Endorsement: The Times’ recommendations for open Los Angeles County Superior Court judge seats
Most Superior Court judges are appointed by the governor when incumbents retire or otherwise leave their judicial offices. But voters are asked to step in every two years for various reasons, such as when judgeships open up in the few months before an election or when a challenger tries to unseat a sitting judge.
This year there are 10 Los Angeles County Superior Court offices on the ballot, of which eight are open seats. The Times previously offered its recommendations in the two challenges to incumbent judges. For the vacant seats, we recommend:
While the presidential contest will garner the most attention in 2024, there are many important races and measures on state and local ballots.
Office No. 39: Steve Napolitano
Of the four people competing for this seat, the best is Manhattan Beach Councilmember Steve Napolitano, an attorney who serves as an administrative law judge for a variety of government agencies and who also represents prison inmates in their parole hearings. Previously, Napolitano served as senior deputy to Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe. His breadth of experience would make him an asset to the Superior Court.
Also running are Deputy Dist. Atty. Jacob Lee, Deputy Public Defender George A. Turner Jr. and private practitioner Ronda Dixon. Lee and Turner may someday, with more experience, be ready for the bench.
California’s primary election takes place on March 5. Read up on the races in L.A. city, L.A. County and other areas.
Office No. 48: Ericka J. Wiley
Each candidate in this three-person race would make a credible Superior Court judge, but Deputy Public Defender Ericka J. Wiley is a standout. Early in her legal career, Wiley represented tenants faced with eviction and also counseled teenage mothers who were involved in the juvenile justice system. She observed what she said were hasty decisions by lawyers and judges that had a huge impact on young lives, and it inspired her to be a criminal defense lawyer. She has spent the last 24 years in the Los Angeles County public defender’s office.
She has handled capital murder and other special circumstances cases, and served as a supervisor in the Bellflower courthouse. Her demeanor is calm but commands respect, and makes her well-suited to the bench.
She is running against Deputy Dist. Atty. Renee Rose and private attorney Malik C. Burroughs.
In a season of rough campaign attack ads, the one aimed at a North Carolina judge was among the roughest.
Office No. 93: Victor Avila
Voters will be asked to mark their ballots for this office, even though they have only one choice. Fortunately, Deputy Dist. Atty. Victor Avila is a well-regarded prosecutor and is likely to be a good judge.
Office No. 97: Sharon Ransom
When Deputy Dist. Atty. Sharon Ransom ran for judge two years ago, The Times expressed regret that it could endorse only one candidate in her race. Ransom was nearly as impressive as a competitor who had the edge in experience. This time around she is hands down the best in her field of three.
Ransom worked for years as a dispatcher for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and was nearly 40 before she became an attorney. This experience appears to have provided valuable perspective and maturity. Judges and defense lawyers note her unflappable manner in seeking resolution of cases in the D.A.’s mental health unit, and previously in prosecuting elder abuse and child molestation.
Also running are criminal defense lawyer La Shea Henderson and Deputy Dist. Atty. Sam Abourched.
Data from three weeks of the new pre-arraignment release protocol pokes some serious holes in the false and fearful narrative peddled by police and far too many politicians.
Office No. 115: Christmas Brookens
This race pits two accomplished Los Angeles County deputy district attorneys against each other. Either would likely make a good judge, both have compelling life stories and are well-regarded for their intelligence, integrity and work ethic. But Christmas Brookens has the edge over her colleague Keith Koyano because of the perspective gained through varied experience — in the U.S. Navy, while stationed in Spain as an aviation electronics technician during the first Gulf War, and from training at the Defense Language Institute in Mandarin (she says she is also conversant in Korean, Japanese, Russian and Spanish).
But she’s particularly impressive when discussing the role of victims in criminal cases, displaying a depth of thought and analysis that would likely make her excel on the bench. The candidate who comes in second ought to consider seeking an appointment from the governor. The Superior Court could end up winning twice.
The L.A. County Superior Court is scaling back cash bail, but it was outclassed by the Illinois Supreme Court, which upheld legislation halting it altogether.
Office No. 130: Leslie Gutierrez
This is another race with two very different candidates, both of whom would make good judges. Private attorney Christopher M. Darden became a household name nearly 30 years ago as co-prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. He remained a television personality in the decades after the trial with appearances as an expert legal commentator on network and cable news programs, and in cameos as himself on “Muppets Tonight” and other shows.
Voters have an even better choice, though, with L.A. County Deputy Dist. Atty. Leslie Gutierrez. She went to law school with the intention of becoming a criminal defense attorney but concluded that fair prosecutors were the most powerful agents of justice.
Early in her career, she was assigned to be a filing deputy, giving her power to either reject cases police brought to the D.A., begin a prosecution or send the matter back for more evidence. The work at first disappointed her, because she wanted to try cases. But the task ultimately gave her enormous insight into the dynamics of successful prosecutions and the shortcomings in cases that police brought to her. When she finally became a felony prosecutor, she was ready to handle the most complex and sensitive cases. Two years ago, The Times was impressed but found her still too inexperienced for the bench. That’s no longer the case. She would make a skilled and knowledgeable judge.
Also running is Osman M. Taher, a sole practitioner and temporary judge who is not ready to be a full-time judge.
The word “bail” and related terms can mean many different things. The resulting confusion helps bail reform opponents in their fight to keep the unjust status quo.
Office No. 135: Steven Yee Mac
The best of three candidates in this race is Deputy Dist. Atty. Steven Yee Mac, who became a prosecutor after serving in the U.S. military, first as an intelligence officer, and after law school as a member of the Judge Advocate General Corps, defending soldiers accused of misconduct and serving as a legal advisor to the Army. Mac has earned praise for his work as a trial lawyer.
Georgia Huerta, also a deputy D.A., and sole practitioner Mohammad Ali Fakhreddine are also running.
Office No. 137: Tracey M. Blount
Of the four candidates for this Superior Court seat, the most impressive is Deputy County Counsel Tracey M. Blount. She represents the county in Dependency Court, where judges must decide whether to remove children from their homes because of abuse or neglect, and then work with all the parties involved to eventually reunify the families. She previously worked as an appellate attorney in the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office.
Her opponents include Luz E. Herrera, a law professor in Texas but with strong ties to Los Angeles, and Michael Berg, a solo practitioner whose clients include crime victims. Also, Diana Ruth James, who offers a remarkable life story including becoming a mother at 16 and being the first member of her family to graduate from high school. Her solo practice includes family law cases and criminal defense, including representing defendants at the courthouse in Avalon on Catalina.