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The Defenders of Justice Meet & Greet Recap

In case you missed it, La Defensa, Ground Game LA, and Court Watch LA hosted a meet-and-greet event with four candidates running to be elected as judges of the Los Angeles County Superior Court in this summer’s June 7 primary election. 

These four fierce advocates hope to infuse fresh perspective to the bench, informed by decades of experience representing community members as Public Defenders (Anna, Elizabeth, and Holly) and as a civil rights attorney (Jiyoung). 

The Defenders of Justice explained to community members why electing judges from varied backgrounds is important to building a judicial body that delivers more equitable outcomes. Weaving in stories from their often-intersecting personal and professional lives, these progressive judicial candidates discuss the challenges and opportunities they face as they seek election as judges of the LA County Superior Courts.

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Candidate Q&A

Anna
Slotky Reitano
Office #60

Introduction

Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here. I’m Anna Slotky Reitano. I’m running for seat sixty. I’m the first person in my family to go to law school. Fun fact. And I’m also a mom. I have two kids, an eight year old and a ten year old. I’m running for judicial office to bring balance to the bench.

We have an ongoing system right now. I don’t think it works for the residents of L.A. County as well as it could. I’m a unique candidate because I am the only public defender running for judicial seat sixty and that sets me apart not just because of the title, but because of the perspective and actual work ethic that a public defender brings to the courtroom and the cases.

We’ve all seen what our current practices have led to the revolving door, where crime is committed. The person gets sent to prison, released, then repeats exactly what got them there to begin with, because they have no housing, no jobs, no services, and no treatment if they need it. We can and should do better, especially for low level offenses, before they escalate to serious ones.

As a public defender, I work to do better by appointing social workers, finding housing and treatment programs, obtaining mental health care, and seeking collaborative court options as alternatives to the revolving door in all appropriate cases. And I’ve seen really good results. I tell my clients, and I’ve done my job if I don’t ever see them again. I have the experience of knowing why people end up in the courts and the knowledge of how to stop that revolving door of prison that benefits nobody. You know, we need to balance the folks out who have spent their careers practicing the very things that voters have made clear they want to reform.

By electing people like myself with different backgrounds to balance it out. What I offer is depth of experience and substantive knowledge. Judges who don’t have this experience are reluctant to try anything apart from prison and will contribute to the problem, not the solution. So I solve problems. I’m also a trial attorney. I have experience with everything from misdemeanors to murder and I like to find solutions.

If we can avoid  trial, I prefer to do that. What I’m seeking is a smarter, balanced and just a more pragmatic approach to the law that acknowledges and embraces the values of the voters through the laws that they enacted. And I think I can do that. So I — I hope that you guys vote for me. Thank you.

Question #1

Rena Karefa-Johnson (Moderator): You are currently, as you mentioned, a deputy public defender at the San Fernando Courthouse. That courthouse, the San Fernando courthouse, has a history of having a tough on crime culture, which we know really means tough on people, which we know means relying on incarceration to fix problems that they can never fix, but worsen…actually just worsen.

So I just had a question for you, kind of having navigated that as a public defender on the front lines with the people, how those experiences in that type of courtroom influence your decision to run for judge?

Answer

That’s a good question. You know, we have a system that’s tilted towards the tough on crime approach anyways, but it’s definitely more apparent in my courthouse because the judges are mostly prosecutors and I have nothing against prosecutors, I have a bunch of friends who are prosecutors that are good people that work with us and want to help people.

But I think that there’s you know, you need to balance it out. And I think that if you have too many it can affect the culture. You know, I’ve seen judges remand people just to show power – against the interests of public safety. Judges will reject people….

Rena (moderator)
For those of us who aren’t as familiar with court lingo, what does remand mean?

Anna
Oh, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Please. I see judges put people into custody when they’re out, when they’re fighting their case from the outside, they’ll say, you know what? We are going to take you and put you back into custody. And normally, there has to be a public safety reason to do that. I’ve seen judges do it just to prove a point just to prove that they can.

And I’ve seen judges again…It’s – it’s a lot easier to fight your case from the outside. Nobody wants to go to trial while they’re waiting in jail, right?

I’ve seen judges extend court dates and extend hearings just to force a plea. So I’ve requested specific programs in certain cases, and the judge would deny it before the client pled. So they would say, no, no, no, your client can’t take this rehabilitation program because of public safety. So they keep continuing the case. You know, trials have been and probably will continue to be pushed back every once in a while, depending on COVID and eventually before a plea.

And you know what happens when this guy pleads? He goes straight to the program. I requested, you know, before he pled so he was denied the right to a trial. He was denied the right to say that he was innocent. And I think that that’s not fair. And I think that’s a very prosecutorial thing to do because you want to secure that conviction.

There’s other examples, like judges just deferring to the prosecution’s opposition without either of them even looking at the facts of the case or reading anything, just automatically opposing what I’m asking. And don’t even get me started how we treat the mentally ill in the courts. It’s it’s sad. It’s sad. You know, we have the largest jail system in the whole world.

And it also doubles as the largest mental health care system or health care facility. And it’s horrifying how – how people are treated The reality is, is that judges have discretion in certain areas. They can’t change everything, but they do have discretion in certain areas. And they have to follow the law and review each case individually. But what I’ve seen is that there’s a clear bias favoring the prosecution and favoring law enforcement, and the culture so entrenched that because prosecutors are so overrepresented on the bench. It’s – it’s not good because prosecutors historically, for their whole careers, sought the highest amount of prison time.

So they want the most severe penalties. And that’s what they did in their legal careers and that’s what they do on the bench. I don’t think that just goes away when you become a judge. And that’s the problem. So when things change, not all judges adapt. For example, there’s been changes in the law. It was recently said that the law requires judges to dismiss enhancements that double your sentence, if – if the new offense is nonviolent, or if you were very young at the time, or if the new offense is at least five years after your first charge.

And I’ll give you an example. If you steal a bag of chips when you’re 18 years old and the clerk tries to grab the chips back and you say, no, they’re my chips, and then you run off. That’s technically a robbery. So let’s say you’re 18 years old. You get charged with a robbery for stealing a bag of chips and you get put in custody.

You’re really scared. You don’t want to wait 60 or 80 days to go to trial, so you plead out for time served. Well, that’s also a strike on your record, and now that’s on your record for life. And the new law says, Well, let’s look at your new offense. So you’re 18 when that happened, when the robbery happened.

Now you’re 45 and you give your nephew a ride to baseball and he loses T-ball about your car. Cops stop you because they don’t like they don’t like you or they think your car’s clunky. They want to keep all the riff raff out of the neighborhood. They stop your car. They see the bat. They charge you with having a billy club, which is a crime.

The max charge on that is three years OK because of the prior strike and the three strikes law, you’re looking at six years because everything’s doubled after you’ve had a strike. Well, the new law says if it’s older than five years or you’re really young, there’s all these different factors. They shouldn’t impose that prior strike. I recently went to trial on a case that was nonviolent and it was from 1981.

My client was facing six years instead of three. The judge didn’t dismiss it. The prosecutor wouldn’t dismiss it because there’s discretion on whether or not to use that new law. So even though it requires judges to dismiss priors or, you know, that would be considered enhancements, they don’t always do that. And I think that, that, that kind of shows what we’re dealing with in the courts right now.

I always. Oh, I’m so sorry. I always want to seek to address these issues

Question #2

Participant: Rebecca B.
Hi, everyone. Thank you so much. It’s great to hear everyone, everyone and their answers before. So I work with court watch L.A. And actual question for Anna, you kind of touched on this in your previous answers. It’s something we’ve seen in misdemeanor courtrooms. Specifically is a lot of folks who are struggling with mental illness, being criminalized for that.

And we know that incarceration can often trigger and worsen symptoms of mental illness. So I would love to hear a little bit more about what your experience as a public defender has been with the way the judicial system treats people dealing with mental illness. Thank you. 

Anna
That’s actually a great question. Look, I ran because i saw it as a moral imperative.

I’m seeing the necessary – unnecessary harm being caused by judges that have always, you know, that they spent their careers seeking the maximum penalty and they’re still doing it on the bench. I just wanted to offer a more humane and economically feasible approach as an alternative. I have a brother who’s schizophrenic and I’m using this as an example because when he first when he had his first break, he was living on the streets because he was paranoid, he thought that there were cameras everywhere, and so we couldn’t find him for a while.

I got a call when he was in the hospital because he had been approached by some officers when he was panhandling and because he was paranoid, he ran. He had not committed a crime. He just ran because, you know, that’s what happens. And they ended up, you know, meeting with him. And he ended up in that hospital he wasn’t charged.

But I have clients like him doing exactly what he did, charged with resisting an executive officer, which is a felony PC 69. And they basically charge you for resisting or fighting back against officers without an underlying charge. And the reality is, is that these people are having a psychotic break and they’re facing years in prison because they were having a psychotic break.

That is not OK. Putting people that are schizophrenic and suffering from a psychotic episode in jail awaiting a trial is not OK. And we have all these options available now that the judges are not using. So judges can use their discretion to grant something called mental health diversion so you don’t have to plead. You don’t have to – you don’t have to have something on your record.

A lawyer can ask the court they can get an evaluation and say, look, my client is schizophrenic. This charge is the result of his illness. Can we divert him and get him services instead of a charge? And so for two years, as long as they get treatment and services, they don’t get a charge and then the case will be dismissed.

That’s an option that judges have and they can use their discretion to grant. The prosecutor does not have to be on board. There’s also things like the collaborative courts that could actually help people instead of just throwing them away for a few years. And the client, of course, you plead, but you come back to court you sort, you get your treatment, you get your services, and they check in on you and still hold you accountable, but make sure that you get treatment and you’re living in the community.

So that way these people that are suffering from mental illness are getting treatment, that they’re also getting housing. They have case managers that help them function in their everyday lives. And they they end up doing better than they would be if they went to prison for four years. And then we’re just released with no money, no housing and nothing else to to support them.

I think we need to use these options more.

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Elizabeth
Lashley-Haynes
Office #67

Introduction

Thanks so much. I want to thank everybody who co-hosted this event. La Defensa, Ground Game, and Court Watch. But most importantly, I want to say thank you to friends, families, neighbors here in L.A. County who came out today. It means a lot to me that people would show up to learn about us. As Rena said, I’m Elizabeth Lashley-Hanes and I am a proud deputy public defender.

