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Endorsement: One L.A. County Superior Court judge deserves reelection. Another doesn’t

The Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center near Los Angeles City Hall.
The Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center is the Los Angeles County Superior Court’s largest criminal courthouse.
(Los Angeles Times)
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Californians want their trial judges to be both independent and accountable. The tension between those two competing goals can never be fully resolved but is partially addressed by a judicial election system in which they are automatically reelected every six years without their names even appearing on the ballot.

Unless, that is, they are challenged. When one or more candidates run against an incumbent judge who is up for reelection, voters decide whether to retain the judge or elect a challenger.

While the presidential contest will garner the most attention in 2024, there are many important races and measures on state and local ballots.

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Judicial independence is so essential to a legitimate court system that The Times rarely recommends the ouster of judges, even if — in fact, especially if — they have handed down controversial rulings. Judges should focus on getting the law and the facts right, not on being popular. Challenges are particularly inappropriate when judges are targeted because of their names, their ethnic identities or other traits that have nothing to do with their ability to serve.

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Occasionally, though, incumbents may show themselves by their behavior, rather than by their rulings, to be unfit to continue serving.

Two Los Angeles County Superior Court judges have been challenged in the March 5 election. The Times recommends one for reelection, but not the other (recommendations for the eight open Superior Court seats will be published in a subsequent editorial).

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Office No. 12: Lynn Diane Olson

Lynn Diane Olson’s current assignment is the Superior Court’s magistrate unit, where she considers requests for search warrants, pre-arraignment bail and emergency orders. She previously served in a variety of civil and criminal courts and earned a reputation as a solid, hard-working judge.

Last year, she held a lawyer in contempt of court for disruptive behavior. That lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Rhonda A. Haymon, is now trying to defeat her.

Olson is easily the better choice. The incident was the only time in her career that Olson held a lawyer in contempt, and a transcript shows the order was warranted. It was upheld on appeal. She is an even-tempered judge who demonstrated that she knows how to manage a courtroom.

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Haymon says she was merely being a zealous advocate when she repeatedly interrupted and criticized Olson, despite being warned to stop. But a good lawyer does not allow her passion for defending her client to backfire, even if she believes she is in the right. Haymon’s behavior is outside acceptable bounds for an attorney and would be even more inappropriate for a judge. Any continuing grudge she harbors against Olson is poor justification for challenging her for reelection.

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The twist in this race is that Olson likewise had no justification for challenging well-regarded jurist Dzintra Janavs in 2006. Olson was an inactive attorney who ran a bakery and was poorly qualified to be a judge, but she defeated Janavs, most likely because voters who have little information when selecting judges were put off by the incumbent’s foreign-sounding name. Janavs was so eminently qualified that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger almost immediately appointed her back to the court.

This is the second time since then that Olson has been challenged, and it’s tempting to take satisfaction in the comeuppance. But between the two candidates, Olson is still the better choice.

The Times’ editorial page will begin publishing its endorsements for the March 5 ballot this week. There’s a lot more than just the presidential primary.

Jan. 8, 2024

Office No. 124: Kimberly Repecka

Emily Theresa Spear, then a deputy district attorney, was elected to the Superior Court in 2018. In 2021, she suffered what she said was a serious illness that required her to leave court early or not come in at all. The problem is that she didn’t notify the court or register her absences.

According to the Commission on Judicial Performance in a 2023 public admonishment (a middle level of discipline), Spear’s misconduct included the unauthorized absences, plus “disparaging remarks about a judicial colleague; discourteous conduct toward, and false statements to, her supervising judge; and manipulation of her calendar for personal benefit.”

Her absences from Family Law Court had a direct effect on the public. Two petitions for domestic violence restraining orders that should have been ruled on immediately instead lingered for several days.

“I’m so very sorry I acted that way,” Spear told the editorial board, and that may well be the case. But she was disrespectful to the court, her colleagues and, most importantly, the public.

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If Aaron Persky were the only judge affected by Tuesday’s vote to boot him from the Santa Clara Superior Court — in response to his too-lenient ruling in the notorious Brock Turner rape case — that wouldn’t be a catastrophe.

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The Times has endorsed judges for reelection whose behavior was even more egregious, but that’s because their challengers were even less impressive.

But Spear’s challenger, Kimberly Repecka, is capable and well-regarded. She represented children in dependency court and now works as a deputy public defender.

Repecka acknowledges that she is targeting Spear because of the incumbent’s misconduct, and because no one else stepped up to challenge her. But it’s not a grudge match; Repecka has never appeared in Spear’s courtroom.

This is the first time in more than 30 years that The Times has recommended defeat of an incumbent judge. It’s not that Spear is the worst judge to come up for reelection in those decades. But she has shown herself to be unfit and she has been challenged by a better candidate. The Times recommends a vote for Repecka.

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