One of the most important races on your ballot is also one that you seem to hear about the least. Superior Court judges have considerable power over the lives of people who come before them. Once selected, judges serve six-year terms and preside over matters both civil and criminal — from family law to felonies.
In L.A. County, seat numbers do not correspond to a geographic location. Seat numbers are chosen at random and assigned as a way for the registrar-recorder to organize and track judicial candidates in a given race. Once a candidate is elected, the presiding judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court decides on their assignment. Superior Court Judge races in California are nonpartisan.
If you’re not entirely sure how to choose a judicial candidate, here’s some advice we got from Stuart Rice, a judge on the L.A. Superior Court and former president of the California Judges Association:
- See what the L.A. County Bar Association thinks. The organization evaluates all the candidates based on interviews, references and insider-information within the law community. You can see the rankings yourself here.
- A candidate’s title can give you a hint. After every name is a short description of the candidate's current job. For example, someone who's a Superior Court commissioner technically does a judge’s job already. District attorneys also have regular courtroom experience, and they're more likely to be ready to handle the job on day one. That doesn’t mean other candidates are incapable, but it may take them more time to get up to speed.
- Look at endorsements. These are nonpartisan positions, so no parties are next to a name on the ballot. But if political leanings matter to you, then see if a local political party endorsed a candidate. Judge Rice also says if sitting judges support someone, then they could be a great judge. Otherwise, look for people endorsed by organizations you trust.
- Check out a candidate’s website. There's more you can glean from a candidate's site than just their platform. If that website is rife with grammatical errors, or if a candidate doesn't even have a site, for example, then that person might not be mounting a serious run.
And here’s a tip directly from the L.A. County Superior Court: It’s important for L.A. County to have a diverse bench and judges that are representative of the communities they serve — a true cross-section of genders and ethnicities. This is a good way to ensure that the litigants who come before them feel that the have been given fair access to justice.
I've been a deputy district attorney for the past 13 years, and for almost half of my career in the district attorney's office, I've specialized in elder abuse prosecution.
When I was in college, I started out working in a law firm as a part-time job. I saw what the law was able to do to help people. It was a plaintiff's firm that I used to work at — people that were injured or suffered catastrophic injuries as a result of an accident. They were able to help them try to get their lives back together. I saw how powerful the law could be in that. It really drove my interest when I was in college.
The most important thing that a judge does is to ensure the fair administration of justice by making sure that everybody has equal access to justice as well as a fair opportunity to be heard. Through this fair administration of justice, I think it really ensures that the public has greater confidence in the justice system as a whole.
I think I'm a great candidate because I have a very diverse range of experience in law. I have experience in civil law, criminal law. For the last eight years, I have also served as an assistant staff judge advocate for the California State Military Reserve. Through the CSMR, I'm exposed to and have experience and training in a variety of fields of law, including workers’ compensation, family law, probate and whatever field of law the particular soldier needs.
I think the diversity in experience is also important because judges don't just sit on criminal cases. There are civil judges, there are probate judges. When a judge is moved to one of those courts, the judge has to be ready for that.
Probably the most high-profile case that I had was a case from about two years ago. It was an 80-something-year-old victim who was a retired teacher who basically established relationships with pen pals. One of these pen pals came from New York, met up with the victim who let him stay in his home, and then murdered him for no apparent reason.
It was a very complicated case with over 20-some-odd witnesses. Being able to organize that and present that in a digestible way for the jury — I think that was important.
It's just those qualities of being able to talk to a jury, to understand the issues and be able to manage these cases, I think those are important qualities.
My family is the embodiment of the American dream. My parents came to this country with nothing before I was born. They had so little money that they had to leave behind their only child — my older brother — at the time.
My dad, when he first got to this country, worked as a gas station attendant in the mornings. He went to school during the day and worked as a janitor in the evenings.
My mom worked in a bank during the day and then after she was done, she would drive to where my dad worked and helped him clean office buildings.
They put all three of their kids through college. All three of us went to law school, now all three of us are practicing attorneys.
Outside of the office, I'm very active in my community. On my weekends, on my days off, in the evenings, I'll go to community centers and senior centers and talk about elder abuse awareness and prevention. I also volunteer by going into elementary schools and talking to at-risk fifth-grade students about the importance of staying in school, the dangers of gangs and drugs and the importance of making good decisions.
I'm a deputy district attorney for Los Angeles County. I have been so employed for the last 30-plus years.
What drew me into the practice of law was a desire as a 16-year-old when I first observed my parents go to an attorney's office. Both my mother and my father sat before an attorney and they were composing their will.
I sat behind them, and I had that moment in time when things stood still, and I said to myself, "I want to help people like this."