I’m running for seat 67. I want to tell you guys a little about me because I always want to know about the person, not just sort of something on a website. So in addition to being a public defender, I am a mom and I am a wife. I’m married, I am a lifelong Democrat. I’ve been a registered as a Democrat my whole life.

I’m also a union member. My husband’s a union member in SAG, and we are big public school fans. We’re both public school educated throughout our whole lives. And we have two children who attend public schools here in L.A. County. We are a multiracial family. We have an adopted child. We have one biological child. We have a child with special needs. And we have a child who identifies as LGBTQ. So it’s just a little bit about the makeup of my life and my family.

As a Public Defender for almost 20 years, now, I’m in the courtroom nearly every day, and I’ve tried many cases. I’ve been in trial assignments, I’ve done the best demeanors I represented someone back in the Occupy movement, if anybody remembers that, all the way up to the big cases, clerking for a federal judge in New York City, it was Judge Rosemary Pooler in the Second Circuit, but also within the public defender’s office.

I’ve had a variety of unique experiences. I was a juvenile resource attorney. What that means is that I was outside of the courtroom advocating for children who were charged with crimes, who had special needs and who needed resources and support from the school district, from the regional center. I was their advocate out in the community Another unique position I have is currently I litigate the Racial Justice Act, and that’s a new law that seeks to redress bias and racial prejudice in our criminal legal system.

A lot of people are asking, why am I running for judge? And my answer, I feel like is almost simple. After day in, day out, almost two decades, I watched what was going on in the courtroom. And I realized that our system is really not working as it was intended. And I think most people agree with me.

Almost everyone I speak to nationally or within L.A. County believes that our legal system is in need of major improvement. Crime isn’t going down, yet our tax dollars are funding mass incarceration and we’re now the highest incarceration country in the entire world. Meanwhile, our streets, as we all know, are filling up with with unhoused neighbors and these are the very people who we’re cycling in and out of jail.

And so as I saw this massive problem with our system, I thought you know what? Why don’t I try to be part of that solution? And that’s just what led me to try to run for the bench. I believe that one of the reasons of how we got here with our legal system is because we have the same pattern repeating itself.

We just have a status quo right now. And that status quo includes the pipeline of prosecutors to judge. And they’re the ones who are making the daily decisions of everyday people’s lives. And I’m flat out different. I’ve been an independent thinker, and I’ve always stood up for what I believe is right and just. And I don’t feel as though I am part of any group where I have to answer to any group.

I’m someone who has represented the people of L.A. County and not the government Some things I believe I believe in substance abuse treatment and mental health treatment over jail. And just like the board of Supervisors and the voters of L.A. County who passed Measure J, I believe in care over cages. And I believe that when we invest our money into these types of programs and resources that is the best use of human beings’ lives, but also our tax dollars.

Frankly, what I’m trying to do is reimagine what justice could look like in L.A. County, not what it looks like. Thanks so much, Rena.

Question #1

Rena Karefa-Johnson (Moderator): On the vibe of district attorneys, or prosecutors: as a public defender, you’re on the other side. District attorneys allegedly represent the people, but they often seem to represent the jail and the cops. And it seems like the public defenders are actually the ones that are standing with the people in my community, the people that I love, and representing them. If there’s one thing a district attorney is going to do, it disproportionately overcharge and incarcerate black, brown and indigenous communities. I’d love to hear a little bit about how you, as a public defender, have navigated this pattern of discrimination over your 19 year career.

Answer

Wow. Yeah, that is a great question. And really, I wish I had a better answer for that because my answer is almost depressing. You know, it’s been 19 years and for people who have been in the trenches longer than me, it’s all of our careers that we see it, we experience it, we live it. You know, we understand the disproportionate, unequal way that justice is being dispensed and we fight it the best that we can.

You know, we, we bring the motions. You know, we make the arguments. But so often I’m – I’m thinking of the many, many judges that I hear say, you know, when I’ve I’ve argued in court, you know, things in the middle of a suppression motion, you know, saying that maybe someone’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated and a judge would respond, you know, there’s nothing I hear what you’re saying.

You know, maybe he was pulled over because he was black. There’s nothing I can do about that. You know, take it up with the legislator. You know, we hear things like that, almost an acceptance and that this is the way the system is.

So for – for most of my career, it’s been incredibly difficult to navigate what feels so real in the courtroom. But yet it’s – it’s like an unspoken acceptance. That’s why my most recent position of being able to litigate the Racial Justice Act has been amazing and inspiring and invigorating for me. And what I get to do now, you know, anyone can go look at this act.

It was just passed, or it just went into effect, excuse me, January of 2021 and it was AB 2542, which then was codified into – it’s actually in the Penal Code now. So Penal Code Section 745, people can go Google. It is an amazing law. And if I could just side note – side note for a minute, the law was written by Assemblyman Ash Kalra, who just endorsed the slate today.

So that was pretty exciting for me because he is an amazing legislator who drafts amazing legislation. And I think he sees the shared value of the Defenders of Justice that we all share with him. So shout out to Ash Kalra for his endorsement. So he wrote the racial Justice Act and got that passed. It is groundbreaking legislation, groundbreaking law we have here in California.

There was only one prior Racial Justice Act, and that was in North Carolina. And so they were doing big things in North Carolina, and then it was overturned. So we’re officially the only state that has a racial justice act. And what I get to do, which is so exciting, is I get to pull data, pull statistics, and then make those arguments of exactly what you were talking about of the disproportionate charging.

But I also get to make claims with and any you know, other defense attorneys are trying this around L.A. County, of course. It’s not just solely me, but I’m the designated person in the public defender’s office myself and one of my colleagues and we get to show through data that is publicly available or sometimes we have to dig for it, but it’s out there for the public to see. And I get to make claims and say, hey, look, you know, you guys are overcharging African-American men.

You’re overcharging Latino men. With this charge, and here’s the data to prove it. We also get to say, you know, you judges, you the bench, you the state, you’re disproportionately sentencing folks. So the biggest way that anybody you know, the most common way that we hear about this is capital punishment and the death penalty. You know, anyone can pull the statistics and see that death row is made up of predominantly Black and Latino folks.

So you can bring a racial justice claim act in that regard. You get to pull the statistics. And I got to tell you, I’ve been looking at a lot of data and a lot of statistics and African-American people are disproportionately charged in pretty much any offense that I have done. The research on so far. And it’s pretty drastic.

So it was kind of depressing. But now that I’m doing this, it it doesn’t feel as depressing. I hope that answers that question.

Question #2

Participant: Ivette A
Thank you so much, Brittani. And thank you so much to the candidates. I have a question around the use of electronic monitoring. Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen an exponential growth in the use of electronic monitoring and pretrial release. It’s gone up. I think it’s something like 5000% in the last year. And so I’m curious to the candidates any any candidate that wants to answer, you know, what is your approach to pretrial release?

Will you lean on electronic monitoring in any cases? You know, in particular, we’ve seen it use – used in both low level and higher level charges. And what is your take on the use of risk assessment instruments to determine release?

Answer

Yeah. Thank you for those questions. I think there’s a couple questions in there. And so I’m going to give this caveat. I can’t make promises of what I would do if I were on the bench. So I can I can speak generally about the things I’ve seen and and what I feel about certain services with the caveat that, you know, I can’t say I would do this.

I wouldn’t do this because each case has to be taken individually. But what I would say is electronic monitoring in general, to me is another tool in the caveat, the sort of cadre of options that the justice system uses to basically keep people of color under some type of surveillance. That’s what I would say in general is my feeling about it.

We’ve got probation, we’ve got parole, we’ve got electronic monitoring, we’ve got, you know, I mean, the list goes on. And all of the statistics show that these are disproportionately used against black and brown people. Typically in Los Angeles. So that’s my sort of general thoughts about it. I, I have seen it used it’s very frequently used in the juvenile court and I have heard case after case, I’m in juvenile court.

I have a case in juvenile court right now and I hear the families, I hear what they’re saying. I hear the children. And it sounds so incredibly unhealthy to me. You know, I hear parents saying things like it’s the whole summer and my son is can’t sit on the back porch to get fresh air. And we don’t have air conditioning in our house.

I mean, to me, it’s like it’s just such an easy way to go through life to have a child, a teenager locked sometimes in a one bedroom apartment for months upon months. There’s got to be a better way. But I would say this as well. I think it could be used delicately as a tool, if if a judge is considering factors like should someone be released, you know, and not if we’re going back to the bail issue right.

It’s one of the things that judges could consider, you know, rather than county jail while someone is awaiting trial, you know, the judge might have concerns about whether or not they would return to court or public safety, which are the things they’re supposed to consider, not how much money they have, but if a judge wants to use it as something to release from jail and rather they’d be at home, maybe on electronic monitoring, I could see it used in those specific types of circumstance.

But not, overused for just anybody all the time. The last thing I would say is risk assessments. Risk assessments like the eighties like IQ testing has been shown proven by studies, by experts, by scientifically tested folks in the education world that they are disproportionate against, again, people of color, lower income people. So risk assessments need to be really used sparingly, or maybe not at all, but they really need to be examined critically because they very often come out much worse for people of color for lower income people.

So and it’s just the same if anybody has read about IQ testing and SATs even, they are biased against certain groups. So we need to be extremely careful. I would rather see an evaluation by an independent doctor, an independent expert, a tool which tends to disfavor certain communities and favor others.

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Holly
Hancock
Office #70

Introduction

Thank you, everyone. Thank you for having me. La Defensa, Ground Game. Thank you so much. Again, my name is Holly Hancock, and I’m running for Los Angeles Superior Court seat number 70. Thank you!

Thank you for your attention. I’m ready to give the voters a choice. And I did that as well in 2018. I believe in my professional background and the way that I practice differentiates me from my prosecutor colleagues. I am a deputy public defender and as you’ve heard, that’s very rare and different for us to run. For the past sixteen years, I have fought for people’s rights, constitutional rights in the criminal court system.

