating
Sean D. Cohen Qualified
Joe Escalante Not Qualified
Laurence N. Kaldor Not Qualified
Craig Gold Qualified
 
SUPERIOR COURT OFFICE No. 10
Candidate Rating
Hon. Sanjay T. Kumar Exceptionally Well Qualified
Kim Smith Not Qualified
 
SUPERIOR COURT OFFICE No. 38
Candidate Rating
Hon. Lynn Diane Olson Not Qualified
Douglas Weitzman Not Qualified
 
SUPERIOR COURT OFFICE No. 65
Candidate Rating
Shannon Knight Qualified
Andrea C. Thompson Well Qualified
Matt Schonbrun Qualified
 
SUPERIOR COURT OFFICE No. 78
Candidate Rating
Hon. James Otto Exceptionally Well Qualified
Kenneth Hughey Not Qualified
 
SUPERIOR COURT OFFICE No. 114
Candidate Rating
Ben M. Brees Qualified
Eric Harmon Well Qualified
Berj Parseghian Well Qualified

The ratings in the report could have considerable pull among voters who know about them, since there is often a dearth of information about candidates running for judge compared to those running for a political office, such as State Senate or Congress.

In part that's because judicial candidates are effectively barred from sharing their political views or discussing in much detail how they plan to execute their duties, unlike a politician who can campaign on a definite platform. All of which makes running for judge more like facing a performance review, and voters who know little or nothing about the legal system may feel they are not qualified to be the judge of a judge.

Still, because the report only employs four broad categories, more than one -- and sometimes all -- of the candidates can receive the exact same rating, which means voters have to find some other source of information to help them make their assessments.

Nelson offers a number of other tips and resources for voters.

One way to judge a candidate is to review newspaper endorsements and articles written about the candidates. The Los Angeles Times issued its own assessment of the candidates late last month, with half the candidates reviewed in one article and the rest in a follow-up piece.

The Daily Journal (paid subscription) and the Metropolitan News-Enterprise (free), two papers in Los Angeles that specialize in legal news, can be another helpful resource.

The point, for Nelson, is that judicial elections are an oft overlooked but critically important part of our state government, and voters should make an effort to become informed rather than skipping over the judges on their ballot.

"Day to day, going in, trying to see if you are getting a fair shake, that's coming to you only from that one judge who is sitting there in black robes in the Superior Court," Nelson said. "Very important."

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