Unqualified Judge Now Wields A Gavel

gavel.jpgWhile I don’t know if my “Race for the Gavel!” series affected even a single vote in the June 6th elections for Superior Court judges, I do know more public attention in this sort of race is critical. Case in point: it appears that people voting out of guesswork and how a name sounds has ousted a long standing judge and replaced her with a candidate that the BAR association branded “not qualified” for the position.

From the LA Times, 6/8/06:

Judge Dzintra Janavs, a 20-year veteran of the bench, lost by almost 8 percentage points to Lynn Diane Olson, a Hermosa Beach resident and business owner who only late last year reactivated her state bar membership…

Rare in judicial contests, the race had drawn preelection attention because of speculation by political consultants and court observers that Janavs could be particularly vulnerable — and even may have been targeted — because of her unusual name…

Olson, who was rated “not qualified” by the Los Angeles County Bar Assn., outspent Janavs by more than 2 to 1, giving about $100,000 of her own money compared with about $42,000 in contributions reported by May 20 by the judge.


Based partly on this incident, and more on the general disinterest and ignorance in these races on the part of most voters, I don’t believe judicial appointments should ever be left up to the average citizens. However, so long as they are this makes for an excellent argument in favor of the California Clean Money Campaign. “Clean Money” would allow for eligible candidates to apply for state funding of their campaigns so they could compete with other candidates with more financial (e.g. corporate) resources.

For more info on Clean Money check out their website or attend a Town Hall Meeting on the issue June 26th in Mar Vista.

photo by &y via Flickr

2 Replies to “Unqualified Judge Now Wields A Gavel”

  1. If average people shouldn’t be allowed to vote on judical candiates, who should?

    I don’t know many lawyers who even have time to do research on potential judges unless they are set to be in front of them.

    The only way I knew who to vote for was with the help of the LACBA recs.

    It might be helpful if instead organizations like LACBA or *gasp* the State Bar inform average citizens about who would make a good judge.

    Just a thought.

  2. I think it might be better if we dispatched with “electing” judges at all. The number of “elected” judges who never even have to defend their names on a ballot can be staggering (they only appear if opposed). I’ll save my complete nerd-out political sciencing on the subject (I wrote my thesis on judicial elections, so if anyone runs out of ambien and needs me to read them to sleep, just shoot me an email), but, in short, elected judiciaries were part of the progressive era reforms that gave us some great tools, some abused tools, some neglected tools, and a lot of false senses of control over our government.

    As it is, Judges engaged in campaigns face all kinds of weird laws when it comes to campaign finance, extra internal rules from the State Bar and bench, and, as you so correctly pointed out in your series, David, a near total lack of interest by the electorate (for better or worse). We treat them kinda like we treat other candidates, yet they aren’t really “representatives” like our legislative or representative branch peeps. Except they kind of are because we elect them.

    It’s a pretty faulty system if you are, say, a fan of, like, justice and stuff. I’m in no way saying we have a bad bench – far from it – but to cope with the sort of band-aided together system we have, most judges come to the bench not via election, but via mid-term appointments when they are vetted and researched (or at least have done their time in the courtroom as attorneys or other kinds of judges, etc).

    So I salute your work, David – too few people pay any attention to those races at all. I wish more people could have seen your posts.

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