I worked my way through college, worked my way through law school, and I began practicing law in 1987.
One, being very learned in the law. For 31 years, I've learned criminal procedure, criminal law, the evidence code, civil procedure. I think I'm an expert in all of those areas, but you must be a good listener. You must be patient and you must have courage.
A few years back, we had a case that I was handling and it struck me as I was preparing this in the pretrial that the motivation for one of the witnesses wasn't consistent with what I was seeing to corroborate the incident.
Secondarily, the individual was no longer available. They had moved out of state, they were uncooperative, and I wasn't quite sure really whether the person had committed the crime. Not feeling comfortable with it, and having done my own independent investigation, I brought it to the attention of the management. I said, "I don't feel comfortable with where we are in the proceedings. I don't believe we should go forward."
That takes courage, but it also takes initiative.
I raise a family. I'm married. I have a child.
Separate from being with my family, I do volunteer my time. One of which is WestCal Academy. A lot of these children come from the same type of background that I did where the parents didn't have anything more than an elementary education, they're working very, very hard, and they didn't have all the tools to assist their children going through grade school, high school, college and so forth.
One thing that's very, very rewarding for me is to help those individuals [and] kind of shape and direct their path in life. You know, to the extent they'll listen to me.
My 31 years in a courtroom, Monday through Friday. I'm not only an expert and accomplished trial lawyer, which is a very important quality for a judge, but I've also done 120 felony trials to a verdict. Every one of them has been affirmed. I have processed cases before the grand jury five different times. Each time, those indictments were sustained on review. And I think that my patience and demeanor is also an asset. I've always been the person that's been open-minded, not so rigid and inflexible that I can't change my position.
Currently, I am a deputy public defender. I've been doing that for 12 years. I work at the Inglewood courthouse in misdemeanors. I was in felonies most of my career. I've handled every kind of case, from traffic on up to murder.
You don't see too many defense attorneys or deputy public defenders running for judge — hardly at all. Part of it is the perception that we cannot be middle-of-the-road. I think that's untrue because we have been defending the constitutional rights of the client. And we're already in the space where we have to know what the prosecution is bringing, we have to know what our client's background is, what brought them to whatever the incident is. And maybe sometimes they weren't the one who was involved in the crime, or the government doesn't have their case.
Part of my background is as a flight attendant for a major airline. I got involved in the union, and I became an elected official for our local here in Los Angeles. At the time, it was the third-largest local with 3,000 flight attendants. I became the grievance chair. I was always representing the flight attendants for whatever to fight for their jobs. Because I had always been defending people, I wanted to continue to defend people.
I think the only way that you can be a good judge is to have compassion for individuals. You can't only look at it as wrote law.
In my last felony case, there were three counts of attempted murder and, essentially, we won the trial. That was the biggest case that I had to win. It was three life counts, he was 23. I think he was 21 when the case started. He was accused of a drive-by. He was a young kid who was walking by the street when he was picked up in the general area where the drive-by occurred.
He is one of those cases where he didn't do it. It wasn't him. But because he was a young African-American kid, two-and-a-half years later he was acquitted.
Outside of the courtroom, I'm a mother. I've cared for aging parents. I've been married. I've championed juveniles and teens. I've been involved in various organizations that secured their future, helping them with leadership.
When I look at our criminal justice system and how we've treated teens, it's almost as if they're already adults and they're set in their ways, and they're not. Teens are going to change. They're going to change physically, the brain itself is going to change. They're the best people to try to help, particularly within the criminal justice system.
I currently work for the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office. I'm a prosecutor in the Van Nuys branch. I do it for the very reason that I became a prosecutor: I was really drawn to the fact that a prosecutor's job is to do justice and be fair in addition to protecting the community. I've been in a courtroom almost every working day for over 31 years — first as a law clerk to a federal judge, then in the city attorney's office.
When I was a teenager, I read a book about Clarence Darrow called "Attorney for the Damned," and here was this person who, as a lawyer, was able to represent and protect the rights of people who either didn't have a strong voice or held very unpopular positions. That just really hit me as something that I wanted to do. I knew that I wanted to be a lawyer from the time I was very young.
Being a good judge, just like being a good prosecutor, requires you to be smart, requires you to be impartial and fair and have integrity, be willing to make hard decisions, even if they're not popular decisions. hose are the things I've always done as a prosecutor and if I'm elected, I'll always do that as a judge.
A person had, according to the police report, been in a relationship with a younger woman. And he promised her, according to her, [that] he would take care of her and he gave her a car. He told police that a young girl and then a guy held him up at gunpoint and then took the car. He was charged with filing a false police report.
