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County Bar Judicial Campaign Guidelines Violated In Alhambra Judicial Election

Michael T. Elliott

After investigating complaints filed by both candidates in the election campaign for judge of the Alhambra Judicial District, Division 3, the Fair Judicial Election Practices Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association has determined that both candidates have violated the Association's Guidelines for the Conduct of Campaigns for Judicial Office.

The Association's guidelines provide, among other things, that campaign material "shall not be presented in a manner which tends to mislead," and they also provide that contributions should not knowingly be solicited or accepted from "lawyers who then have cases before the judicial candidate for decision on the merits."

After reviewing and investigating the candidates' complaints, the Fair Judicial Election Practices Committee reached the following conclusions:

  1. Candidate Maria C. Vargas-Rodriguez violated the guidelines by using campaign literature in the primary election that tended to mislead the public into believing that the candidate was already a sitting judge. Specifically, the committee found misleading the candidate's use of literature that (a) referred to Superior Court judges as her "judicial colleagues," (b) employed the title "Judge" before her name, capitalizing the word "Judge" and omitting any punctuation between the word and her name, (c) referred to her experience as a judge pro tem without explaining that the position is voluntary and part-time, and (d) depicted the candidate in attire that appeared in some of the literature to be a judicial robe. Candidate Vargas-Rodriguez represented to the committee that she is no longer disseminating the campaign materials in question, and that she would not disseminate those or similar materials during the remainder of the campaign.    
  2. Candidate Judge John L. Martinez violated the guidelines by knowingly accepting contributions from lawyers who had cases before him for decision on the merits. The committee found that the contributions in question involved small amounts, comprising a small percentage of the total contributions received by the candidate.

Under the guidelines, the committee is authorized to choose among the following available remedies:

  1. Securing an agreed-upon resolution of the matter by the candidates;    
  2. Securing from the candidates not complying with the guidelines a public retraction of erroneous statements or an agreement to cease non-compliance;    
  3. Notifying the complainants of the committee's recommendations and the findings for his or her use. The notification shall simultaneously be made to the candidate against whom the complaint was made.    
  4. Announcing to the media and candidates involved the committee's findings and recommendations;    
  5. Any combination of the foregoing; or    
  6. Taking no action, in which event the candidates involved shall be so notified.

In this case the committee decided to use a combination of remedies 2, 3, and 4.

The Fair Judicial Election Practices Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association consists of approximately 15 members, one third of whom are lay members not admitted to the practice of law. The remainder are active members of the County Bar, at least two of whom are retired judges. No active judges may serve on the committee, and no committee member may publicly endorse or oppose any candidate for judicial office, nor may he or she personally contribute to any judicial candidate's campaign.

The Los Angeles County Bar Association is the largest local voluntary Bar Association in the United States, with a membership of approximately 23,000 attorneys. The County Bar is extensively engaged in advancing the administration of justice and furthering the education of its members.