Blind Justice: Electing a Superior Court Judge

The primary election on June 5 is more than just state and federal legislators. In case you hadn't noticed (and most of us haven't) there are also judges on the ballot.

Choosing a good melon requires due diligence. You have to inspect the candidates; thump, sniff and weigh them, examine the rinds. Check for bruises and leaks to ensure the fruit hasn't been compromised or corrupted in any way.

But what would happen if you couldn't get up close and personal with the melons?

Well, then you'd have to make your choice based on circumstantial evidence. You could start by checking the labels, which of course were designed and written by those trying to sell you a particular melon in the first place. You could, I suppose, ask the opinion of  some self-described melon experts or others with a background in the melon industry. But could they be trusted -- particularly if they showed some deep and vital interest in your melon selection? Might they not have a hidden melon agenda?

It would be helpful if the melon could say a word or two on its own behalf, unfortunately, that's counter to what we all believe is a very basic law.

So, where would that leave you? Playing the melon lottery.

A little knowledge may be a dangerous thing, but no knowledge at all is even worse. Without some rudimentary facts, figures, information, how can you choose anything -- dog, car, melon, superior court judge.

Who is Kim Smith, really? Shannon Knight? Craig Gold?

If you don’t know, join the club. When voters hit the booth on June 5, only a small percentage will cast a vote in the LA County Superior judicial elections, and an even smaller percentage will have any idea why they bothered.

Due to the theoretical separation of the three branches of government, everyone has to pretend that judges exist in a bubble, a bubble free of pre-conceived notions and prejudice of any kind.  Which is why the candidates can’t campaign, state a party affiliation, or let us know how they stand on issues such as immigration, gun control, human rights, law enforcement, frivolous lawsuits – you name it. 

It's an odd sort of race, in that we never actually see the contestants run. 

The candidates are allowed a vague written statement regarding their philosophy of law in general. And often these statements are not only elegant but superbly enigmatic.

Election results can be surprising, but only to insiders who know or care who the candidates really are. In 2006, Lynn Olson, who ran a Hermosa Beach bagel shop and had not practiced law for more than 15 years, unseated a veteran judge. Now Olson is the incumbent in next month's election.

It seems, if you're going to vote for a judicial candidate, you have no choice but to base your decision on the endorsement of a third party such as the LA County Bar Association, or a news agency, tea leaves, a blog, or a dartboard.

Oh, I don't know, maybe I'm just irritated because I did a lot of research and ended up none the wiser. Maybe justice should remain an entity or philosophy cloaked in clouds of mystery and tradition -- something pure, august, beyond our reach and comprehension.

On the other hand, I checked on a few of the candidates -- they want you to Like them on Facebook.

Karin Bugge is an Altadena resident and Patch contributer.


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