More than one reader has written me asking for judicial endorsements.
I didn’t realize how many judicial candidates I personally knew, until I read the L.A. Times endorsements. It turns out that a number of the candidates are people with whom I have worked closely and know fairly well. (A lot of the candidates are Deputy District Attorneys.)
I was talking to a colleague in the hallway today about this phenomenon. I said: “I guess I’m just hitting a point in my life when a lot of my colleagues feel qualified to run for judge.” He said: “Yeah. That’s called middle age.”
It’s a little awkward — OK, it’s a real mine field — giving honest opinions about people with whom you have worked. What’s more, it’s actually kind of stupid saying anything negative about someone who might win, because I might have to appear in front of that judge some day.
And everything you ever write on the Internet always makes it back to the people you write about.
At the same time, I’m not going to lie to you. So if I don’t like someone, I won’t falsely praise them. I just won’t say anything.
That’s not an implication that I have anything bad to say about anyone in this race. I’m just telling you the ground rules for this and all future races. You’re unlikely to see me trashing anyone, ever, because that would be idiotic.
But if I say something positive, I mean it. And I’ll try to tell you something personal about the people I am talking about, to give you a sense of what I think about them and why.
I’m going to go down the list of the Times endorsements and give you my thoughts. In each case, I’ll quote the paper, and then give you my own view.
Office No. 94: Michael J. O’Gara is the standout candidate in this three-person race. He is a well-regarded deputy district attorney with the integrity and demeanor for the bench.
Mike is my top recommendation in this election. I worked with him in Central Trials downtown and really like him. He’s just a really smart guy who knows what he’s doing and would be fair.
But I have a soft spot for Mike for another reason: he’s a fan of the blog, and an occasional commenter under the handle “MOG.” (He authorized me to say that, so I’m not giving away any state secrets.)
You must vote for Mike O’Gara in this election or I will ban you from my blog. ‘Nuff said.
Moving on with the endorsements in order:
The Times endorses: Daniel P. Ramirez for Office No. 3; Juan Carlos Dominguez for Office No. 35; Michael Villalobos for Office No. 41; Hector M. Guzman for Office No. 55; Daniel S. Lopez for Office No. 101; and Jose Sandoval for Office No. 102.
I used to work for Michael Villalobos in juvenile. He’s a good guy.
Office No. 69: Serena R. Murillo is the better of two candidates in this race. Her straightforward style has earned her respect from criminal defense lawyers she faces in court as a prosecutor, as well as from her own colleagues and supervisors. She should make an outstanding judge.
Serena was my office mate for several months when I worked Central Trials downtown. She’s good people and she’d be a good judge.
Office No. 72: Hilleri Grossman Merritt, a deputy district attorney, has the narrow edge in this race, earning high marks from colleagues, defense lawyers and judges for fairness and integrity. We endorse her without hesitation but note that one of her opponents, fellow prosecutor Marc Alain Chomel, would also serve with distinction.
I know both Hilleri and Marc. Hilleri worked with my wife in the Sex Crimes Unit downtown. I worked for Marc when I was in Central Trials. I wish they were running in different races so I could endorse them both. As it stands, I can’t choose. Either one would be a good judge.
Office No. 82: Cynthia Loo. We endorse Loo, a Superior Court referee who presides over juvenile delinquency cases, but with some reservations. She appears to possess little of the serene courtroom demeanor usually associated with a trial judge. Yet she earns high marks from attorneys on all sides for her handling of juvenile cases, which are closed to the public. Loo is an asset to juvenile court, an assignment that ought to be highly sought but seldom is. She is running against two prosecutors, including one — Thomas Rubinson — who has risen high in the district attorney’s office and is well-regarded by colleagues. But Rubinson lacks the respect that many defense lawyers accord his colleagues. Loo is, narrowly, the better choice.
I don’t know Loo, but I know Tom Rubinson. He’s a hard-driving Deputy D.A. who has handled serious cases without blinking. He is smart and has good judgment. I can see where defense attorneys might not all like him; he’s pretty serious and hard-edged. That’s OK with me because I don’t like crime. I endorse Tom.
Office No. 84: Pat Connolly, a deputy district attorney, is the best of four candidates in this race. He is a competent prosecutor and should make a competent judge. The Times has twice before endorsed Deputy Atty. Gen. Bob Henry, and he also would be a capable jurist, but Connolly is the better choice.
I agree with The Times here, but their explanation is poor. Let me elaborate.
In every profession there are company men and people who buck the system. There is no question that Pat Connolly is a guy who bucks the system. I think it’s fair to say he has pissed off some people in the D.A.’s office, including some supervisors. But it’s even more fair to say that he’s one of the most talented and principled prosecutors the office has.
Pat is a very skilled lawyer who has handled countless murder cases, including many extremely high-profile cases. He is a character — the type of person that the District Attorney’s Office used to have in spades, but has traded in for the more faceless, corporate type of personality. If you’re looking for a robotic type of person, Pat isn’t your guy. Pat is hard-driving, superbly organized, and cares about his cases and his victims.
Personally, I like people who call them as they see them, and to hell with the consequences. Pat is that type of guy.
I think he is a fantastic D.A., and I think he would make a fine judge.
Office No. 119: Jared D. Moses. If The Times could pick only one race in which to endorse, this would be the one. Prosecutor Moses is far and away the best qualified of three. He would be a good choice in any field of candidates, but especially in this one.
Don’t know the guy. Mrs. P. says she has heard good things.
Office No. 123: Kathleen Blanchard. As in the previous race, this prosecutor stands out even further because of her two far less qualified opponents.
Katha and I were both assigned to Huntington Park in our first assignments. She had a background as a Deputy Attorney General, and I had a background as a civil lawyer. We were both dismayed when the office stuck us in the habeas unit, grinding out returns to habeas petitions, when we wanted to do trials. The office tapped both of us because we had a background that indicated some ability to write, but that did not mollify us.
Luckily, Katha was able to escape that dreary assignment and has had a very successful career as a gang prosecutor. (I escaped as well, but it took me longer. I used to keep hash marks on a piece of paper I kept taped on the wall of my office, indicating the number of days I had served, like a prisoner. Yes, I had a bad attitude. But that’s another story.) She always impressed me, even back in the days when we were doing misdemeanor trials, because she was one of those lawyers who really cared. She’d be out there serving subpoenas on critical witnesses on the weekends. She’s that kind of lawyer. Katha is one of the younger candidates (she started with me, and I’m young, right? RIGHT?) but she would be a great judge.
Office No. 154: Michael Jesic is another prosecutor who has mastered the courtroom and is ready to become a judge.
I hear good things about Jesic but I don’t know him.
So there you have it. That’s my honest view on the folks who are running for judge. It’s a good crop of folks. I hope this helps.