🗳️ Mar 2024 Primary Election Ballot Analysis (IV): Judicial Offices

Here in California (and in Los Angeles in particular), we have an election coming up. You know what that means: Every election, I do a detailed ballot analysis of my sample ballot. This is where I examine each candidate and share my conclusions, and invite you to convince me to vote for the other jerk.  Because this is a long ballot, I’m splitting this analysis into a few chunks (note: links may not be available until all segments are posted):

  1. State and National Offices (excluding judges)
  2. County and City (Los Angeles) Local Offices (excluding judges)
  3. Local and State Measures (nee Propositions)
  4. Judicial Offices (County and State)
  5. Summary

Note: This analysis is NOT presented in the same order as the Sample Ballot (the ballot order makes no sense). I’ve attempted instead to present things in more logical order.

This part covers all the judgeships on the ballot:

  • Judge of the Superior Court: Office № 12 ❦ № 39 ❦ № 48 ❦ № 93 ❦  № 97 ❦  № 115 ❦  № 124 ❦  № 130 ❦ № 135 ❦ № 137


Judge of the Superior Court (of Los Angeles)

The judgeships are an interesting beast. California law requires judges to be confirmed, but only if there are multiple candidates (i.e., you don’t need to vote when there is only one candidates for a seat). So the seats we see are typically the offices where either (a) a judge is retiring, opening up a competitive slot, or (b) seats where someone thinks the judges are vulnerable. For those interested in being judges, evidently there’s a “game” in picking the right office where you have the right competition. Most voters don’t understand this, and just use an endorsement sheet to determine how to vote. For reference, here’s the link to the LA County Bar Association ratings (full report).

Superior Court, Office № 12

◯ Rhonda A. Hayumon

Hayumon is an Adjunct Professor of Law  at Southwestern University, and a Deputy Public Defender, Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office. She was rated “Not Qualified”. Further, there is a MetNews Op Ed piece that claims Hayumon was constantly late, combative, and unprofessional. It further notes “It is noteworthy that the judge she has decided to run against, Judge Lynn Olson, actually found her in contempt of court earlier this year. This ruling was subsequently upheld by Judge William C. Ryan and every prosecutor in the county has a copy of the decision. A finding of contempt is extraordinarily rare and only occurs in the most extreme of circumstances.”

Lynn Diane Olson INC

Olsen has been on the bench since 2006. She is endorsed by Met News (the Legal Newsservice in LA); the endorsement is quite an interesting read, with claims that there was a little chicanery to get her on the bench. However, she has evidently been a good jurist since then, and is rated well qualified by the LACBA.

📋 Conclusion

Olson’s ratings and her disposition make her the stronger candidate: Lynn Diane Olson INC

Superior Court, Office № 39

◯ Steve Napolitano

He is a former mayor of Manhattan Beach and was an aide to Supv. Don Knabe. He has also had his own law practice and has specialized in parole law and adjudication. He was rated Qualified by the LACBA. There was a minor kerfuffle over his ballot designation (they disallowed “Mayor”). It is unclear whether this qualifies him to be a judge.

Ronda Dixon

Dixon is a Criminal Defense Attorney. Her website gives the sense of one of those TV ads. She was rated Not Qualified by the LACBA.

George A. Turner Jr.

Turner is a trial attorney for the Los Angeles County Deputy Public Defender, and has been for 16 years. He was rated Qualified by the LACBA. He is seemingly endorsed by LA Progressive. MetNews, in their lukewarm endorsement of Lee, wrote “Turner and his two cohorts—Ericka Wiley and La Shae Henderson—running in their respective races as the “Defenders of Justice,” are staging no campaigns other than that put on by La Defensa, a tool of Tides Advocacy which funds left-of-center (including extremist) movements. Dominated by their sponsors, they are little different from candidates in days gone by who were tied to political machines.” I think that comment is a bit slanted and beneath MetNews, which should focus on qualifications and temperament.