That case is particularly of concern and importance to me because the police stopped the girl and the guy. The police officers were told that this is an armed suspect. Somebody could have been killed. Luckily, nothing happened to them. They were arrested and then released.
That was important to me and a big concern to me, because when I get a police report and when I get a crime, assuming that I had gotten the crime of basically the carjacking, I don't want to convict somebody that is wrongly accused. I look beyond what the charge is and what the potential consequences are. In this situation, I was glad that justice was served, but it just shows the flip side of why you need to be so careful as a prosecutor and as a judge.
I have lived in Los Angeles my whole life. We have three adult kids. Sometimes when I think about how important it is to have an ethical prosecutor and judges with integrity — even when I'm talking to victims or dealing with a defendant — I think to myself, "If the people I loved were in this situation, how would I want them treated?" I'm talking about a degree of empathy and concern and caring about people.
I am the senior deputy city prosecutor for the cities of Redondo Beach and Hermosa Beach, two local municipalities in the South Bay. I prosecute crimes of all types, from sexual assaults, vehicular manslaughter, thefts, criminal thefts, vandalism, and I handle appeals if they go up on appeal. I've been a criminal prosecutor for 13 years, and prior to that, I was a partner in a large civil law firm for 10 years.
I do it because I love to be in court. When you walk into a courtroom and see the people in front of you and how their lives are being impacted, every day is different. It's sort of magic in there and I like it.
I think a good judge is prepared, has read all the papers, has read the key cases that were cited by both parties, and a great judge is someone that takes the time so that even the party that loses understands why a judge has ruled the way he or she has ruled.
I'd be a good judge because I think it's vital to demonstrate fairness in carrying out your responsibilities if any kind of confidence is to be maintained in the justice system. I think that I would take the time to become familiar with my community and find out the advantages, the disadvantages, the priorities, the problems, experiences with racism that people may have had or may not have had so that I could come to the table with a sense of my community.
One case stands out to me: It was a doctor accused of sexually assaulting four different victims — 20 different sexual assault counts. He assaulted them while they were seeking treatment from him. It was a long trial against a very experienced defense attorney and people look up to doctors, so it's very hard to prosecute a doctor because there's a certain sense of trust that the doctor has developed with patients.
It was a difficult case, but I was very happy when he was convicted of 18 counts of sexual assault — and the most important thing was that he lost his license and the victims received restitution.
That's when I realized I was very passionate about sexual assault cases, and I've done several significant sexual assault cases. Nobody's above justice.
I have been working since I was 15 years old and I never stopped — whatever job it took. I was a bag girl, I sold dresses, I worked in a snow cone place.
I was raised essentially by a single father. I put myself through UCLA and Loyola Law School and graduated with honors from both of those, taking out loans and whatever I needed to do to get through college. I didn't have anyone helping me. I think that's what has made me such a tenacious worker.
I have spent decades fighting for women, I have been a member of two charity groups that raise money for women and children in crisis.
I've been married for 22 years. I raised two sons and just dropped my youngest one off at college about a month ago, so I'm just getting to learn how that empty nest works. I think my commitment, my willingness to work hard, and the fact that I put myself through college — I think I've learned that nobody can count on anybody to be there. You need to put yourself first.
I think something that could be changed that could help all of us in our everyday lives is to help the jury system so that jurors aren't kept waiting. I know that seems like a very minor thing, but I'm in court every day and I see the jurors get there at 8:30 in the morning as they are asked to do, and then not being called into the courtroom until 10:30, and they're waiting out in the hallway.
I think it's essential that you run an efficient and effective courtroom, that you're mindful of people's times, and that you employ alternative sentencing options if you have that opportunity.
Presently, I'm a district attorney with the County of Los Angeles, and I'm assigned to the Pomona Juvenile Office.
As an undergraduate at UCLA, I got a part-time job at a law firm in Century City. I got to know the attorneys there pretty well, and they encouraged me to go to law school.
Once I went to law school, I clerked with the DA's office, and I fell in love with the idea of protecting our community and doing something for our community.
I worked my way through college, worked my way through law school, and I began practicing law in 1987.
You need legal knowledge, experience, temperament, the courage to make difficult decisions, and empathy: being able to understand that the people who are coming to court, they've either done something bad or something bad has happened to them.
One case in particular stands out. The victim had just come home from work. Somebody knocked on her front door. She answered it, and somebody asked to use her phone because their car had broken down.
She indicated no, I won't let you use my phone but I'll make the phone call for you. When she went to her phone, two individuals broke into her house, assaulted her, injured her quite badly and proceeded to violate her in an assortment of different ways.
That was a very sad case for me. Luckily, the person was caught and we were able to convict them.
