Long Beach Facing High-Profile Judge Race

By Los Angeles Superior Court judicial election standards, it seems Long Beach is approaching a knock-down, drag-out election. The Metropolitan News-Enterprise, a legal newspaper known for its judicial election coverage, is reporting that L.A. County Deputy District Attorney Carol Najera is running for the Los Angeles Superior Court.  
Carol Najera, Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney (Photo from a report by Metropolitan News-Enterprise)

Carol Najera, Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney (Photo from a report by Metropolitan News-Enterprise)

That would be a challenge to incumbent Judge James Pierce, who sits in Long Beach. The report cited a judge “… who knows both Najera and Pierce, and who asked not to be named” as explaining that Najera “hates” the incumbent and “thinks he’s a terrible judge.” Najera, who was not available for comment for the report, is also connected to the high-profile Menendez brothers trail. She was on team that convicted the brothers of murdering their parents. That conviction came after an earlier trial ended with a hung jury.

The report also said the apparent candidate “… recently tweeted that she will kick off her campaign at an event in Long Beach Jan. 23.” Judge Pierce was appointed to the bench by then-Gov. George Deukmejian in 1989 and has previously served as a Los Angeles Superior Court commissioner.

Check out the story here

New Divorce Documentary Is ‘Takedown’ Of System

Photo: www.divorcecorp.com

Photo: www.divorcecorp.com

Reviews are pouring in for the new “Divorce Corp.” documentary by Joseph Sorge, which opens this month and paints a very dark picture of family law courts. While the film is national in scope, it focuses on California and its most interesting character is a private investigator in the Golden State. Accounts are of a “system” with little oversight, complete with conflicts of interest and judges beyond belief. It should be noted that the longtime television producer got the idea for the film from his own divorce. 
You can find plenty of online info, but one of the better reviews is from Paste Magazine” “Narrated by Dr. Drew Pinsky, Divorce Corp.unfolds as a methodological case study, and a shrewd takedown of a legal system in which more money passes through family law court than all others combined. Using their increasingly dexterous talents to manipulate a system of at least partially manufactured dissent, lawyers have driven up the national average in divorce fees to a bewildering $50,000, which is more money than a lot of folks make in a year. Litigants, we’re told and shown, are little more than grist for the mill.”
The movie’s website is here.
The Paste review is here.

Court Budget Hike Tied To Pension, Other Changes

Gov. Brown’s new budget proposal includes $3.2 billion for the state’s courts, an increase of $105 million from last year, but also eliminates local trial court reserve funds in favor of a a large “rainy day” fund in control of the Judicial Council. It also takes aim at forcing court workers to contribute more to their pension funds, according to coverage in The Courthouse News Service.
“There is a longstanding disparity in trial court employees in terms of how much they pay into their pensions,” said Department of Finance Director Michael Cohen, as quoted in CNS. “There are some employees in the court system that still pay nothing into their pensions. We need to move toward employees paying into roughly half the cost of their pensions.”
The CNS also offered this: “Though pressed by reporters, Cohen declined to say whether the pension mandate will apply to employees of the Administrative Office of the Courts, the judiciary’s administrative agency based in San Francisco. The top 30 administrators in the AOC enjoyed a top-loaded pension perk where the taxpayers contributed 22 percent on top of salary to the administrators’ pension accounts without any matching contribution from the individual administrator.”

‘City In Decline’ Report Skips Court Woes

Another example of how off-the-radar our civil courts crisis can be: The once-anticipated Los Angeles 2020 Commission report of “A City In Crisis” does not include those long lines at the courthouse or the slow dismantling of our juvenile and community courthouse system. Indeed, after reading the Los Angeles Times review of our city’s crisis, you realize that our “paper of record” has taken a harder look at the crackdown on jaywalking than on the civil courts.
Granted, that may be because you have to connect the dots. Superior Courts funding is a “state issue,” until it becomes a police issue, a landlord-renter issue, a business development issue, an economic recruitment issue – in other words, until it disrupts the stuff that forces headlines. Reviews of the 20-page report, actually billed as “part one,” have been harsh, with the L.A. Weekly calling it “a mess” and noting that the group complains that the city leadership “… suffers from a crisis in leadership and direction” before saying “… it’s clear that this report is suffering from a crisis in leadership and direction, as it bogs down in the same old thinking. Whether this condition also applies to the city’s leaders is impossible to know, as the report does not analyze, address or acknowledge anything that any particular city leader has done about any of these issues.”
The “independent commission,” chaired by former U.S. Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor, is comprised of 13 men and women and was set up after voters turned down a recent city tax increase. An L.A. Times opinion piece ran down the crisis list: “The city, according to the report, is afflicted with weak job growth; high poverty; bad traffic; underperforming schools; weak, inactive government; red tape that stifles economic development; crumbling infrastructure; unfunded pensions; budget gimmicks and a disaffected electorate… Los Angeles is sinking into a future in which it no longer can provide the public services to which our people’s taxes entitle them and where the promises made to public employees about a decent and secure retirement simply cannot be kept.”
It’s lively reading, but perhaps frustrating to anyone hoping that rationed justice can receive the same attention as the live-altering use of budget gimmicks.

L.A. Judge Eyed For District Appeals Court

The MetNews is reporting today that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lee S. Edmon is among those being considered for appointment to this district’s Court of Appeal. The report notes that she has been a Superior Court judge since 2000, when she was appointed by then-Gov. Gray Davis.
The MetNews has been on top of the Appeals Court judicial appointments and has previous reported “… that U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins, Los Angeles Superior Court Judges Sanjay T. Kumar and Brian Hoffstadt, and Southwestern Law School professor Christopher Cameron are under consideration for appointment to the Court of Appeal. There are currently four vacancies in this district, with two more scheduled to occur by the end of February.”
Judge Edmond has served in several capacities, including Presiding Judge, and was appointed to the Judicial Council of California in June 2008. The MetNews said she did not respond to a request for comment. Read the story here

Chief Justice, Budget Plans Sketched In Report

One of those end-of-year “people to watch” features is hardly the stuff of investigative journalism, but a piece in The Tribune newspaper in San Luis Obispo outlines at least part of the upcoming judicial budget battles. The feature on California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye is mostly glowing, but is among the few to note that early budget drafts exclude court budget increases.

The story is also one of the few that notes a specific number that the chief justice will seek from the legislature, although it is an indirect reference: “With those priorities in mind, Cantil-Sakauye is making a serious push for increased funding in the next fiscal year: another $472 million, which is about how much has cumulatively been cut from the judiciary’s budget since 2008.”

That report adds that “… that could be an uphill battle: Assembly Speaker John A. Perez released a blueprint budget plan earlier this month that included no new appropriations for the judiciary…” Read more here. 

U.S. Chief Justice Pleads For More Funding, Warns Of Constitutional Issues

The new year began with a New Year’s Eve warning from U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts that sounds a lot like a federal version of what California has been going through for several years. In effect, the Chief Justice is warning that court cutbacks are threatening access to justice, especially when it comes to public defenders and other rights guaranteed by the constitution.
This is not exactly new. Chief Justice Roberts has repeatedly warned of funding problems, especially those caused by the so-called sequestration cuts. But this warning comes a few weeks after two top officials from the nation’s Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts issued similar warnings.
As usual, the debate focuses on criminal courts but civil court delays were also noted. The Chief Justice wrote that “… in the civil and bankruptcy venues, further consequences would include commercial uncertainty, lost opportunities, and unvindicated rights. In the criminal venues, those consequences pose a genuine threat to public safety.”

Happy New Year!

The California Courts Monitor will resume regular posts on Monday, January 6th.


CCM staff