How to judge judges on judgment (election) day

It’s the evening before Election Day, and Morton and Ethel Voterstein sit down after dinner to decide how to mark their ballots.

They know whom they want for president, as well as for U.S. and state senators and representatives. It’s a bit tougher to decide on the state and local propositions, but with a little study and the recommendations of trustworthy political leaders and organizations, the job gets done.

However, when it comes to the list of Superior Court judges elected by countywide vote there is sheer bafflement. With rare exceptions, the names are unknown and so are their records of service.

With a twinge of conscience or frustration, the Votersteins skip the page. At best, they take a stab at marking some of the races based on gut instincts, which have little to do with judicial performance and integrity.

What to do? The Journal turned to a few experts for advice. One was Judge Joseph Wapner, who served on the bench for 20 years before retiring and re-emerging as the television star of “The People’s Court.”

“Every election, I get calls from around 15 people asking my advice on how to vote in specific judicial races,” said Wapner, whose son, Fred, is a current judge.

For people who don’t have a judge for a buddy, Wapner suggests first to check the assessments of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, which rates judicial candidates as extremely well qualified, well qualified, qualified and not qualified on its Web site.

Wapner also recommends checking out the endorsements of the Los Angeles Times and the Metropolitan News-Enterprise, which coves the courts and legal profession.

Veteran political analyst Howard Welinsky, chair of Democrats for Israel, acknowledges that down-ballot races are usually a tough call.

For one, judicial races are officially nonpartisan and candidates cannot list political affiliations, thus eliminating one common guideline. However, determined voters can check the Los Angeles County Democratic or Republican parties for their partisan endorsements.

For another, candidates have only two or three words to designate their occupations on the ballot.

“It’s an advantage if a candidate can put down ‘prosecutor’ or ‘law professor’ but ‘attorney’ is a negative,” Welinsky said.

People generally don’t like to admit it, but left with no other criteria, they will vote for candidates whose last names seem to put them into the voters’ own ethnic group, be it Latino, Asian or Jewish.

There is also likely to be a gender bias at work, Welinsky said, particularly in races for County Central committees of the two major parties.

“If a husband and wife with the same last names both run for a spot, the woman will generally come in way ahead of the man,” he said.

This phenomenon was particularly noticeable in 1992, “the year of the woman,” when Californians elected both Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to the U.S. Senate. Welinsky believes that 2008 may be another such year.

Hal Dash, president of Joe Cerrell and Associates and a longtime political consultant, agrees that ethnic identification can play a strong role in voters’ choices, saying, “People tend to vote for their own.”

He is managing the campaign of Hilleri Grossman Merrit and advises her and other Jewish candidates to put their Jewish connections on their Web sites and talk to The Jewish Journal.

Edward Sanders and Carmen Warschaw, two savvy political activists, also agree that ethnicity plays a role in the voting process, but neither would cast a ballot for a less-qualified candidate just because he/she is Jewish.

“I think most voters try to be fair, but personally, if I don’t know anything about any of the candidates, I won’t vote for either,” Warschaw said.

What motivates voters is a matter of immediate concern to Tom Rubinson (photo) and Cynthia Loo, who are facing each other in the runoff for Superior Court Office 82.Rubinson is a criminal prosecutor in the district attorney’s tom rubinsonoffice and Jewish, and Loo is a Superior Court referee presiding over juvenile delinquency cases and Chinese American. On their respective Web sites, the two approach the question of their ethnic backgrounds differently.Rubinson makes no mention of Jewish affiliations or endorsements, telling The Journal that he considered his religion “too personal. I didn’t feel it would be appropriate to mention it.”

However, during the interview, he spoke at some length about celebrating his bar mitzvah in Jerusalem; his current family membership at Temple Israel of Hollywood, where he initiated a havurah group for parents with young children, and his support of the Guardians, who aid the Jewish Homes for the Aging.

By contrast, Loo listed seven Asian American organizations among her endorsements. She emphasized that ethnic identification shouldn’t be a key reason to vote for a candidate but made note that Asian Americans are vastly underrepresented in the federal judiciary.

Loo seemed more concerned about having to list her professional title on the November ballot as “referee,” although she performs the same functions as a judge.

“I am afraid that most people think of a referee as a guy who runs around in a striped shirt,” she said.

