Ellen

Full disclosure: Although I do not have a personal or professional relationship with Deputy Public Defender Elizabeth Lashley-Haynes, who is running for LA Superior Court Office 67, she is a part of my All Saints Church “family.” 

I would like her to win. This column is about why I want her and her three “Defenders of Justice” colleagues to win, notwithstanding sentimental ties to my church. Also, there will be no wise cracking from me this week; my humor is on hiatus given the Texas mass shooting tragedy unfolding as I write this.

The Defenders of Justice have a picture on their brochure that virtually screams “Bad-Ass Super Heroes”! I love their stances, both judicially and physically. I would happily show this brochure to any kid and say, “I hope you grow up to be like these folks.”

That’s my advocacy side. My former law-student side cringed a little when I saw the brochure. When I was coming up, judges campaigning for office seemed wrong to me, not in practical terms but philosophically speaking. 

When I was a law student in the mid-’70s at Loyola Law School Los Angeles, we immersed ourselves in professional ethics. Professional ethics even had its own separate section of my bar exam! On both the federal and state bench, you’ll find “Canon 2: A Judge Should Avoid Impropriety and the Appearance of Impropriety in all Activities,” which comes from “The Code of Conduct for United States Judges” with similar language for California Judges.

Campaigning for a bench seat used to be taboo. Campaigning means raising money, and money could create undue influence to and from a judge. We select judges based on their abilities to be impartial, so campaigning appears to be improper. However, I’ve since changed my mind.

“Avoiding the appearance of impropriety…” without a definition is a broad brush to paint professional and personal behavior. What appears improper to one person is entirely subjective. With all that said, I wholeheartedly endorse the women who are on the Defenders of Justice roster.

I don’t usually extract sizeable portions of text from other sources, but given the infuriating shenanigans of associate in-justices Thomas, Kavanaugh, Coney Barrett, Gorsuch and Alito, read the following commentary from the Code of Conduct through the lens of the proper — and improper — decisions of the conservatives on the SCOTUS:

 

(A) Respect for law — A judge should respect and comply with the law and should act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

 

Me: On its face, Coney Barrett, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh flat-out lied about holding Roe v. Wade as established law and disrespected “stare decisis,” Latin for “let the decision stand.” Their stance is disgusting from a judicial standpoint and pure gold to minority anti-choice zealots.

 

(B) Outside influence — A judge should not allow family, social, political, financial or other relationships to influence judicial conduct or judgment…

 

Me: “Hey, In-justice Thomas — ever heard of the practice of recusing oneself?” As we increasingly see how Ginni Thomas is eyebrow-deep in rightwing nutjob politics, that he’s still on the bench is a slap in the face to people concerned about impropriety.

 

What does this have to do with the Defenders of Justice? By today’s standards and the examples set by some of the Supremes, I believe it is not improper to have candidates for judge go public with their views.

A confession: As election aware as I like to think of myself, evaluating the judges on a ballot has traditionally stumped me, and that’s embarrassing to admit. 

I’ll bet many of us are like that and possibly too proud to admit it. To help make the most informed choices, I typically use the consumer watchdog guides, Democratic party and union endorsements, and the League of Women Voters.

I still feel ignorant about judges, but not this time. I’m very impressed with the Defenders of Justice slate that consists of Elizabeth Lashley-Haynes (Office 67), Holly Hancock (Office 70), Carolyn “Jiyoung” Park (Office 118) and Anna Slotky Reitano (Office 60).

They will primarily weigh their decisions based on how the law impacts life as lived by people who are not privileged. Currently, many judges come from prosecutorial positions or are well-connected, aka elite. The Defenders of Justice are all deputy public defenders, except for Ms. Park, a civil rights attorney.

I didn’t realize until I met Ms. Lashley-Haynes that a public defender has never been elected as a judge in Los Angeles County and that only 38.7% of trial court judges are women. 

Hey folks, last I checked, women’s experience is different from men’s, especially when it comes to poverty. These candidates are on the ground with social services that could prevent negligence and/or crime. When it comes to sentencing, they collectively say, “We need care, not cages. … The Defenders of Justice understand how to utilize the options available to prioritize care and rehabilitation instead of punishment.”

Thank you, public defenders, for standing for justice. That, for me, is the essence of propriety.

Ellen Snortland has written this column for decades and also teaches creative writing. She can be reached at ellen@beautybitesbeast.com. Her award-winning film “Beauty Bites Beast” is available for download or streaming at vimeo.com/ondemand/

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