Community Briefs

Fallout From Holy Day Ballot

The Rosh Hashanah election fracas took another odd turn this week when Orange County officials placed the county’s registrar of voters on paid administrative leave. Steve Rodermund, who has held the position since late 2003, was relieved of his duties Aug. 25, a week after scheduling a special election to fall on Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the year for Jews.

Rodermund’s status has nothing to do with the election controversy, said Diane Thomas-Plunk, a county spokesperson. But the timing invited exactly that sort of speculation about the scheduled Oct. 4 balloting, which is a primary to replace Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), who resigned from Congress to accept President Bush’s nomination to head the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The county has since apologized to the Jewish community and pledged to make amends, short of changing the election.

But that’s exactly what state Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Northridge) has in mind. This week, he introduced legislation to give Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that authority.

“I think it would be analogous to holding an election on Christmas,” said Richman, himself Jewish, and a candidate for state treasurer.

Area Jewish leaders estimate that more than half of Orange County’s 80,000 to 100,000 Jews live in the 48th District formerly represented by Cox. It includes Irvine, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, among other cities.

Richman said he had contacted Schwarzenegger’s office but that the governor had taken no position on his proposed legislation.

Schwarzenegger’s lack of involvement has angered some in the Jewish community.

“The governor’s office needs to step forward and become an active partner in solving this very unfortunate scheduling problem,” said Rabbi Marc Dworkin, executive director for the Orange County chapter of the American Jewish Committee. “As the highest elected official in the state of California, the governor has an obligation to send a message both to the Jewish community and to other groups in Orange County that something like this will never happen.”

The governor’s office told The Journal this week that his staff knew the primary fell on Rosh Hashanah but thought the holiday began after sundown, which would have given Jewish voters the entire day to cast their ballots. The governor supports efforts to provide early voting, absentee balloting and other means to make it easier for people to vote, a spokesperson said.

Registrar Rodermund could not be reached for comment. In an earlier interview he said the chosen date was the best available, given scheduling constraints.

Chief Deputy Registrar Neal Kelley, who is filling in for Rodermund, said the county would set up booths in synagogues, community centers and city halls, where Jews and other county residents could vote before Oct. 4. Leisure World, a senior community, and the cities of Irvine, San Juan Capistrano and Laguna Niguel have agreed to offer early voting. The county, he added, planned to mail out information on absentee ballots.

Kelley added that, going forward, he hoped Jewish groups and others would join the Community Advisory Committee, which typically meets 90 days before an election to discuss dates, the distribution of equipment, polling sites and poll workers. — Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Panitch Killer Denied Parole

David Scott Smith’s best chance for parole probably evaporated after he answered the Parole Board’s first question about why he killed Robbyn Sue Panitch, a 37-year-old psychiatric social worker.

Smith replied that he hadn’t killed Panitch at all. He said he had stabbed another woman, someone named Gladys. Robbyn Panitch, he insisted, was still living — in a secret location in Russia.

“They didn’t ask him a whole lot of questions after that,” recounted Alan Panitch, the 81-year-old father of the victim, who attended last week’s hearing at a medium security prison in San Luis Obispo.

Smith, a psychotic and homeless Air Force vet, was a patient of Robbyn Panitch when he stormed into her Santa Monica office in February 1987 and stabbed her with a butcher’s knife more than 30 times. He’d been released from commitment because of budget cuts, and, at the time, county mental-health facilities lacked effective security systems.

After the murder, Alan Panitch and his late wife, Gloria, also had to endure an anti-Semitic hate-mail campaign, which prompted their eventual move from Palos Verdes to Seattle.

Smith was sentenced to 26 years to life in February 1991, making him eligible for parole as early as 2006.

These days, Alan Panich volunteers his time helping crime victims and at-risk kids. But for the last several months, he focused on gathering petition signatures opposing Smith’s release. At the parole hearing he was joined by his son and daughter-in-law, as well as by L.A. Deputy D.A. David Dahle.

“Smith’s crime was particularly bloody and heinous and he posed a dangerous threat to society,” Dahle said he told the panel. “I told them I believed he will try and kill again if he ever gets out of prison.”

Smith entered the room much older than Panitch remembered, with a paunch and a monotonic voice. Seeing Smith again made Panitch forget his prepared remarks.

“It all went out of my head,” Panitch said. “I just told the panel how he destroyed our lives. You never get over it,” he continued. “When I rode in the ambulance with my wife the night she died, she said to me, ‘Now, I’m going to see Robbyn again.'”

The two panel members left the room for about 15 minutes before they returned to announce that the parole was denied.

Smith’s court-appointed attorney did not return calls.

Said Panitch: “I’ll be back in five years to make sure he gets turned down again.” — Jim Crogan, Contributing Writer