I’ve tried 65 trials, to jury verdict, and I have won or had reductions in about 80% of them. On a daily basis the case trajectory is much less extreme, though. I don’t go to trial clearly on every case but I must see the effect of whether or not we go to trial, what kind of plea agreement we come to that effect on the client and their families generationally.

I also have to know the effect on the victims and their families generationally. Many times this is the same family. For this reason, I practice long term solution building for the client and the community. I have to know the root cause of the problem, as does every public defender. Public defenders do the heavy lifting. We appoint the psychologists we petition the court for mental health diversion, and we ask that the client be moved to specialty courts that have been established in Los Angeles County, such as the victims of Human Trafficking Court or the Homeless Court.

And that takes me to what I’ve been doing for the last two years. I have worked in post-conviction after people have completed the full process of their involvement with the criminal justice system. Getting those people who are formerly incarcerated, their records expunged or cleared, and the deputy in charge of the criminal records clearing division of the county’s homelessness initiative.

And I act as a liaison to the Board of Supervisors of Los Angeles County. And we operate the much beloved homeless mobile unit. I have seen firsthand the difficulties that are associated with clearing one’s record after you have paid, as they used to say, your debt to society. I’ve seen the judges who will not give the individual the opportunity to start over to get housing to get jobs.

These are the same judges who are finding voters propositions, measures to fund those propositions and laws enacted by their duly elected officials. I believe in giving second chances. I believe you have to give second chances in order to create a safe community going forward. But the enactment of these changes rests with the bench. And for far too long, our bench has been monolithic in its approaches to enacting criminal justice, change and reform.

I believe Los Angeles County deserves diversity. Background informs behavior. Thank you for your attention.

Question #1

Rena Karefa-Johnson (Moderator): So one of the largest issues that La Defensa focuses on is pretrial incarceration, which means people who are illegally in effect, have not been convicted of a crime, are promised a presumption of innocence by our Constitution and are just stuck in jail. Awaiting their trial, usually because they can’t afford to buy their own freedom.

What that looks like is that richer people, white people have to fight their cases at home. They get to have stabilized lives. They get to be with their kids, that they actually have to prove their case against them before their lives get thrown into disarray. What happens for folks in our community, is often, is they preemptively lose their housing, they lose their employment, and lose custody of their children because they can’t earn income. They can’t pay rent, they can’t care for young children, when they’re in a cage.

So currently there are 6000 people being held in pretrial incarceration in L.A. County, which is horrific in my opinion. Judge decisions have the largest impact on reducing pretrial incarceration. Judges have a huge amount of discretion to be like, Oh, go away your trial at home, or Sorry, I’m going to send you to jail. I’d love to hear about how you think about pretrial perforation and how you would use your power as a judge to reduce pretrial pretrial incarceration if you are elected?

ANSWER

So the first thing I want to say is I will be following the law, and the law of this land is now Humphrey was a case that was gone up to the Supreme Court of California, and it is stating that judges are now supposed to not just refer to a bail schedule which is what many of them did and still do, but to consider whether or not the person can pay to be released, whether or not the person and how much.

And if so, what will they – will they return? I mean, that’s always a consideration and how can we persist? So I think we should be going to it in the direction of how we can facilitate it. This is an issue that is nationwide and across the nation. They’ve been changing these laws and now we’ve changed this law. But you will not see that it’s being really enacted in the Los Angeles Superior Court because they are still abiding by the old ways.

As as you stated, the judges do have discretion. And in that discretion you mentioned that there were 6000 people. So first of all, no, we had just first of all, no, we have the largest mass incarceration in, I think, the country, and possibly the world, right here in our – in our own little county. And so but also so it’s about is over 12,000.

This was in April. It’s over 12,000 early April. So think about that half of those people, almost half are just waiting for trials or waiting to be heard by the judge and possibly make some kind of deal. Whatever they’re doing. They have not been convicted, so they’re in jail. What the people who have been convicted, that’s another point that I can make.

And when they’re in jail with the people who have been convicted, there’s a whole dynamic going on there with people, they want to get out. So it’s been the bane of my existence as a defense attorney that people are not released, especially. And I can give you a really good example. First, I want to say a half of those 6000, 3000 have not touched a person in the crimes that they’ve been charged with.

So that means that they are – that means that they are, not they have not only are they not convicted, but it is a nonviolent crime. That’s what it means, you know, so they haven’t touched anybody else. So the thing that judges will do is they will often say, you know, I’m keeping them in for the safety of the community.

But it has to be emphasized, the reason why Humphrey passed is because this is not making our communities safer. There is no if you if people are losing their jobs and losing their children and this happens pretty regularly – think, just let that sit there for a minute. It happens fairly regularly. I deal with the unhoused and I have had people who just were called in for one night and they were dying to get out because they wanted to get back to their belongings that were left on the street.

So now they don’t have those belongings. They’ve got to start over again from scratch. So this is a situation again where it’s about for a lot of people is almost life and death is like, you know, this is going to change my life that I can’t pay my way to freedom. So there’s no correlation. There’s so many studies that have been done –

There is no correlation that it makes our communities safer. They keep all of these pretrial people in. I had a client who, and so this is a situation, the client had bailed out. He had a job, he actually was able to bail out. And I want to also say that it was it’s very expensive to bail out. And by that I mean the interest rates are usury.

They’re off the chart. It’s not like – it’s like a really bad credit card. And, you know, and you’re having to pay that whether you win, lose or draw, whatever happens, you still have to continue to pay your 10% to the – to the bail bondsman, to the insurance company, an insurance company. That’s what it is. And he – he and I went to trial and shortly before he went to trial, there was a report that he was doing some things that he wasn’t supposed to do.

So the judge, without any kind of real hearing, put him in jail again. It was because Holly Hancock was in this courtroom and I was about to go to trial. It was a way for the judge to force him to make to take a plea. I was able to calm him down and say, we’re going to trial now.

We go to trial. The – the district attorney, I knew who I knew. She could not prove her case. We hung the trial in our favor, eight to four. There was no other evidence to be brought forward. There was no other evidence that could come forward. And yet the judge would not dismiss the case. And when he wouldn’t dismiss the case, I asked alright.

Will you release him? Because clearly now we’re going to reset the clock. It’s going to be another 60 days. But the district attorney did not prove her case. No, he would not let him out. So the district attorney gave the get out of jail free card. If you plead guilty, even though I have not proved my case in front of 12 citizens, then you will get out of jail today.

He was crying in the back and I was begging him, Look, I will go to trial again. She’s never going to prove this case, and he’s like, I cannot wait another 60 days. I’ll do it in the 60 day, the shortest time frame. I won’t let her put anything over. And he went ahead and pled guilty and that is what happens every day.

So you don’t know that. OK, so I’m, I’m sharing that with you to say this is not making things safer and it is not adhering to our constitutional values that people are innocent until proven guilty.

Question #2

Participant: Titilayo R.
Thank you. This is a question that was submitted by our moderator, Rena, who is also on child care duties and giving her son a bath, some asking the question, in her honor.

We know that the criminal legal system is not broken. It is working as designed, and more and more visionary candidates look to transform the judiciary from the inside. We know you will be met with resistance from current judges on the bench who want to maintain the status quo. If elected, how do you plan to resource yourself to weather those types of storms and hold yourself accountable to the values that motivated you to run? 

ANSWER

I think there are a few things that we can do. First of all, I’ve always believed that I have this idea in my mind that I will make connections with judges in other jurisdictions. And by that I mean, I know that there are other people who have come in the way that I will come in as a public defender through an elected process.

And I think that those two things are important. The elect – the election process is very important because really, even though it’s county-wide, you’re voting for your neighborhood judge. You really are. We’re going to be in, you know, other than those who work downtown, of course, we’re going to be in every neighborhood courthouse, all around the county.

And there are many of them and we can also be, as was mentioned before, by Jiyoung, we can be, you know, put in family court. We can be making decisions about divorces, child custody. We can be put in dependency court. We can be making decisions about, around foster, foster care, should the child be taken and fostered, et cetera.

So I think that you really are you know, you can be having disputes with your neighbor over the back yard space, et cetera. I mean, there are so many ways that we can be serving communities and I tend to think that we need to expand out and look at what are people doing in other states, what are people doing in other countries?

Even – there are a couple of organizations out for judges that are international. And I certainly intend to become a part of that. I think that I’ve worked with the…the homelessness initiative and what that’s done for me is in a kind of a quasi-supervisory position. I’ve helped and continue to help to establish and maintain and expand the homeless courts around.

And they’re called homeless, although I call the people unhoused. But the homeless courts are starting to expand and I know that you can approach the Judicial Council and you can start to look at what kinds of collaborative courts can really help in our neighborhood. It’s what kinds of courts can we do to…to add wraparound services for those who are intersecting, intersecting with the police and the…and the criminal court system.

And clearly the unhoused intersect with them all the time. So you know, it’s…it’s more about what can we do? And they are also there was an earlier question about mental health and we give them those wraparound services as well in the homeless court. So making connections like that, dealing with the with the Judicial Council, which is kind of like the administrator of arm working with the presiding judge and the prosecutors because that’s what we’ve had that’s what I’ve been doing to put together additional courts that are collaborative and wrap around.

That is what I fully intend to try to do. Whether I’ll be able as a newbie to make any headway in that. That’s what I’m going to keep talking about. And also making connections with judges in other jurisdictions, other states and other countries.

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Jiyoung "Carolyn" Park
Office #118

Introduction

Thank you, everyone, for coming to this meeting, meet and greet today. Thank you to the interpreters and the organizers. My name is Carolyn Jiyoung Park. My pronouns are she/her. I’m running for judge of the Superior Court Office. Number 118 right up here. Thanks to somebody who made this wonderful graphic. I was born and raised in Los Angeles.

Like so many Korean-American immigrants, my parents worked seven days a week to make a life here in the U.S. and provide for me and my siblings. I’ve been fortunate enough to become the first person in my family to become an attorney. Throughout my eighteen years of practicing law, I’ve tried to pay it forward by serving regular working people throughout Los Angeles County.

For many years, I worked at a public sector union and represented state workers from all walks of life, from custodians to health care workers to tax auditors. I’ve worked with unaccompanied minors who crossed the border without a parent or guardian. I’ve taken on a number of pro bono cases representing people who are exercising their constitutional right to peacefully protest.

