April 30, 2014–San Diego County Bar Association has released its 2014 judicial candidate rankings, giving incumbent Judges Ronald Prager, Michael Popkins, and Lisa Schall “well-qualified” rankings. Schall’s high ranking was awarded despite numerous ethical admonishments by the Commission on Judicial Performance, a criminal conviction, and dozens of citizen complaints. The rankings included challengers and incumbents, but are limited to three categories: “well-qualified”, “qualified” and “lacking qualifications.” From the press release and Daily Transcript:
Judge Michael J. Popkins, Judge Ronald S. Prager and Judge Lisa Schall all earned “well-qualified” ratings, which means they “possess professional ability, experience, competence, integrity and temperament,” according to the bar’s Judicial Election Evaluation Committee.
The top rating also means the candidate has shown an “exceptional ability to perform the judicial function with a high degree of skill and effectiveness.”
Business litigation attorney Joseph Adelizzi, assistant U.S. attorney Carla Keehn, incumbent Judge Jacqueline M. Stern, Department of Justice attorney Paul Ware and Deputy Attorney General Brad A. Weinreb were given “qualified” ratings.
The panel said that those who are “qualified” possess “professional ability, experience, competence, integrity and temperament indicating satisfactory ability to perform the judicial function.”
Attorneys Douglas Crawford, Ken Gosselin and Michele Hagan were rated as “lacking qualifications.” The rating committee gives that designation to candidates who are “lacking one or more of the essential abilities or skills to satisfactorily perform the judicial function.”
The lawyer’s association ranking of “well qualified” bespeaks of extraordinary standards of professionalism and ethics, and for that reason is highly coveted by incumbents and challengers alike. The County Bar Association represents to voters through its “Well qualified” ranking that candidates possess “exceptional ability to perform the judicial function with a high degree of skill and effectiveness.”
Schall Given Highest Rating Despite Criminal Record and Repeated Discipline
“We recognize that the County Bar has relationships with incumbent judges that it doesn’t want to injure, but awarding [embattled Judge Lisa] Schall the highest ranking is absurd” says Colbern Stuart, President of parenting rights organization California Coalition for Families and Children.
“The integrity of a process that applauds Schall’s track record of criminal behavior is simply appalling” said Stuart. California Coalition is suing judge Schall for racketeering and extortion crimes in a lawsuit in United States District Court, alleging that Schall was a knowing participant in the notorious Family Court forensic custody evaluator fraud ring that is the subject of that lawsuit. “If the San Diego County Bar Association’s ‘objective’ process results in a rating of Schall as ‘well qualified’ equal to Judge Prager, then their methodology is flawed. The Association advertises its process as ‘objective’–apparently they don’t deduct points for criminal convictions, repeated ethical admonishments for substance abuse, violence, and financial impropriety, abusing litigants in family and civil court, and being at the center of a federal racketeering lawsuit” says Stuart.
“Everyone admires standing by an old friend who’s in trouble, but to adulterate the integrity of a public service in order to save a judge who’s expiration date has passed is irresponsible” says Stuart. “The Association could have issued a separate press release, donated to her campaign, or endorsed her directly or through its members, and left the process alone. That they chose to impugn the process–and the integrity its evaluations as well as those it evaluates–is disappointing to say the least.”
California Coalition has sued the Association and a number of its membership including judges for False Advertising and “Honest Services Fraud” in its federal Racketeering litigation against the Divorce Industry. “The Association’s deception of Family Court legal services consumers and the citizens of San Diego is deplorable. Rating Lisa Schall able to perform the “judicial function with a high degree of skill an effectiveness” is equivalent to awarding Heinrich Himmler the Iron Cross because Dachau ran like a Swiss watch. Despicable” says Stuart. “These people need a major re-calibration.”