Justice is very important to me — protecting our community and our victims, making sure that justice is done not only for our victims but the community and the defendant. When I become judge, I'll make sure that the right thing is done all the time.
My parents are immigrants from Sonora, Mexico. I have three brothers and three sisters. I'm married with three children. You can't separate someone's personal background from what they do, specifically as a DA or as a judge. I bring several different life experiences to my profession currently and I'll bring it to the bench.
One is a sense of understanding as to people who may not have grown up in the most affluent areas of town and how that sometimes leads to making bad decisions. Drugs, for example, and an inability to cope with trauma, looking to escape, a lack of education, sometimes hanging out with the wrong people and not having the tools in which to overcome some of those obstacles. I think we in the justice system should try to provide some of those tools.
Our justice system should work better. We should strive to make the justice system work for everyone. I think it's our obligation not only to hold people accountable for the crimes that they commit but, when appropriate, try to resolve cases in a manner that will help the defendants not to reoffend — if that means putting them in a drug treatment program, anger management courses, some type of community service in order to incentivize them and help them not to reoffend. When people don't reoffend, not only do they benefit, the community benefits.
I'm a civil litigator currently. I do that because of my background in business. Before I went to law school, I owned and operated several businesses. I have an extensive background in real estate, so a lot of my cases are real estate and construction related.
I first got into law as a second career. I was a real estate broker for about 15 years before I went to law school. Many of my clients were coming to me with legal questions which, as a real estate broker, you cannot answer. I felt it was a good segue to go into law. My family always thought I would be a great lawyer from about eight or nine years old.
To be a good and effective judge you have to have good active listening skills. I have been a pro tem, which is a temporary judge, for about eight years. I've heard over 7,500 matters and conducted several hundred trials. In that experience, I've really honed my skill to make sure that I'm hearing what the litigants are saying and that I'm extracting from there the salient facts that we need to apply the law. It's much different than advocating. It's a much different skill set.
The most important role for the judge is to ensure that everybody has an opportunity to be heard and that it's a fair forum. It's my belief that you want to apply the facts to the law. My job as a judge is not to make the law.
I think I'm prepared for it. I've conducted several hundred trials. Most of them were with self-represented litigants, but there were also cases involving attorneys.
In addition to my temporary judge work, I've done a lot of additional work. For example, I'm a fee arbitrator for both the San Fernando Valley Bar and the State Bar.
While it's a fee arbitration, there are many other additional legal issues that we have to tackle when we're hearing a case and making the decision. That is a quasi-judicial function, but it is also very similar to being a judge: You're looking at evidentiary issues, you're looking at the application of the facts of the law and ultimately whether or not the attorney charged or is entitled to a fair fee.
I grew up in a lower-middle-class neighborhood with working parents. There were five children so they had to work extremely hard. They instilled in all of us good values. The main one is: Treat people the way you want to be treated.
I have two children that are very well accomplished. My daughter is an assistant editor. My son was one of the youngest commercial airline pilots in the country.
I've also coached youth sports. I've been involved on several non-profit boards and I've been very active in public service since my teen years.
I have run and continue to run several businesses in Los Angeles County that are successful.
Currently, I am a Los Angeles Superior Court commissioner. I actually preside over family law and I do exactly the same things that judges do. Family law entails dissolutions, high-conflict custody cases, parented cases, child support. I worked for two different non-profits for about 14 years before I took the bench.
When I first went to law school, I didn't know any lawyers, and so I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into when I applied for law school. I come from an immigrant background myself, low income, and I thought, “I want to help people like my family. How do I do that? Go to law school and I can advocate for those who have no voice.”
Judges have to be impartial. They have to be fair, and I think what judges also need is empathy. I understand the needs of the public that come before me on a daily basis, and it's important to have that human component of really understanding that people face many challenges.
This elderly gentleman brought a restraining order against his adult daughter, who was physically abusive towards him. He had to come to court, file this restraining order, but he was visibly hurt by the fact that he had to be there.
Sure enough, a restraining order was warranted in this case because he had been a victim of abuse for months and months. And he says, "What can I do now? My daughter broke her leg and I have to take care of her."
I explained to him how he can have his order enforced and he's the only person that can enforce this order. He had many questions. I understand the human component. I understand the worry, I understand the hurt, I understand the pain because of the work I did as a non-profit attorney assisting victims of violence.
It was difficult to have this conversation because he needed to be protected, but at the same time, he wanted to protect his own daughter. How do you grapple with the two that are not necessarily mutually exclusive?
I come from a very humble background. I was born in Mexico. My parents took us out to the strawberry fields and we picked strawberries as kids. We learned the value of hard work.
My parents always said, "I want you to do more — be more than we are." And I took that to heart.