Candidates for Los Angeles County Superior Court judge attended a judicial candidate forum sponsored by the NAACP and the Latino and Latina Roundtable of the San Gabriel and Pomona Valley on May 6 in Morgan Auditorium.
The candidates pitched their legal views and expertise to an audience of about 20. All candidates sat up onstage and, one by one, gave three-minute speeches about themselves and why they were running.
The candidates included Melissa Hammond, Georgia Huerta, Keith Koyano, Klint McKay, Carolyn Jiyoung Park, Shan Thever, Elizabeth Lashley-Haynes, Melissa Lyons, Leslie Gutierrez, Naser Khoury, Karen A. Brako, Patrick Hare, Richard Quiñones, Kevin Thomas McGurk and University of La Verne Assistant Professor of Legal Studies Thomas Allison.
Allison spoke on the importance of having judges who can properly explain the law to people who may not have legal expertise.
“Unless the people on the bench actually understand the issues people face regarding these laws, it doesn’t make a difference how we enact them,” Allison said.
Allison said he aims to use his experience as a law professor to help others understand terms used in the legal world for their own benefit.
“As a professor I taught over 60 legal courses, meaning I have the ability to communicate laws thoroughly to someone without legal background,” Allison said.
Huerta, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney, connected her drive to be an attorney with her candidacy.
“Throughout my life, I’ve seen cops who did protect and serve and some that did not have dignity or respect… as a result of that I wanted to do something so I became an attorney,” Huerta said.
Huerta said her past experiences made her realize the importance of rehabilitation rather than disciplinary action.
“I worked in an alternative sentencing court where the purpose was rehabilitation, not punishment and incarceration, and I’m telling you it works,” Huerta said. “The court was geared toward the homeless, people suffering from a mental illness, substance abuse cases and our veterans.”
Lashley-Haynes, a Los Angeles County deputy public defender, also believes rehabilitation is key to bettering a community.
“I’ve noticed a cycle that’s motivated me to run,” Lashley-Haynes said. “I see that crime is not going anywhere, yet we do the revolving cycle of sending people in and out of jail. There is a better way that we treat addiction, mental health, homelessness. We need to treat these things in order to create better citizens.”
Lyons, a deputy district attorney for Los Angeles County, emphasized the necessity of diversity and plans to do the same if she were to fill the judge position.
“What I’ve seen in the criminal justice system is bad decisions that have harmed victims and defendants,” Lyons said. “The solution I bring to this system is diversity.”
Lyons said her focus on diversity makes her a strong candidate.
“Diversity is more than just me being Black, being a woman, or being an immigrant,” Lyons said. “Diversity is also about experiences in my life, such as community service, which has exposed me to a lot.”
Audience members could also ask the candidates questions. One of the audience members asked about what they would offer to fix the justice system as of now.
Park, a public union sector staff attorney, answered this question by bringing up the need for diverse perspectives.
“To change our justice system we need to incorporate people with new perspectives, with perspectives that are in line with your own perspectives,” Park said.
Park referenced the debate around abortion rights and the possible overturning Roe v. Wade, and discussed how the United States Supreme Court is failing us.
“With respect to the Supreme Court, we have judges who are not aligned with our own values and lack these new perspectives,” Park said.
Another question posed to the judges was how they would help people with mental illnesses and similar circumstances.
Hammond, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney, said incarceration is not a treatment for people facing these issues.
“I offer substitutions to jail for people with mental illness, where instead we get them on a treatment or a path to recovery instead of being incarcerated,” Hammond said.
The California Primary election is June 7. For more information, visit sos.ca.gov.
Joseph Chavez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.