Incumbent Stern Receives Mid-Level Rating, As Does Challenger Private Family Attorney Adelizzi
Not all incumbents received the highest rating. Judge Jacqueline Stern received the mid-level “qualified” rating, defined as ““professional ability, experience, competence, integrity and temperament indicating satisfactory ability to perform the judicial function.” Challengers Joseph Adelizzi, assistant U.S. attorney Carla Keehn, Department of Justice attorney Paul Ware and Deputy Attorney General Brad A. Weinreb were also given “qualified” ratings.
The Associations’ mid-level ranking for incumbent Stern and her opponent, divorce mediation attorney Joseph Adelizzi, increases the focus on that race. Adelizzi’s experience shows a broad range of civil litigation–real estate, environmental, tax, and personal injury defense work, with many trials. He has some experience as a criminal defense lawyer in misdemeanor cases, including property damage and minor personal injuries. His family law practice focuses on mediation as a less “taxing” alternative to divorce court. He touts his experience as a civil litigator and tax attorney for 30 years who focuses on reducing litigation costs through early assessment and negotiation. His judgepedia site, and his firm website Adelizzi explain his philosophy:
Divorce actions often degenerate into an all-out war. It does no good for one spouse to offer to divide property equally and provide ample support if the other spouse’s objective is to destroy. In a mediated Divorce it is essential that both parties share all pertinent information so that all issues relative to the divorce can be negotiated in good faith. Otherwise, in litigation, whatever money or property you have accumulated during your marriage will probably be consumed entirely by your lawyers because of the high cost of the litigation process.
He faces Jacqualine Stern, who has earned the ire of family court critics, consumers, and civil litigants. According to Judgepedia, she has been a judge since 1998, presided over family court docket for four years, and now presides over an independent civil litigation docket. She generated controversy in August of last year by overturning a $1.5 million jury verdict in favor of a plaintiff claiming sexual harassment by an Oceanside police officer. Judge Stern determined that plaintiff was “not credible.” Judges rarely overturn verdicts for any reason–particularly witness credibility. Her background reported from Smartvoter and her campaign website is a civil litigator defending municipal entities, including law enforcement and the County of San Diego.
Stern vs. Adelizzi represents a real choice for the seat–an incumbent with extensive background as a judge and in representing governments in civil litigation in Stern, and a private practice civil and family law litigator who promotes his cost efficiency.
Questionable Rankings Demonstrate Need for Improved Judicial Performance Evaluation Resource
“One of the reasons we’ve developed Carpe Dicta as a functional resource is to give voters an independent tool to evaluate the candidates for themselves” says Stuart. “We certainly have our opinions and preferences, but in Carpe Dicta we wanted to make raw data as visible to voters as possible. The county bar association’s ranking this year demonstrates that it is defective as a neutral tool for voters seeking independent evaluation. We encourage voters to do the research and make up their own minds. As a lawyer practicing in San Diego for nearly twenty years, I can assure you the county bar association holds no monopoly on awareness of a candidate’s behavior, values, and qualifications. The unfortunate reality is judging is no longer an esteemed intellectual profession–like partisan politics throughout the state and nation, standards have fallen, and judges are evaluated today from a perspective of entrenched institutional self-preservation. “Qualifications” means “how closely they hew the ‘government party’ line” says Stuart. “The bar association has today blinded itself to that radical bias.”
All government lawyers who are running achieved “qualified” rankings or above, while all but one civil attorney received a “lacking qualifications” ranking. Despite the fact that most superior court judges are assigned to civil or family court dockets, former government lawyers–prosecutors or J.D. bureaucrats–achieve advantage in appointments and elections to fill offices which guide policy over families and community business people. “Does anyone really believe that a background in California’s ocean of regulations and criminal laws makes an attorney “qualified” to run a business? Raise a family? No wonder our state is swimming in red tape and our courts are broke after blowing tens of millions on a computerized filing system that’s yet to see the light of day” says Stuart. “We’re California–we’re Silicon Valley, Google, Apple. Property and sales taxes higher than 48 other states and most sovereign nations. Hello?” says Stuart.
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