And I currently have a private law practice working in civil rights, labor, and small business matters. I’m running because we need diversity on the bench. We need more women. We need more women of color. And most importantly, we need more judges with diversity of legal background and diversity of thought. The judges I’ve been in front of do not reflect the diversity of my daily life.

The scales of justice have been tipped in favor of the heavy hand of government and big corporations for too long. Part of the reason is that prosecutors and corporate defense attorneys are very much overrepresented on the bench. The Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmation highlighted the need for diversity of legal background in our judges, in addition to diversifying in terms of demographics.

I chose a career representing regular working people, immigrants, students and others seeking justice. My perspective is one that’s informed by working with regular working people, and it allows me to apply the law fairly and equitably without giving undue credit to any side. It would be an honor for me to serve the people of Los Angeles County as judge of the Superior Court in office 118. And I encourage you all to spread the word about the Defenders of Justice candidates.

Question #1

Rena Karefa-Johnson (Moderator): So you, even more than most public defenders, have a very nontraditional legal background compared to most of the lawyers who typically end up on the bench. We mean that in the best way possible. Traditional lawyers are often some of the – just some of the things you’ve done. You’ve litigated cases on behalf of unions and union members, you’ve handled civil rights cases, you’ve assisted community members with pro bono legal support.

There’s your own kind of community lawyering. Given that there are not many judges, if any on the bench that look like you, what do you think about your background has uniquely prepared you to be a judge and how what like pretty concretely, how do you think that’s going to influence the type of judge you are when when folks are standing up in front of you?

ANSWER: 

Yeah, thank you for that question. There aren’t a lot of community lawyers who become judges because voters have traditionally elected prosecutors. And about 40% of the people who actually vote tend to be seniors. And a lot of them tend to be, you know, more on the conservative side. And so that’s why we need everybody to vote and everybody in this election is going to be mailed a ballot pursuant to a new law that Governor Newsome signed.

And so everyone’s going to have a ballot that comes to their house and we’re all going to be able to vote. So we really need to exercise our ability to vote, which really is a privilege that, you know, a lot of African-Americans before us and many others really paid the highest price for, you know, with their lives. And so I hope people really exercise their right to vote we very much need community oriented perspectives on the bench because we have so many different types of courts in the superior court system and because of all the different kinds of people who come through the court system.

It’s not just black and brown folks who are affected by the criminal courts. There are – there are lots of other folks who aren’t affected and it’s other types. It’s in other types of courts that black and brown folks and other folks are really disproportionately impacted. So African-American kids are disproportionately in the foster care system. It’s low income neighborhoods that have cars towed in, it really for as a scam for for tow truck towing companies and people in office, certain people in office to to profit from.

I’ve been a union side labor attorney for many years. And I chose a career representing working people, immigrants and other community members who can’t afford fancy lawyers. I’ve handled hundreds of cases and litigated approximately 60 hearings and arbitrated lots of cases and successfully settled many, many, many more cases now I want to talk about how the criminal justice system can affect people in the workplace.

I represented a registered nurse who had been a stellar employee for the state for over seven years. She raised an issue to her supervisor about a workplace issue and then her supervisor retaliated against her by firing her. She was fired under the Ilargi that she failed to disclose her – that her husband was on parole when she first applied to the job seven years back.

Even though she genuinely did not know that her husband was on parole at that time. This friend lost her job because of her husband’s brush with the law for falling for an email phishing scam. She was able to win her job back by – by having the state personnel board decision overturned by an L.A. Superior Court judge. And now she works, still works for the state as a nurse.

And I’m really proud of the fact that I was able to have that win for her. Yeah. So I just want to say that we see firsthand the impact that our court systems have in our daily lives, whether it’s about being housed, having custody over a child, getting or keeping a job and having access to drug rehab, going – going into ICE custody, and so many more issues.

Question #2

Participant: Ambrose B.
Thank you. And apologies, because this may be a heavy one. So every year the county pays out tens of millions of dollars in settlements related to. Federal civil rights claims against the sheriff’s department and the county. This is often due to wrongful death and murders at the hands of the sheriff’s department. And these settlement claims are overseen by L.A. Superior Court judges through settlement conferences. And many families feel like the Judiciary is an inadequate place to seek justice for their loved ones. And I’m wondering as, running for judge, if you could make a statement that addresses this concern.

ANSWER

Yeah. I want to say that the courts are not the end all, be all of our paths to justice. We have to vote in legislators, lawmakers who will create the laws that provide for accountability of law enforcement when they do something wrong. We need lawmakers to do so many things to make the justice system more fair. Now, the judges have to apply those laws. We are restricted by the existing laws, although judges have some discretion with respect to things like sentencing and bail and some things like that. But really, we have a lot of work to do on many fronts.

And so I would say we…we have to get the lawmakers that we need elected and we need to also get elected. The judges who will apply the newer laws designed to fix things that need fixing instead of obstructing them, as some judges may want to do. And and my my understanding is that some judges are obstructing some of the policies and laws in place. So there’s no…there’s no silver bullet. It’s … change from many many sides.

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Full Text Transcript

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Slide 1
“Meet & Greet the Defenders of JusticeWelcome, 영하다, Bienvenidas”

Logos of Ground Game LA, The Defenders of Justice, La Defensa, The Justice PAC by La Defensa, and Court Watch LA

Slide 2
Today you will hear from four candidates running for open seats in our superior court system. 

In their daily practice, these four attorneys demonstrate a commitment to advocating for, and connecting people with social workers, diversion programs, and services that can support them.

Slide 3
Images of four candidates with text:

Meet the Judicial Candidates for California Superior Court
ANNA SLOTKY-REITANO Office #60
ELIZABETH LASHLEY-HAYNES Office #67
HOLLY HANCOCK Office #70
CAROLYN “JIYOUNG” PARK Office #118

Slide 4
Image of Anna Slotky Reitano (Office #60) with bio: Anna started out in civil and administrative law, but has been a Deputy Public Defender for almost a decade. She has experience in misdemeanor and felony jury trials and spent almost 3 years in the juvenile courts, solely representing children. She also serves as a Union Steward within Local 148, the Public Defender’s Union.

Slide 5
Image of Elizabeth Lashley-Haynes (Office #67) with bio: Elizabeth has been a Deputy Public Defender for more than twenty years, and in the Racial Justice Act Unit, fights against racial bias in arrests, charging, and sentencing.

Slide 6
Image of Holly Hancock (Office #70) with bio: Holly has served as a Deputy Public Defender for 15 years, successfully defending clients who could not afford an attorney, while leading efforts to divert cases to community alternatives to incarceration.

Slide 7
Image of Jiyoung “Carolyn” Park with bio: Jiyoung worked as a public sector union attorney litigating on behalf of union members, and currently runs a private general practice handling civil rights violations, labor law, and tenant rights.

Slide 8
Image of Rena Karefa-Johnson, moderator, with bio: Rena is a policy expert, campaigner, movement lawyer and abolitionist organizer. She contributes to building a future without prisons and police through criminal legal reform policy, campaigns and political strategy. Rena has worked on campaigns across the country to end pretrial detention, practiced as a criminal defense and reentry attorney for justice-involved youth in New York City, directed Campaigns and Advocacy as for Essie Justice Group and is currently the, Director of National Programming and Strategic Initiatives at FWD.us. Rena received her undergraduate degree in African-American Studies from Yale University and her JD from Harvard Law School.

00:00:31:24 – 00:00:53:04
BRYANNA SIGUENZA, Judicial Accountability Coordinator, La Defensa
Welcome, everyone. I’m Bryanna Siguenza and my pronouns are she and her. I’m the judicial accountability coordinator with La Defensa. Thank you for joining us tonight.

Anysia
환영합니다. 저는 Bryanna Siquenza입니다. 저를 여성으로 인식합니다. 저는 La Defensa의 사법 책임 조정자입니다. 참여해 주셔서 감사합니다.

Jen/Eleana
Bienvenidxs. Soy Bryanna Siguenza, uso el pronombre ella, y soy Coordinadora de Responsabilidad Judicial con La Defensa. Gracias por estar aquí con nosotres. 

Bryanna
To access captions in your language click the link that you’ll find in the chat and a note the session is being recorded.

Jen/Eleana
Para acceder a los subtítulos en su idioma haga clic en el enlace que encontrará en el chat. Y un aviso: esta sesión está siendo grabada. 

Anysia
귀하의 언어로 자막에 접근하시려면 대화창의 링크를 누르세요, 그리고 다음과 같이 기재되어 있습니다: 이 회의가 녹화되고 있습니다9

Bryanna
Language justice includes a commitment to everyone’s full presence and capacity to communicate in our languages. We acknowledge all the languages here today, and especially the languages of the Indigenous people of this land. 

Jen/Eleana
La justicia del lenguaje incluye el compromiso de la presencia plena de todxs y la capacidad de comunicarnos en nuestros idiomas. Reconocemos todos los idiomas presentes hoy aquí, y en particular los idiomas de los pueblos indígenas de esta tierra

Bryanna
Today this event will be held in English, Korean and Spanish. During the question and answer, we hope all those languages will be actively used, so if you are not comfortable communicating in all three, you’ll choose a language channel in a few moments.

Jen/Eleana
Hoy este evento se llevará a cabo en inglés, coreano y español. Durante la sesión de preguntas y respuestas, esperamos que se usarán todos esos idiomas activamente, así que si usted no se siente cómodx comunicándose en los tres, podrá elegir un canal para su idioma en unos pocos momentos.

00:02:26:14 – 00:02:48:15
BRITTANI NICHOLS, Ground Game LA
Hello everyone and welcome to the meet and greet for the Defenders of Justice, hosted by LA Defensa, The La Defensa Justice PAC, Court Watch LA, and Ground Game LA. My name is Brittani Nichols and my pronouns are she/her. I’m a television writer, actor, and organizer with Ground Game LA, and I will be your emcee for the evening. We are so happy to see all of you here. And we’d like to take a moment for a land acknowledgment from Leah Perez.

