When I first came to this country as a British Citizen, I was interested in the fact that Judges are elected here instead of being appointed. I had been a criminal defense attorney in England and I was used to appearing before Judges who had been appointed for life. It struck me that Judges would be more accountable to the public if they were elected and thus more likely to be fair. As a DUI lawyer with over fifteen years of experience in Los Angeles and Orange County courts, I have come to the conclusion that the election of Judges is a bad idea. The problem is that Judges are under a great deal of scrutiny by special interest groups such as MADD and often do not feel able to exercise their discretion freely.
I was in the Central Criminal Courts Building yesterday for a client arrested for a felony DUI in Los Angeles
. The client had no prior criminal history. I asked the Judge to consider reducing the amount of the bail requested by the Prosecutor. The amount of bail requested was $100,000. The young female Judge advised me at side bar and off the record that she had been elected as a Judge only two years ago and was very concerned about public opinion in drunk driving cases. She did not want to be seen as a Judge who was "lenient" in DUI cases. She accepted that my client was not a flight risk, but would not consider a reduction in bail. Bail was set at $100,000 and my client was taken into custody. I left Court feeling that the Judge had listened to my arguments and felt persuaded by them, but that the Judge did not feel that she could expose herself to potential negative publicity in DUI cases. If the Judge had been appointed for life without the possibility of removal at election time, I think she would have been more willing to reduce bail substantially because it was the fair thing to do.
Prosecutors and Judges are becoming more and more concerned about public opinion in DUI cases. They are not under the same kind of public scrutiny in other types of criminal cases, with the exception of domestic violence cases. I am a big supporter of Judicial discretion and the ability of Judges to make the right judgement call in the interests of justice taking into account victims rights, protection of the public and fairness to the defendant. In the present political climate, the last consideration seems to have been forgotten.