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LA Superior Court Judges
Evaluating judicial candidates is notoriously hard, but there are a few pieces of information you can look at to help with your decision.
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What Does An L.A. Superior Court Judge Do?

Superior Court judges oversee trials across all of L.A. County. There are more than 400 of them across the court system. These trials cover everything having to do with state and local laws, including family law (such as child custody and divorces), contract disputes, thefts, felony murder, probate (distributing a person’s possessions after they die) and small claims.

A judge’s job is to act as court referee:

  • making sure all sides are abiding by the proper rules
  • hearing arguments
  • handing down rulings based on the evidence and their interpretation of the law

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If the law is very clear on a given issue, a judge has to stick to it regardless of how they personally feel. In other cases, laws may be ambiguous, and that’s when a judge has to issue their own interpretation of the law. Judges also have a fair amount of discretion when it comes to handing down penalties, such as the length of a sentence for a criminal conviction or the payment sum for a civil case. That's where it starts to really matter who is in the seat.

Superior Court judges serve six-year terms, but they don’t always have to face reelection when that time is up. They’ll only appear on your ballot if someone challenges their seat at the end of their term — and even then, sometimes that will result in a dozen or more seats up for election in a given year. Judges who go unchallenged automatically get reelected into their next term and never appear on the ballot at all.

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You Might Recognize Their Work From…

Your traffic ticket dispute. Or your child custody case. Or that time you served on a jury. If you’ve never had to interact with the court system before, you’ve definitely heard of a case the L.A. Superior Court has handled: think Britney Spears’ conservatorship, the trial of Soon Ja Du for the killing of Latasha Harlins, or the O.J. Simpson trial.

What Should I Consider In A Candidate?

Evaluating judicial candidates is notoriously hard. There can be dozens of them in a given election, and since many candidates are wary of politicizing judgeships, they don’t spend a lot of money on campaign advertising, which makes it hard to find out who they are or what they stand for. Plus, these are nonpartisan seats, so you don’t have the option of just voting for candidates who identify as a member of the party with whom you’re registered.

This is really not an easy task for the average voter, but there are a few pieces of information you can look at to help with your decision.

Here are some tips based on advice we previously received from Judge Stuart Rice, an L.A. Superior Court judge and a past president of the California Judges Association (note: he is not up for reelection):

Look at the L.A. County Bar Association's ratings. The L.A. County Bar Association (LACBA) is the main professional association for L.A.’s legal community. During every election, LACBA undertakes a lengthy evaluation process for each judicial candidate. Candidates fill out questionnaires and do in-person interviews with an evaluation committee, and have to submit a list of 75 lawyers or judges who can act as personal references. The committee follows up with each one and then gives candidates one of four ratings: Exceptionally Well Qualified, Well Qualified, Qualified, or Not Qualified. If you don’t know where to start when evaluating judicial candidates, start with these ratings — they're included below in the candidate information.

“The number one quality a judge needs is an ability to work with people,” Judge Rice said. “And you need the ability to stay calm, to listen to all kinds of people, to have what I call a proper judicial demeanor.” This is one reason LACBA ratings can be helpful for evaluating a candidate — they take temperament and personality into account in addition to legal ability. One caveat, however, is that these evaluations don’t tell you exactly why the committee gave a candidate a particular rating.

Another is that some candidates have recently criticized the rating process, questioning whether candidates who identify as women of color and/or whose experience is on the defense side are getting fairly evaluated by the LACBA committee, which is dominated by white men, prosecutors and corporate lawyers.

Check out endorsements. These are nonpartisan seats, but you’ll still see endorsements from newspapers, politicians and issue-based organizations, just like any political contest. If there’s an organization you trust, their endorsement might tip the scales for you.

Consider candidates’ experience. The only requirement for being a judge is to be authorized to practice law in California (usually by passing the bar exam), or to have already served as a judge for 10 years in California. That means you might find a wide range of legal experience among candidates. If they were a judge before, or have significant trial experience, that’s a big clue as to how prepared they may be for the job on day one. Having a history as a prosecutor or defense attorney can also tell you they’ve had a lot of experience in court, and give you an idea of their potential approach to criminal justice issues.

Here are some common job titles you may see on the ballot:

  • Superior Court commissioner: Someone hired by court judges to do lower-level judicial work, such as traffic violation hearings or small claims. “Once chosen as a commissioner, you are already doing the job as a judge,” said Judge Rice (who himself started his career as a Superior Court commissioner).
  • Deputy district attorney: A prosecutor who works for the county district attorney’s office, representing the government in felony and misdemeanor cases.
  • Public defender: A defense attorney employed by the government to represent defendants accused of crimes who can’t afford private lawyers.
  • City attorney: An attorney who handles lawsuits on behalf of a city government. In places like L.A., deputy city attorneys also act as prosecutors for misdemeanors.
  • Attorney, attorney at law, counselor at law, or lawyer: These are general titles used to describe anyone authorized to practice law, whether they’re a law professor, private defense attorney, in-house counsel at a company, or someone who’s passed the bar exam but isn’t actually working as a lawyer. You’ll likely have to dig a bit more to find out the candidate’s actual work experience.

Fun fact: Until recently, judicial candidates would frequently use their job titles on the ballot as a campaign marketing tool. Candidates would list themselves as “violent crimes prosecutor,” “child molestation prosecutor,” or “domestic violence attorney” to catch voters’ eye — and the tactic largely worked. A reform bill passed in 2017 put an end to that practice, so now you see much more neutral titles like the ones above. (That doesn’t necessarily stop candidates from finding other ways to finesse their appearance on the ballot — one legally changed his first name to “Judge” in the 2020 elections, despite not being an actual sitting judge.)