00:02:58:22 – 00:03:19:18
LEAH PEREZ
Hello, everybody. Thank you for being here with us this evening. We want to acknowledge that we are on the land of the Tongva. Gabrieleño, Acjachemen, Juaneño Nations  – sorry, Juaneño nations who have lived and continue to live here. We recognize the Tongva and Acjachemen nations and their spiritual social connection as the first stewards and traditional caretakers of this land.

00:03:22:05 – 00:03:49:02
Brittani Nichols
Thank you, Leah, once again. Thanks, everyone, for being here at this event, introducing y’all to the Defenders of Justice. Elizabeth Lashley Hanes, Jiyoung Park, Anna Slotky Reitano, and Holly Hancock. They are four women running for judge of the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Now, this is the first cycle I’ve ever been to an event like this, and I’m truly grateful for these candidates because they’ve taught me so much.

And while they have taught me so much, I do want to add that what I do before the Defenders of Justice was almost nothing. So it’s both impressive and also, unfortunately, didn’t take that much. And from talking to folks throughout this experience, I know that I’m not alone in the frustrations I’ve had when it comes to available information about the judicial races.

These have traditionally been low information races, but what’s important to note about that is why they have been And that’s because the same type of person has been running year after year after year. Even if they had been answering the questions I had, I don’t think I would have liked their answers. Every now and then a candidate would pop up that you’d hear about through the grapevine like Holly Hancock, who ran before in 2018, but for the most part, when you got your ballot, you just fell into the camp of voting for the deputy district attorney’s or against them.

I remember the first time I sat down at my computer ready to do some research on the judges, and there was so little information available I’d Google names and there wouldn’t even be campaign websites or their website was so bad it wouldn’t even come up in the Google results. That’s not how things should work! Just by running these candidates has made these races so much more accessible than they ever have been.

I know that the goal of these women isn’t just that you vote for them, it’s that you will know what to look for in judicial candidates moving forward. That everyone in the County will be better equipped to make the decisions that are best for themselves and for their communities. This group is going to change these races forever, and I feel confident about that for a few reasons.

The elections for judges we have now have only been around since 2000, when the courts were unified because of Prop 220, only three public defenders have run, starting in 2002, when the offices for the Unified Superior Court began appearing on the ballot. All three of them are black Their names are Edward Mack, Tammy Warren, and Holly Hancock, who made the runoff in 2018.

None of them even used a ballot distinction. Public defender because it was considered the kiss of death. For years, the people running for these positions have emphasized being tough on crime. And for the most part, the people that run have been prosecutors. They’re deputy district attorneys. These are people who chose a job that is primarily about putting people in jail.

They’ve pushed the narrative that the sure shot way to keep communities safe is by putting people in jail, which is fundamentally untrue, and just an embarrassing thing to believe at this point in human history. None of these three public defenders won and thus a public defender has never been elected judge in Los Angeles County. In fact, we’re behind a lot of other cities like Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, and New Orleans…

…where slates of public defenders and other folks running on decarceral platforms have won. It’s also through similar efforts that people have highlighted that it’s valuable to have a diversity of backgrounds on the bench. There are way more than criminal courts, even though that’s the lens that these races have traditionally operated through – there are civil, family, juvenile, mental health, and traffic courts.

Having one type of person or a group of people that all share the same background, even from either side, in all of these sports, actually makes zero sense. And other cities have realized that. This is the first effort like this in Los Angeles County, and even if just one of the Defenders of Justice wins, and obviously we want them all to win –

But even if just one of them wins, we will be making history. And to me, these women have already made history, just…just by running. It’s a really brave, hard thing to do. And so I hope that, you know, in addition to the information that you all walk away with, you also walk away with the, ah – just appreciation for what they’re doing for all of the voters in L.A. County.

So a few things that are helpful to know, and maybe just fun: These are countywide races. That means you can vote for all of these women. Where judges work, and in which courts are not decided in the election. The seats, the numbers that you see attached to them, they don’t really mean anything. Some people, maybe they just because they like the number, who knows.

And another thing to know is there is no spending limit in these races. That means, and this is currently happening in the races right now, individuals and corporations can donate tens of thousands of dollars to any person that is running for judge. There’s been a donation of $100,000 to a judicial candidate, which does not scream ethical to me.

But that’s how it is. And that’s one of the things that we just don’t know. There’s so little information about how the people that have been elected manage to do that. And all of us are sort of just using our best guess as to what has really moved the needle for voters when it comes to this race since the values, the backgrounds of who people actually are and what they believe in hasn’t been available.

So the Defenders of Justice are truly doing something unique here. They are running grassroots people powered, civic education minded campaigns, which is unheard of in honestly so many races in Los Angeles County. But specifically judicial races. So I’m excited for y’all to meet them and to get to know them. And the person that will be moderating that experience is Rena Karefa-Johnson.

Rena is a policy expert, campaigner, movement, lawyer and abolitionist organizer. She contributes to the work of building a future without prisons and police through criminal legal reform policy campaigns and political strategy Rena has worked on campaigns across the country to end pretrial detention, practiced as a criminal defense and reentry attorney for justice, involved with youth in New York City, directed campaigns and advocacy for a SC justice group and is currently the Director of National Programing and Strategic Initiatives at AFT that Phyllis Rena has written.

Testimony for the United States Commission on Human Rights, co authored the Lives on the Line Women Within Castle Rated Loved Ones and the Impact of COVID19 Behind Bars report and co-founded the Back to School Bail Out Initiative, which raised over $100,000 to free young people from Rikers. Rena has organized with the Black Youth Project, the Black Alliance for Justice, Immigration, and as a law student, Rena was a member for the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Justice and a student organizer with student movements like Reclaim HLS and Belinda Hall.

Rena received her undergraduate degree in African-American studies from Yale University and her JD from Harvard Law School. And perhaps most impressive, she is a former classmate. So very happy to have us here with us tonight. And I will let her take it with 

RENA KAREFA JOHNSON
Thank you so much for that amazing bio, Brittani. Definitely the coolest thing about me is I know you! Brittani is a writer on Abbott Elementary, which is the best show on television.

And I am just very happy to be in Brittani’s orbit I think, now that I’ve been introduced. If I’m correct, the panelists are going to be able to introduce themselves and then we’ll come back to the question and answer segment of the portion. But thank you all so much for being here. Thank you for that great introduction. And I’m just as excited as Brittani to be in community with these incredible women and with all of you.

So Holly is running for seat number 70. Holly has served as a deputy public defender for 15 years, successfully defending clients who could not afford an attorney while leading efforts to divert cases to community alternatives to incarceration. Holly, I will give you a moment to introduce yourself as well.

00:12:37:03 – 00:12:48:17
Holly
Thank you, everyone. Thank you for having me. La Defensa, Ground Game. Thank you so much. Again, my name is Holly Hancock, and I’m running for Los Angeles Superior Court seat number 70. Thank you!

Thank you for your attention. I’m ready to give the voters a choice. And I did that as well in 2018. I believe in my professional background and the way that I practice differentiates me from my prosecutor colleagues. I am a deputy public defender and as you’ve heard, that’s very rare and different for us to run. For the past sixteen years, I have fought for people’s rights, constitutional rights in the criminal court system.

I’ve tried 65 trials, to jury verdict, and I have won or had reductions in about 80% of them. On a daily basis the case trajectory is much less extreme, though. I don’t go to trial clearly on every case but I must see the effect of whether or not we go to trial, what kind of plea agreement we come to that effect on the client and their families generationally.

I also have to know the effect on the victims and their families generationally. Many times this is the same family. For this reason, I practice long term solution building for the client and the community. I have to know the root cause of the problem, as does every public defender. Public defenders do the heavy lifting. We appoint the psychologists we petition the court for mental health diversion, and we ask that the client be moved to specialty courts that have been established in Los Angeles County, such as the victims of Human Trafficking Court or the Homeless Court.

And that takes me to what I’ve been doing for the last two years. I have worked in post-conviction after people have completed the full process of their involvement with the criminal justice system. Getting those people who are formerly incarcerated, their records expunged or cleared, and the deputy in charge of the criminal records clearing division of the county’s homelessness initiative.

And I act as a liaison to the Board of Supervisors of Los Angeles County. And we operate the much beloved homeless mobile unit. I have seen firsthand the difficulties that are associated with clearing one’s record after you have paid, as they used to say, your debt to society. I’ve seen the judges who will not give the individual the opportunity to start over to get housing to get jobs.

These are the same judges who are finding voters propositions, measures to fund those propositions and laws enacted by their duly elected officials. I believe in giving second chances. I believe you have to give second chances in order to create a safe community going forward. But the enactment of these changes rests with the bench. And for far too long, our bench has been monolithic in its approaches to enacting criminal justice, change and reform.

I believe Los Angeles County deserves diversity. Background informs behavior. Thank you for your attention.

00:16:19:16 – 00:16:28:16
Rena Karefa Johnson
Thank you so much, Holly. Next up, we are going to have Elizabeth Lashley-Hanes, who is running for seat number 67.

00:16:29:11 – 00:16:56:02
Elizabeth
Thanks so much. I want to thank everybody who co-hosted this event. La Defensa, Ground Game, and Court Watch. But most importantly, I want to say thank you to friends, families, neighbors here in L.A. County who came out today. It means a lot to me that people would show up to learn about us. As Rena said, I’m Elizabeth Lashley-Hanes and I am a proud deputy public defender.

I’m running for seat 67. I want to tell you guys a little about me because I always want to know about the person, not just sort of something on a website. So in addition to being a public defender, I am a mom and I am a wife. I’m married, I am a lifelong Democrat. I’ve been a registered as a Democrat my whole life.

I’m also a union member. My husband’s a union member in SAG, and we are big public school fans. We’re both public school educated throughout our whole lives. And we have two children who attend public schools here in L.A. County. We are a multiracial family. We have an adopted child. We have one biological child. We have a child with special needs.

And we have a child who identifies as LGBTQ So it’s just a little bit about the makeup of my life and my family.

As a Public Defender for almost 20 years, now, I’m in the courtroom nearly every day, and I’ve tried many cases. I’ve been in trial assignments, I’ve done the best demeanors I represented someone back in the Occupy movement, if anybody remembers that, all the way up to the big cases, clerking for a federal judge in New York City, it was Judge Rosemary Pooler in the Second Circuit, but also within the public defender’s office.