Jacob Lee

Lee is a Deputy District Attorney. He was rated Qualified by the LACBA. He was endorsed by the Metropolitan News, somewhat lukewarmly given his age. But they believe he will season well (I recommend garlic and onion, it always helps). Their alternative was Napolitano, but feel he was hurt by many years out of legal practice while he was working for the supervisor.

📋 Conclusion

I disagree with MetNews on this one. I think the Superior Court needs a mix of both sides of the courtroom: Public Defenders and Deputy DAs. That is yet another aspect of diversity. So for this seat, especially as MetNews’ rating for Lee was lukewarm, I’m going with Turner: George A. Turner Jr.

Superior Court, Office № 48

Renee Rose

Rose is a Deputy DA with 30 years of experience. She was rated Well Qualified by the LACBA. She was endorsed by MetNews, who said “She has the background—as a Riverside deputy district attorney from 1991-94 and a prosecutor here since 1994—and possesses maturity, poise, and intelligence.” They also noted that in her latest annual office review (dated Dec. 28, 2022), she attained the highest possible rating, one that has become nearly impossible to gain: “Far Exceeded Expectations (Outstanding).”

◯ Malik C. Burroughs

Burroughs has been a Judge Pro Tem of the Los Angeles Superior Court since Mar 2016, and an attorney at Quinn Emanuel since 2005. He was rated Qualified by the LACBA. He doesn’t appear to have a campaign website. MetNews notes that “He’s a mystery candidate. He entered a contest for a public office and, yet, has gone into hiding. … according to his listing on the State Bar website, an attorney with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, a respected firm. But that firm, on its website, does not list Burroughs as a member of it.”. They’ve been unable to confirm anything.

Ericka J. Wiley

Ericka Wiley has worked as a Deputy Public Defender for more than twenty years in Los Angeles. She was rated Qualified by the LACBA. She is endorsed by LA Progressive and is part of the “Defenders of Justice” slate. MetNews dismissed her with “financed by monied interests with radical leanings.” They do show their bias sometimes.

📋 Conclusion

In this case, although I might like to put another public defender on the bench, the qualifications of Rose tip the scales of justice in her direction:  Renee Rose

Superior Court, Office № 93

Victor Avila

This one is easy: One candidate who is a Deputy DA. Loads of endorsements. No clear write in opponents.  The MetNews writeup shows the gamesmanship that happens behind the scenes leading to this unopposed office.

📋 Conclusion

This one is easy: Victor Avila

Superior Court, Office № 97

Sharon Ransom

Ransom has 18 years as a Deputy District Attorney and 17 years as a dispatcher for the LA County Sheriff’s Department, She was rated Well Qualified by the LACBA. She has a large number of judicial and other endorsements, including Democratic clubs (which blunt the progressive nature of her opponent, Henderson). In her MetNews endorsement, they note that a member of the Superior Court wrote that “Deputy District Attorney Sharon Ransom has extensive trial experience, is respected by judges, judicial staff, opposing counsel, and her colleagues. She exudes all the necessary characteristics to be a judge. She is smart, fair, has integrity, patience, compassionate, has a great work ethic.” They also note that in her last three office performance evaluations, Ransom was rated “Exceeded Expectations (Very Good).”

La Shae Henderson

La Shae Henderson has served as a bilingual lawyer for the Los Angeles County Public Defender for eighteen years working in various areas of criminal defense, but is currently in private practice. She was rated Qualified by the LACBA. She is endorsed by LA Progressive and is part of the “Defenders of Justice” slate. MetNews, predictably, said “As to her candidacy, the most polite reaction we can offer is: “Uhg.””. They found other problems. They didn’t like that the office address she lists with the State Bar is a Post Office box number in Diamond Bar. They didn’t like her ballot designation as she left the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office in 2023. They don’t like that she was on inactive status for 3 months. They don’t like her backers, saying they fund “left-wing, in some instances extremist, groups and causes.” Again, MetNews, your slant is shining through.