Speaking to The Journal, Loo noted that she feels a general and personal relationship to the Jewish community.

“Both of our people put a high value on education and family,” she said, adding, “I used to be married to a Jewish man. He is a really good guy and we’re still close friends.”

For information on the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s evaluations, visit

U.N. Failing in Conflict-Resolution Role

In Indiana in the 1960s, billboards proclaimed a central message of the John Birch Society: “U.S. Out of the U.N.”

The United Nations, the right-wing crusaders believed, was part of a communist plot to undermine our sovereignty. Soon, Americans would be slaves to the puppet masters in Moscow.

Decades later, that fear looks almost comic. The United Nations is too inept to undermine anything expect itself and, perhaps, any movement toward peace in the Middle East.

The plain fact is, the world needs an international body for conflict resolution more than ever, but the United Nations is a pitifully inadequate vehicle for it.

All of this comes to mind in the face of this week’s effort by the Palestinians to generate anti-Israel resolutions in the General Assembly in response to the recent ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) — the judicial but injudicious arm of the United Nations — that Israel’s controversial new security barrier is illegal and must be torn down.

There are many reasons to object to the fence as planned by the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In fact, Israel’s high court has done just that, forcing changes in its path.

But the ICJ proved itself a kangaroo court — and that may be an insult to marsupials. The United Nations’ preoccupation this week with using the ruling to strike more blows against Israel is deeply revealing of why this is a failed institution.

In an international organization that is supposed to transcend mere politics, everything at the United Nations is political, even the black-robed justices of its court.

Some U.N. abuses border on the obscene. Its Human Rights Commission has proudly counted some of the world’s most notorious human rights abusers among its members, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Libya is a former chair. This year, Sudan joined the commission — even as other U.N. agencies were hand-wringing (a U.N. specialty when faced with catastrophe) over that country’s continuing genocide in the Darfur region.

But the commission can always agree on one thing: That Israel is just about the worst human rights abuser in the world. Who cares about genocide, when you have a security fence to worry about?

The United Nations set back the worldwide fight against racism by allowing its conference on the subject in 2001 to be hijacked by anti-Israel racists who turned it into a festival of outright anti-Semitism. Its refugee agency in the Middle East has perpetuated the misery of displaced Palestinians to suit the political needs of local despots — and in the process helped breed generations of terrorists.

The ICJ decision, in which some justices announced their views even before the case was even heard, was just another chapter in the same old story.

Instead of addressing both Palestinian concerns about the disruptions the fence is causing and Israel’s concerns about terrorism and the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to quell it, the court just took another political swipe at Israel that will inevitably make it harder to bring the two sides back to serious negotiations. It was an act of judicial vandalism, not an effort to give a fair and balanced ruling.

The United Nations has sowed suspicion and bitterness among Israel’s friends. Even many who agree Israel must give up all or most of the land captured in 1967 and who abhor its treatment of the Palestinians are frequently appalled by its actions.

Its Israel obsession is the flip side of the United Nations’ persistent unwillingness to act against genuine horrors in the world.

During the 1994 crisis in Rwanda, the United Nations, apparently unwilling to judge a Third World member the way it routinely judges Israel, was mostly mute. It’s reaction was “willful ignorance and indifference,” according to one member of the U.S. mission to the United Nations at the time.

In the case of Sudan, it had to be dragged kicking and screaming by the United States into even acknowledging there is a problem. Having acknowledged it, the General Assembly will no doubt quickly forget about it as it addresses Israel’s security barrier — a case of misplaced priorities that would be farcical, if it wasn’t so tragic.

The smugly timid U.N. leadership (“Kofi Annan” may someday become a synonym for high-toned cowardice) and a General Assembly that gives the worst despots and rights abusers the same rights as the most representative democracies are forever part of the Mideast problem, not part of the solution.

The results have made Israelis of all political persuasions rightly suspicious of international involvement in their country’s troubles.

And the biased, unhelpful United Nations is a perpetual boost to the Israeli extremists who make political hay from their claim that the whole world is against Israel — a claim that the United Nations, sadly, does its best to reinforce.

The Birch Society was wrong. We need a strong international body to promote peace in a time of escalating danger. Unfortunately, the biased, weak-willed United Nations doesn’t fit the bill.