I’ve had a variety of unique experiences. I was a juvenile resource attorney. What that means is that I was outside of the courtroom advocating for children who were charged with crimes, who had special needs and who needed resources and support from the school district, from the regional center. I was their advocate out in the community Another unique position I have is currently I litigate the Racial Justice Act, and that’s a new law that seeks to redress bias and racial prejudice in our criminal legal system.

A lot of people are asking, why am I running for judge? And my answer, I feel like is almost simple. After day in, day out, almost two decades, I watched what was going on in the courtroom. And I realized that our system is really not working as it was intended. And I think most people agree with me.

Almost everyone I speak to nationally or within L.A. County believes that our legal system is in need of major improvement. Crime isn’t going down, yet our tax dollars are funding mass incarceration and we’re now the highest incarceration country in the entire world. Meanwhile, our streets, as we all know, are filling up with with unhoused neighbors and these are the very people who we’re cycling in and out of jail.

And so as I saw this massive problem with our system, I thought you know what? Why don’t I try to be part of that solution? And that’s just what led me to try to run for the bench. I believe that one of the reasons of how we got here with our legal system is because we have the same pattern repeating itself.

We just have a status quo right now. And that status quo includes the pipeline of prosecutors to judge. And they’re the ones who are making the daily decisions of everyday people’s lives. And I’m flat out different. I’ve been an independent thinker, and I’ve always stood up for what I believe is right and just. And I don’t feel as though I am part of any group where I have to answer to any group.

I’m someone who has represented the people of L.A. County and not the government Some things I believe I believe in substance abuse treatment and mental health treatment over jail. And just like the board of Supervisors and the voters of L.A. County who passed Measure J, I believe in care over cages. And I believe that when we invest our money into these types of programs and resources that is the best use of human beings’ lives, but also our tax dollars.

Frankly, what I’m trying to do is reimagine what justice could look like in L.A. County, not what it looks like. Thanks so much, Rena.

00:21:23:11 – 00:21:35:23
Rena Karefa Johnson
Thank you so much, Elizabeth. Next up, we have Jiyoung Carolyn Park, who is running for seat number 118. Thank you so much for being with us, Jiyoung.

00:21:37:08 – 00:22:05:03
Jiyoung Park
Thank you, everyone, for coming to this meeting, meet and greet today. Thank you to the interpreters and the organizers. My name is Carolyn Jiyoung Park. My pronouns are she/her. I’m running for judge of the Superior Court Office. Number one, 18 right up here. Thanks to somebody who made this wonderful graphic I was born and raised in Los Angeles.

Like so many Korean-American immigrants, my parents worked seven days a week to make a life here in the U.S. and provide for me and my siblings. I’ve been fortunate enough to become the first person in my family to become an attorney. Throughout my eighteen years of practicing law, I’ve tried to pay it forward by serving regular working people throughout Los Angeles County.

For many years, I worked at a public sector union and represented state workers from all walks of life, from custodians to health care workers to tax auditors. I’ve worked with unaccompanied minors who crossed the border without a parent or guardian. I’ve taken on a number of pro bono cases representing people who are exercising their constitutional right to peacefully protest.

And I currently have a private law practice working in civil rights, labor, and small business matters. I’m running because we need diversity on the bench. We need more women. We need more women of color. And most importantly, we need more judges with diversity of legal background and diversity of thought. The judges I’ve been in front of do not reflect the diversity of my daily life.

The scales of justice have been tipped in favor of the heavy hand of government and big corporations for too long. Part of the reason is that prosecutors and corporate defense attorneys are very much overrepresented on the bench. The Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmation highlighted the need for diversity of legal background in our judges, in addition to diversifying in terms of demographics.

I chose a career representing regular working people, immigrants, students and others seeking justice. My perspective is one that’s informed by working with regular working people, and it allows me to apply the law fairly and equitably without giving undue credit to any side. It would be an honor for me to serve the people of Los Angeles County as judge of the Superior Court.

In office 118. And I encourage you all to spread the word about the Defenders of Justice candidates.

00:24:51:05 – 00:25:04:22
Rena Karefa-Johnson
Thank you so much. That was incredible. And last but not least, we have Anna Slotky Reitano, who is running for seat number sixty. Thank you so much for being here with us. Anna, please introduce yourself.

00:25:05:16 – 00:25:25:04
Anna Slotky Reitano
Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here. I’m Anna Slotky Reitano. I’m running for seat sixty. I’m the first person in my family to go to law school. Fun fact. And I’m also a mom. I have two kids, an eight year old and a ten year old. I’m running for judicial office to bring balance to the bench.

We have an ongoing system right now. I don’t think it works for the residents of L.A. County as well as it could. I’m a unique candidate because I am the only public defender running for judicial seat sixty and that sets me apart not just because of the title, but because of the perspective and actual work ethic that a public defender brings to the courtroom and the cases.

We’ve all seen what our current practices have led to the revolving door, where crime is committed. The person gets sent to prison, released, then repeats exactly what got them there to begin with, because they have no housing, no jobs, no services, and no treatment if they need it. We can and should do better, especially for low level offenses, before they escalate to serious ones.

As a public defender, I work to do better by appointing social workers, finding housing and treatment programs, obtaining mental health care, and seeking collaborative court options as alternatives to the revolving door in all appropriate cases. And I’ve seen really good results. I tell my clients, and I’ve done my job if I don’t ever see them again. I have the experience of knowing why people end up in the courts and the knowledge of how to stop that revolving door of prison that benefits nobody. You know, we need to balance the folks out who have spent their careers practicing the very things that voters have made clear they want to reform.

By electing people like myself with different backgrounds to balance it out. What I offer is depth of experience and substantive knowledge. Judges who don’t have this experience are reluctant to try anything apart from prison and will contribute to the problem, not the solution. So I solve problems. I’m also a trial attorney. I have experience with everything from misdemeanors to murder and I like to find solutions.

If we can avoid  trial, I prefer to do that. What I’m seeking is a smarter, balanced and just a more pragmatic approach to the law that acknowledges and embraces the values of the voters through the laws that they enacted. And I think I can do that. So I — I hope that you guys vote for me. Thank you.

Rena Karefa-Johnson
Thank you so much. We’re actually going to transition into the question and answer segment of our panel. Thank you all so much. I also want to remind everyone in the audience and our amazing candidates that we’re talking about real serious stuff. But this is also a meet and greet. So hopefully everybody can, you know, just feel the community that we’re in and hopefully we can have a conversation that feels like a conversation among Angelenos who just want our city and county to do better.

So, Anna, I’m going to start with you. Can you hear me?

00:28:32:01 – 00:28:32:10
Anna
Yeah.

00:28:33:00 – 00:29:07:05
Rena
Okay. I’m going to remind both you and myself to speak slowly, because we have an amazing language justice team and we want to help them out as much as we can. So my question for you is, you are currently, as you mentioned, a deputy public defender at the San Fernando Courthouse. That courthouse, the San Fernando courthouse, has a history of having a tough on crime culture, which we know really means tough on people, which we know means relying on incarceration to fix problems that they can never fix, but worsen…actually just worsen.

So I just had a question for you, kind of having navigated that as a public defender on the front lines with the people, how those experiences in that type of courtroom influence your decision to run for judge?

00:29:21:07 – 00:29:43:23
Anna
That’s a good question. You know, we have a system that’s tilted towards the tough on crime approach anyways, but it’s definitely more apparent in my courthouse because the judges are mostly prosecutors and I have nothing against prosecutors, I have a bunch of friends who are prosecutors that are good people that work with us and want to help people.

But I think that there’s you know, you need to balance it out. And I think that if you have too many it can affect the culture. You know, I’ve seen judges remand people just to show power – against the interests of public safety. Judges will reject people….

00:30:05:22 – 00:30:11:02
Rena
For those of us who aren’t as familiar with court lingo, what does remand mean?

00:30:11:03 – 00:30:33:15
Anna
Oh, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Please. I see judges put people into custody when they’re out, when they’re fighting their case from the outside, they’ll say, you know what? We are going to take you and put you back into custody. And normally, there has to be a public safety reason to do that. I’ve seen judges do it just to prove a point just to prove that they can.

And I’ve seen judges again…It’s – it’s a lot easier to fight your case from the outside. Nobody wants to go to trial while they’re waiting in jail, right?

I’ve seen judges extend court dates and extend hearings just to force a plea. So I’ve requested specific programs in certain cases, and the judge would deny it before the client pled. So they would say, no, no, no, your client can’t take this rehabilitation program because of public safety. So they keep continuing the case. You know, trials have been and probably will continue to be pushed back every once in a while, depending on COVID and eventually before a plea.

And you know what happens when this guy pleads? He goes straight to the program. I requested, you know, before he pled so he was denied the right to a trial. He was denied the right to say that he was innocent. And I think that that’s not fair. And I think that’s a very prosecutorial thing to do because you want to secure that conviction.

There’s other examples, like judges just deferring to the prosecution’s opposition without either of them even looking at the facts of the case or reading anything, just automatically opposing what I’m asking. And don’t even get me started how we treat the mentally ill in the courts. It’s it’s sad. It’s sad. You know, we have the largest jail system in the whole world.

And it also doubles as the largest mental health care system or health care facility. And it’s horrifying how – how people are treated The reality is, is that judges have discretion in certain areas. They can’t change everything, but they do have discretion in certain areas. And they have to follow the law and review each case individually. But what I’ve seen is that there’s a clear bias favoring the prosecution and favoring law enforcement, and the culture so entrenched that because prosecutors are so overrepresented on the bench. It’s – it’s not good because prosecutors historically, for their whole careers, sought the highest amount of prison time.

So they want the most severe penalties. And that’s what they did in their legal careers and that’s what they do on the bench. I don’t think that just goes away when you become a judge. And that’s the problem. So when things change, not all judges adapt. For example, there’s been changes in the law. It was recently said that the law requires judges to dismiss enhancements that double your sentence, if – if the new offense is nonviolent, or if you were very young at the time, or if the new offense is at least five years after your first charge.

And I’ll give you an example. If you steal a bag of chips when you’re 18 years old and the clerk tries to grab the chips back and you say, no, they’re my chips, and then you run off. That’s technically a robbery. So let’s say you’re 18 years old. You get charged with a robbery for stealing a bag of chips and you get put in custody.