Sam Abourched

Abourched is an LA County Deputy District Attorney, and an Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer. He was rated Well Qualified by the LACBA. He also has loads of endorsements. MetNews gave a slight edge to Ransom, but thought Abourched was almost equally strong.

📋 Conclusion

Although I appreciate what the Defenders of Justice is trying to do, running your candidate against two candidates with strong Democratic endorsements defeats your purpose. Henderson is no match for the other candidates. I’m going to go with the MetNews and side with Ransom, just because more women on the bench is a good thing: Sharon Ransom

Superior Court, Office № 115

Christmas Brookens

Brookens has been a Deputy District Attorney for nearly two decades, amd is also a Navy vet. She was rated Well Qualified by the LACBA. She has a goodly number of endorsements, including Democratic organizations.

Keith Koyano

Koyano is a Deputy District Attorney. He was rated Well Qualified by the LACBA. He has a large number of individual endorsements. He has the MetNews endorsement, although they note that both are exceptional candidates. Why did they endorse him? They write “based on no objective criteria. It is simply our impression that he would preside over a courtroom in a more effective manner than his rival.”

📋 Conclusion

Both are strong here. I’m going to diverge from MetNews on this one and go with Brookens, simply because of the Democratic endorsements, which make me believe she’ll be slightly more progressive from the bench: Christmas Brookens

Superior Court, Office № 124

Emily Theresa Spear INC

She has been on the bench since 2019. She was rated Not  Qualified by the LACBA. In Sep 2023, she received a public admonishment from the Committee on Judicial Performance for a variety of misconduct. Surprisingly, she has a small number of endorsements. MetNews, in their endorsement of her opponent, noted that the admonishment “points to instances of misconduct reflecting “a lack of integrity,” entailing lying and conniving. Also, she has with some frequency ducked out of the courthouse early or not shown up for work, without authorization or explanation.” This is a clear “next…”

Kimberly Repecka

She has been a public defender since 2018. She has lots of endorsements. She was rated Not Qualified by the LACBA. She is endorsed by MetNews, who write “We’ve met with her. She strikes us as straight forward and candid. Also, she has strong communication skills. We’ve asked around. No issue is raised as to her truthfulness. Or her industriousness. In response to our request, Repecka furnished her last three annual office performance reviews. There are no negative comments.” However, her reputation among bench officers is not altogether favorable. That’s not unsurprising for a public defender advocating for clients.

📋 Conclusion

Spear has behaved poorly and doesn’t deserve to be on the bench: Kimberly Repecka

Superior Court, Office № 130

Christopher A. Darden

Yes, that Christopher Darden. The prosecutor in the OJ Simpson case. His “About Me” on LInkedIn says “I am a former LA County prosecutor where I worked on cases involving homicide, gangs and public corruption. Former Assoc. Prof. Of Law at Southwestern Univ. School of Law (1994-2000). Criminal Defense Attorney 1995-present. I specialize in white collar, narcotics, marijuana, homicide and gang cases.” He was rated Well Qualified by the LACBA. He has a small number of endorsments, including Lance Ito. But of Darden, MetNews’ analysis is long and scathing, and worth reading before you choose this fellow based on past reputation.

 Leslie Gutierrez

Gutierrez has extensive experience, including being a Deputy DA since 2012. She was rated Well Qualified by the LACBA. She has an extensive endorsement list, including progressive organizations. In endorsing her, MetNews wrote: “Our conclusion is that while Darden has some highly admirable qualities—he’s articulate, mature, congenial and knowledgeable—Gutierrez would be the better choice. […] We endorse Gutierrez not merely by default, but with enthusiasm. She’s energetic, intelligent, and highly competent. She consistently receives the rating of “Exceeded Expectations (Very Good)” on her office performance evaluations.”

Osman M. Taher

He has been a Litigation & Trial Attorney in private practice since Dec 2010.  He was rated Not Qualified by the LACBA. MetNews notes that he “has a law degree from Trinity Law School in Bannockburn, Illinois, a school that is not accredited by the American Bar Association”.