Look at a candidate’s website. If a candidate doesn’t even bother having a website or online presence where you can learn more about them, that’s a signal they may not be running a serious campaign, Judge Rice said. Campaign websites can also give you more detailed information about a candidate’s background, mission and experience.

Why Do We Vote For Judges?

In short, because we have for a long time and because proposals to stop electing judges haven’t succeeded.

If you’re not totally comfortable with the idea of electing judges, you’re not alone. Lots of people have questioned whether it’s a good idea to elect our judiciary — does it cause judges to worry more about being popular instead of making the right decisions in cases? Some critics also point to L.A.’s 2006 judicial elections, in which a well-respected sitting judge who had served on the court for over 20 years unexpectedly lost her seat to a bagel shop owner with much less legal experience who spent way more money on campaign advertising.

More Reading


The Candidates

With all the above in mind, here is our judges guide. It includes all 12 candidates vying for six seats. The two candidates for each seat were the top candidates in the June 7 primary election.

Each profile has the candidate's job, campaign website, a link to their full list of endorsements, and the L.A. County Bar Association ratings (read about LACBA's methodology here).

In four of the contests, voters have the opportunity to elect candidates with public defender backgrounds — which could lead to the first superior court judge with such experience in L.A. County. Four candidates are part of the progressive slate The Defenders of Justice, which aims to diversify and reform the court by putting three public defenders and an attorney at law in office (read about the slate here).

Public defenders are employed by the government to represent people who have been accused of crimes and can’t afford a private lawyer. Experts argue that public defenders can offer a well-rounded perspective in a judiciary that’s largely dominated by former prosecutors. That experience means they’ve spent more time defending everyday people in a justice system that’s long had racial and ethnic disparities.


Office No. 60

Abby Baron, Deputy District Attorney

Website: baronforjudge.com
Endorsements: List of endorsements (Campaign website)
LACBA Rating: Well Qualified

More resources:

  • Read more about Abby Baron's priorities and experience on Voter's Edge

Anna Slotky Reitano, Deputy Public Defender

Website: reitanoforjudge.com
Endorsements: List of endorsements (Campaign website)
LACBA Rating: Qualified

More resources:

  • Read more about Anna Slotky Reitano's priorities and experience on Voters Edge

Office No. 67

Fernanda Maria Barreto, Deputy District Attorney

Website: fernandabarreto4judge.com
Endorsements: List of endorsements (Campaign website)
LACBA Rating: Well Qualified

More resources:

  • Read more about Fernanda Maria Barreto's priorities and experience on Voter's Edge

Elizabeth Lashley-Haynes, Deputy Public Defender

Website: lashley-haynesforjudge2022.com
Endorsements: List of endorsements (Campaign website)
LACBA Rating: Qualified

More resources:

  • Read more about Elizabeth Lashley-Haynes' priorities and experience on Voter's Edge

Office No. 70

Renee Yolande Chang, Deputy District Attorney

Website: reneechangforjudge.com
Endorsements: List of endorsements (Campaign website)
LACBA Rating: Well Qualified

More resources:

  • Read more about Renee Yolanda Chang's priorities and experience on Voter's Edge

Holly L. Hancock, Deputy Public Defender

Website: hancock4judge.com
Endorsements: List of endorsements (Campaign website)
LACBA Rating: Qualified

More resources:

  • Read more about Holly L. Hancock's priorities and experience on Voter's Edge

Office No. 90

Leslie Gutierrez, Deputy District Attorney

Website: lesliegutierrezforjudge2022.com
Endorsements: List of endorsements (Campaign website)
LACBA Rating: Qualified

More resources:

  • Read more about Leslie Gutierrez's priorities and experience on Voter's Edge

Melissa Lyons, Deputy District Attorney

Website: melissalyons4judge.com
Endorsements: List of endorsements (Campaign website)
LACBA Rating: Well Qualified

More resources:

  • Read more about Melissa Lyons' priorities and experience on Voter's Edge

Office No. 118

Melissa Hammond, Deputy District Attorney

Website: melissahammondforjudge.com
Endorsements: List of endorsements (Campaign website)
LACBA Rating: Well Qualified

More resources:

  • Read more about Melissa Hammond's priorities and experience in Voter's Edge

Carolyn “Jiyoung” Park, Attorney at Law

Website: parkforjudge2022.com
Endorsements: List of endorsements (Campaign website)
LACBA Rating: Not Qualified

More resources:

  • Read more about Carolyn "Jiyoung" Park's priorities and experience in Voter's Edge

Office No. 151

Karen A. Brako, Deputy District Attorney

Website: brakoforjudge.com
Endorsements: See full list of endorsements
LACBA Rating: Qualified

More resources:

  • Read more about Karen A. Brako's priorities and experience on Voter's Edge

Patrick Hare, Deputy Public Defender

Website: patrickhareforjudge.com
Endorsements: See full list of endorsements
LACBA Rating: Well Qualified

More resources:

  • Read more about Patrick Hare's priorities and experience on Voter's Edge

More Voter Guides

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  • Water Agencies: Learn what they do and what to look for in a candidate

How to evaluate judges

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Head to the Voter Game Plan homepage for guides to the rest of your ballot.

Updated November 4, 2022 at 4:35 PM PDT
This story was updated after publication to include new reporting on LACBA's ratings of the judges.