You’re really scared. You don’t want to wait 60 or 80 days to go to trial, so you plead out for time served. Well, that’s also a strike on your record, and now that’s on your record for life. And the new law says, Well, let’s look at your new offense. So you’re 18 when that happened, when the robbery happened.

Now you’re 45 and you give your nephew a ride to baseball and he loses T-ball about your car. Cops stop you because they don’t like they don’t like you or they think your car’s clunky. They want to keep all the riff raff out of the neighborhood. They stop your car. They see the bat. They charge you with having a billy club, which is a crime.

The max charge on that is three years OK because of the prior strike and the three strikes law, you’re looking at six years because everything’s doubled after you’ve had a strike. Well, the new law says if it’s older than five years or you’re really young, there’s all these different factors. They shouldn’t impose that prior strike. I recently went to trial on a case that was nonviolent and it was from 1981.

My client was facing six years instead of three. The judge didn’t dismiss it. The prosecutor wouldn’t dismiss it because there’s discretion on whether or not to use that new law. So even though it requires judges to dismiss priors or, you know, that would be considered enhancements, they don’t always do that. And I think that, that, that kind of shows what we’re dealing with in the courts right now.

I always. Oh, I’m so sorry. I always want to seek to address these issues.

00:35:46:16 – 00:36:11:15
Rena
So thank you so much. Yes. I mean, I very much hear and respect your answer that not only are judges exercising discretion based on their backgrounds of our prosecutors, it was a bias towards incarcerating. There are also less invested and perhaps knowledgeable than a public defender about what laws are, what laws are changing and how that actually should be helping folks accused.

So I very much appreciate your answer to that question. And thank you so much. Next, I will be asking a question to Elizabeth–  if we could just invite Elizabeth up to the stage I cannot – I cannot see Elizabeth. You all can see Elizabeth? OK. Well, all right, Elizabeth. You and I are vibing. But hopefully I can hear you.

Can you say hello? I think she’s muted. OK, maybe we need to if anyone on tech can help unmute Elizabeth or we’ll wait a couple seconds for her to get back in the spotlight.

OK, we’ll take our time. Oh, hi, Elizabeth.

00:37:01:01 – 00:37:05:17
Elizabeth
So sorry. Of course. Technical difficulties. Right when you’re ready for me.

00:37:05:24 – 00:37:28:16
Rena
Tech will be the end of us. Alright. Thank you so much for coming up to the virtual stage. I have a question for you, so on. On the vibes of district attorneys, our prosecutors…as a public defender, you’re on the other side. District attorneys allegedly represent the people, but they often seem to represent the jail and the cops. And it seems like the public defenders are actually the ones that are standing with the people in my community. The people that I love and representing them. If there’s one thing a district attorney is going to do, it disproportionately overcharge and incarcerate black, brown and indigenous communities. I’d love to hear a little bit about how you, as a public defender, have navigated this pattern of discrimination over your 19 year career.

00:37:57:02 – 00:37:58:24
Elizabeth
Wow. Yeah, that is a great question. And really, I wish I had a better answer for that because my answer is almost depressing. You know, it’s been 19 years and for people who have been in the trenches longer than me, it’s all of our careers that we see it, we experience it, we live it. You know, we understand the disproportionate, unequal way that justice is being dispensed and we fight it the best that we can.

You know, we, we bring the motions. You know, we make the arguments. But so often I’m – I’m thinking of the many, many judges that I hear say, you know, when I’ve I’ve argued in court, you know, things in the middle of a suppression motion, you know, saying that maybe someone’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated and a judge would respond, you know, there’s nothing I hear what you’re saying.

You know, maybe he was pulled over because he was black. There’s nothing I can do about that. You know, take it up with the legislator. You know, we hear things like that, almost an acceptance and that this is the way the system is.

So for – for most of my career, it’s been incredibly difficult to navigate what feels so real in the courtroom. But yet it’s – it’s like an unspoken acceptance. That’s why my most recent position of being able to litigate the Racial Justice Act has been amazing and inspiring and invigorating for me. And what I get to do now, you know, anyone can go look at this act.

It was just passed, or it just went into effect, excuse me, January of 2021 and it was AB 2542, which then was codified into – it’s actually in the Penal Code now. So Penal Code Section 745, people can go Google. It is an amazing law. And if I could just side note – side note for a minute, the law was written by Assemblyman Ash Kalra, who just endorsed the slate today.

So that was pretty exciting for me because he is an amazing legislator who drafts amazing legislation. And I think he sees the shared value of the Defenders of Justice that we all share with him. So shout out to Ash Kalra for his endorsement. So he wrote the racial Justice Act and got that passed. It is groundbreaking legislation, groundbreaking law we have here in California.

There was only one prior Racial Justice Act, and that was in North Carolina. And so they were doing big things in North Carolina, and then it was overturned. So we’re officially the only state that has a racial justice act. And what I get to do, which is so exciting, is I get to pull data, pull statistics, and then make those arguments of exactly what you were talking about of the disproportionate charging.

But I also get to make claims with and any you know, other defense attorneys are trying this around L.A. County. Of course.

It’s not just solely me, but I’m the designated person in the public defender’s office myself and one of my colleagues and we get to show through data that is publicly available or sometimes we have to dig for it, but it’s out there for the public to see. And I get to make claims and say, hey, look, you know, you guys are overcharging African-American men.

You’re overcharging Latino men. With this charge, and here’s the data to prove it. We also get to say, you know, you judges, you the bench, you the state, you’re disproportionately sentencing folks. So the biggest way that anybody you know, the most common way that we hear about this is capital punishment and the death penalty. You know, anyone can pull the statistics and see that death row is made up of predominantly Black and Latino folks.

So you can bring a racial justice claim act in that regard. You get to pull the statistics. And I got to tell you, I’ve been looking at a lot of data and a lot of statistics and African-American people are disproportionately charged in pretty much any offense that I have done. The research on so far. And it’s pretty drastic.

So it was kind of depressing. But now that I’m doing this, it it doesn’t feel as depressing. I hope that answers that question.

00:43:01:23 – 00:43:31:11
Rena
That’s an amazing answer. Yeah. I mean, I think we all probably know the difference isn’t the reason why we want to end mass incarceration is because it was created to target certain groups of people. And I hear you saying that even though the odds are stacked against you as a public defender, not only do you advocate for your clients just by standing by their side, but you’re a law nerd, you know, you’re using creative legal approaches to litigate to get folks better outcomes than they would have anyway.

And I think for me as a lawyer who used to practice, we need more law nerds on the bench. We definitely need Defenders of Justice who are down for the people. But also if you can understand the law, that’s that’s going to do a lot for us, too. 

00:43:46:09 – 00:43:48:22
Elizabeth
OK if I just added one more one more little piece?

00:43:48:22 – 00:43:52:14
Rena
Yeah, as long as it’s quippy. But yeah.

00:43:52:14 – 00:44:19:11
Elizabeth
Yeah, yeah. I just want to say that one thing I didn’t explain is that this law actually is about bringing claims based on implicit bias, which I can’t tell you how amazing that is. You know, it’s not explicit. All the previous laws, you had to say something racist. You know, this one has yet to bring laws and says basically the system is biased, not you judge maybe not, you know, but the system is biased.

And I have to tell you, most of the judges that I’m bringing these claims in front of do not get it and I walk out of the courtroom and I’m like, huh? I’m like, I’m arguing one thing. I’m arguing the implicit bias. And they’re not getting it because I’m like, oh, they don’t understand implicit bias. And truly, that was one of the things that inspired me to run is I thought, well, there’s not enough judges that understand even what implicit bias is.

We talked about doing judge trainings and things like that, and I thought, well, what if there were judges on the bench that did understand implicit bias? And that’s truly what inspired me to run.

00:44:58:24 – 00:45:23:11
Rena
That’s incredible. Elizabeth, thank you so much. Yeah, I think that the folks who were the architects of the system that we have now are not often the best to understand why we’re not going to stand for it anymore. So I very much appreciate you running and for answering the question and now we’re going to move on to Jiyoung, to talk a little bit about judicial policies.

Can you hear me? OK, welcome. Thank you so much. So you even more than most public defenders have a very nontraditional legal background compared to most of the lawyers who typically end up on the bench. We mean that in the best way possible. Traditional lawyers are often some of the – just some of the things you’ve done. You’ve litigated cases on behalf of unions and union members, you’ve handled civil rights cases, you’ve assisted community members with pro bono legal support.

There’s your own kind of community lawyering. Given that there are not many judges, if any on the bench that look like you, what do you think about your background has uniquely prepared you to be a judge and how what like pretty concretely, how do you think that’s going to influence the type of judge you are when when folks are standing up in front of you?

00:46:15:24 – 00:46:59:04
Jiyoung
Yeah, thank you for that question. There aren’t a lot of community lawyers who become judges because voters have traditionally elected prosecutors. And about 40% of the people who actually vote tend to be seniors. And a lot of them tend to be, you know, more on the conservative side. And so that’s why we need everybody to vote and everybody in this election is going to be mailed a ballot pursuant to a new law that Governor Newsome signed.

And so everyone’s going to have a ballot that comes to their house and we’re all going to be able to vote. So we really need to exercise our ability to vote, which really is a privilege that, you know, a lot of African-Americans before us and many others really paid the highest price for, you know, with their lives. And so I hope people really exercise their right to vote we very much need community oriented perspectives on the bench because we have so many different types of courts in the superior court system and because of all the different kinds of people who come through the court system.

It’s not just black and brown folks who are affected by the criminal courts. There are – there are lots of other folks who aren’t affected and it’s other types. It’s in other types of courts that black and brown folks and other folks are really disproportionately impacted. So African-American kids are disproportionately in the foster care system. It’s low income neighborhoods that have cars towed in, it really for as a scam for for tow truck towing companies and people in office, certain people in office to to profit from.

I’ve been a union side labor attorney for many years. And I chose a career representing working people, immigrants and other community members who can’t afford fancy lawyers. I’ve handled hundreds of cases and litigated approximately 60 hearings and arbitrated lots of cases and successfully settled many, many, many more cases now I want to talk about how the criminal justice system can affect people in the workplace.