📋 Conclusion

Darden may have the name recognition, but Gutierrez has the ratings and endorsements:   Leslie Gutierrez

Superior Court, Office № 135

 Steven Yee Mac

Mac is a Lt. Colonel in the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG), and a Deputy District Attorney since 2013. From 2015 to 2018, he was assigned as a felony trial deputy. He joined the Hardcore Gang Unit in 2018. For the last five years, he has prosecuted murders in LA. He was rated Well Qualified by the LACBA. He has a large number of endorsements, including Democratic organizations. He has the MetNews endorsement, where they note “He is articulate, thoughtful, and knowledgeable. That, coupled with the sort of demeanor one would hope for in a judge, renders him well suited to judicial service.”

Georgia Huerta

She has a slick website. She has over 30 years as a Deputy DA. She was rated Well Qualified by the LACBA. She also has a large number of endorsements. Back in 2022, MetNews had some disagreements with her ballot designation. They clearly still hold those disagreements. In their endorsement of Mac, they wrote: “Huerta is more experienced as a prosecutor than he, having served as a deputy district attorney from Aug. 17, 1987 to March 26, 2021, and again since last Aug. 16. She could do the job of a judge. But, in our view, she would not perform in that role as deftly as Mac.” That’s even if they disregard their disagreements.

Mohammad Ali Fakhreddine

Contrasted with Huerta, his website seems low quality and unprofessional. He is an attorney in private practice. He was rated Qualified by the LACBA. MetNews notes “Fakhreddine is a graduate of the University of Abraham Lincoln School of Law. It is an unaccredited distance-learning law school that is, its courses are online.”

📋 Conclusion

The issue MetNews finds fault with for Huerta is not of consequence to me. Both seem equal, but I’ll go with the MetNews endorsement based on demeanor and the JAG experience:  Steven Yee Mac

Superior Court, Office № 137

 Tracey M. Blount

Blount served as a legal research attorney for the San Bernardino District Attorney’s Office’s Appellate Division, then returned to the Los Angeles County Counsel’s Office where she had worked as a paralegal. Blount handles child dependency and abuse cases, including appeals. She was rated Well Qualified by the LACBA. She has a fair number of endorsements, including Democratic organizations. She has the MetNews endorsement; they note that, although not in court on a daily basis, “she does deal with the law “every single day,” and appears to have a breadth of knowledge of the law. Meaningfully, her bearing inspires respect. She is confident without being arrogant; that is to say, she possesses ideal “judicial temperament.” We do not doubt that she would perform admirably as a judge.””

Michael Berg

Berg is an attorney and small business owner. HE LIKES TO WRITE IN ALL CAPS ON HIS WEBSITE. He was rated Qualified by the LACBA. He has a small number of endorsements. In the MetNews endorsement for this office, they rake Berg over the coals for deceptively listing his ballot designation.

Luz E. Herrera

Herrera is an attorney in private practice, who is also a professor of law at Texas A&M. She was rated Qualified by the LACBA. She has a fair number of endorsements, although the organizational ones are unions. Of her, MetNews writes: “She acknowledges that she has not handled a matter in the Los Angeles Superior Court since 2009 or 2010. Despite being an educator, and having a law degree from Harvard, she is lacking, surprisingly, but markedly, in communication skills.”

Diana Ruth James

James is a family law attorney in private practice (although her website doesn’t want to load). Per LinkedIn, her office has been open since 2013, where she focuses primarily on criminal defense and family law matters. She was rated Well Qualified by the LACBA. Her endorsements are all over the place, including an auto-body shop in San Pedro! It almost seems like the endorsements are ads for the endorsers. Very non-judicial. Of her, MetNews writes “We are unaware of any basis for concluding that she is fit to be a judge of the Superior Court.”

📋 Conclusion

In this battle between the well-qualified candidate, only one has clear court experience and strong endorsements:  Tracey M. Blount


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