I represented a registered nurse who had been a stellar employee for the state for over seven years. She raised an issue to her supervisor about a workplace issue and then her supervisor retaliated against her by firing her. She was fired under the Ilargi that she failed to disclose her – that her husband was on parole when she first applied to the job seven years back.

Even though she genuinely did not know that her husband was on parole at that time. This friend lost her job because of her husband’s brush with the law for falling for an email phishing scam. She was able to win her job back by – by having the state personnel board decision overturned by an L.A. Superior Court judge. And now she works, still works for the state as a nurse.

And I’m really proud of the fact that I was able to have that win for her. Yeah. So I just want to say that we see firsthand the impact that our court systems have in our daily lives, whether it’s about being housed, having custody over a child, getting or keeping a job and having access to drug rehab, going – going into ICE custody, and so many more issues.

00:51:07:19 – 00:51:30:06
Rena
Thank you so much. Congratulations to you and your client and thank you so much for your work. And hopefully folks will get to ask you more questions in the larger Q&A session. The last question I’m going to ask is to Holly. So thank you so much. I’ll give Holly a second to make it to the stage. Hi. You can hear me and everything?

00:51:32:04 – 00:51:34:21
Holly
I can, Rena, Thank you for having me again.

00:51:35:03 – 00:51:59:21
Rena
Yes, of course. So one of the largest issues that La Defensa focuses on is pretrial incarceration, which means people who are illegally in effect, have not been convicted of a crime, are promised a presumption of innocence by our Constitution and are just stuck in jail. Awaiting their trial, usually because they can’t afford to buy their own freedom.

What that looks like is that richer people, white people have to fight their cases at home. They get to have stabilized lives. They get to be with their kids, that they actually have to prove their case against them before their lives get thrown into disarray. What happens for folks in our community, is often, is they preemptively lose their housing, they lose their employment, and lose custody of their children because they can’t earn income. They can’t pay rent, they can’t care for young children, when they’re in a cage.

So currently there are 6000 people being held in pretrial incarceration in L.A. County, which is horrific in my opinion. Judge decisions have the largest impact on reducing pretrial incarceration. Judges have a huge amount of discretion to be like, Oh, go away your trial at home, or Sorry, I’m going to send you to jail. I’d love to hear about how you think about pretrial perforation and how you would use your power as a judge to reduce pretrial pretrial incarceration if you are elected.

00:53:03:18 – 00:53:36:23
Holly
So the first thing I want to say is I will be following the law, and the law of this land is now Humphrey was a case that was gone up to the Supreme Court of California, and it is stating that judges are now supposed to not just refer to a bail schedule which is what many of them did and still do, but to consider whether or not the person can pay to be released, whether or not the person and how much.

And if so, what will they – will they return? I mean, that’s always a consideration and how can we persist? So I think we should be going to it in the direction of how we can facilitate it. This is an issue that is nationwide and across the nation. They’ve been changing these laws and now we’ve changed this law. But you will not see that it’s being really enacted in the Los Angeles Superior Court because they are still abiding by the old ways.

As as you stated, the judges do have discretion. And in that discretion you mentioned that there were 6000 people. So first of all, no, we had just first of all, no, we have the largest mass incarceration in, I think, the country, and possibly the world, right here in our – in our own little county. And so but also so it’s about is over 12,000.

This was in April. It’s over 12,000 early April. So think about that half of those people, almost half are just waiting for trials or waiting to be heard by the judge and possibly make some kind of deal. Whatever they’re doing. They have not been convicted, so they’re in jail. What the people who have been convicted, that’s another point that I can make.

And when they’re in jail with the people who have been convicted, there’s a whole dynamic going on there with people, they want to get out. So it’s been the bane of my existence as a defense attorney that people are not released, especially. And I can give you a really good example. First, I want to say a half of those 6000, 3000 have not touched a person in the crimes that they’ve been charged with.

So that means that they are – that means that they are, not they have not only are they not convicted, but it is a nonviolent crime. That’s what it means, you know, so they haven’t touched anybody else. So the thing that judges will do is they will often say, you know, I’m keeping them in for the safety of the community.

But it has to be emphasized, the reason why Humphrey passed is because this is not making our communities safer. There is no if you if people are losing their jobs and losing their children and this happens pretty regularly – think, just let that sit there for a minute. It happens fairly regularly. I deal with the unhoused and I have had people who just were called in for one night and they were dying to get out because they wanted to get back to their belongings that were left on the street.

So now they don’t have those belongings. They’ve got to start over again from scratch. So this is a situation again where it’s about for a lot of people is almost life and death is like, you know, this is going to change my life that I can’t pay my way to freedom. So there’s no correlation. There’s so many studies that have been done –

There is no correlation that it makes our communities safer. They keep all of these pretrial people in. I had a client who, and so this is a situation, the client had bailed out. He had a job, he actually was able to bail out. And I want to also say that it was it’s very expensive to bail out. And by that I mean the interest rates are usury.

They’re off the chart. It’s not like – it’s like a really bad credit card. And, you know, and you’re having to pay that whether you win, lose or draw, whatever happens, you still have to continue to pay your 10% to the – to the bail bondsman, to the insurance company, an insurance company. That’s what it is. And he – he and I went to trial and shortly before he went to trial, there was a report that he was doing some things that he wasn’t supposed to do.

So the judge, without any kind of real hearing, put him in jail again. It was because Holly Hancock was in this courtroom and I was about to go to trial. It was a way for the judge to force him to make to take a plea. I was able to calm him down and say, we’re going to trial now.

We go to trial. The – the district attorney, I knew who I knew. She could not prove her case. We hung the trial in our favor, eight to four. There was no other evidence to be brought forward. There was no other evidence that could come forward. And yet the judge would not dismiss the case. And when he wouldn’t dismiss the case, I asked alright.

Will you release him? Because clearly now we’re going to reset the clock. It’s going to be another 60 days. But the district attorney did not prove her case. No, he would not let him out. So the district attorney gave the get out of jail free card. If you plead guilty, even though I have not proved my case in front of 12 citizens, then you will get out of jail today.

He was crying in the back and I was begging him, Look, I will go to trial again. She’s never going to prove this case, and he’s like, I cannot wait another 60 days. I’ll do it in the 60 day, the shortest time frame. I won’t let her put anything over. And he went ahead and pled guilty and that is what happens every day.

So you don’t know that. OK, so I’m, I’m sharing that with you to say this is not making things safer and it is not adhering to our constitutional values that people are innocent until proven guilty.

00:59:47:04 – 00:59:48:01
Rena
Absolutely.

00:59:48:11 – 00:59:49:18
Holly
And it just does that.

00:59:50:04 – 01:00:11:07
Rena
Absolutely. I thank you so much for that answer. It’s very true. I think it’s important for folks to remember when you say it’s almost a matter of life and death as people die in pretrial incarceration across this country every day, especially in something like a pandemic. And like you said so beautifully, Holly, like there’s this is an accusation.

01:00:12:06 – 01:00:36:04
It has not been substantiated and a lot of times it will never be substantiated. It’s a tool used to sometimes to railroad folks into taking pleas and getting criminal records that they wouldn’t have otherwise. So we’re so grateful to hear from your experience and so grateful to hear from all four of the Defenders of Justice that this is going to conclude the kind of panel section.

01:00:36:04 – 01:01:06:04
Rena
And I’m going to hand it off to Brittani  to see the audience Q&A. So I just want to thank you all so much for being here. Thank the Defenders of Justice so much. And I hope everybody votes thank you, Reena, for moderating. I really appreciate the wonderful discussion with all the candidates. So we are going to move to our crowd to Q and A Slash Participation Section section.

01:01:06:04 – 01:01:34:08
Brittani
If you have questions, you can raise your virtual hand by clicking the smiley face reaction button near the bottom of the Zoom box and choosing the large bar that appears and says where you stand. You can also type your question to the chat and it will be read for you. You can direct your question to one person or to the group, and I will rotate through our candidates equally or give anyone that wants a chance to answer an opportunity.

It’s also important to note that the Defenders of Justice are somewhat limited in how they can answer certain questions. They can’t answer questions that commit them to a policy stance. So if that happens, please – no, it is not a personal attack on you. Or your question. It’s just the ethical nature of these races which we’ve heard are, of course, deeply ethical because rich people can essentially purchase traditional speech.

So that’s pretty cool. And let’s move to questions. We will go to Rebecca.

01:02:12:15 – 01:02:31:20
Participant: Rebecca B.
Hi, everyone. Thank you so much. It’s great to hear everyone, everyone and their answers before. So I work with court watch L.A. And actual question for Anna, you kind of touched on this in your previous answers. It’s something we’ve seen in misdemeanor courtrooms. Specifically is a lot of folks who are struggling with mental illness, being criminalized for that.

And we know that incarceration can often trigger and worsen symptoms of mental illness. So I would love to hear a little bit more about what your experience as a public defender has been with the way the judicial system treats people dealing with mental illness. Thank you. 

Anna
That’s actually a great question. Look, I ran because i saw it as a moral imperative.

01:02:54:15 – 01:03:30:07
I’m seeing the necessary – unnecessary harm being caused by judges that have always, you know, that they spent their careers seeking the maximum penalty and they’re still doing it on the bench. I just wanted to offer a more humane and economically feasible approach as an alternative. I have a brother who’s schizophrenic and I’m using this as an example because when he first when he had his first break, he was living on the streets because he was paranoid, he thought that there were cameras everywhere, and so we couldn’t find him for a while.

I got a call when he was in the hospital because he had been approached by some officers when he was panhandling and because he was paranoid, he ran. He had not committed a crime. He just ran because, you know, that’s what happens. And they ended up, you know, meeting with him. And he ended up in that hospital he wasn’t charged.

But I have clients like him doing exactly what he did, charged with resisting an executive officer, which is a felony PC 69. And they basically charge you for resisting or fighting back against officers without an underlying charge. And the reality is, is that these people are having a psychotic break and they’re facing years in prison because they were having a psychotic break.

That is not OK. Putting people that are schizophrenic and suffering from a psychotic episode in jail awaiting a trial is not OK. And we have all these options available now that the judges are not using. So judges can use their discretion to grant something called mental health diversion so you don’t have to plead. You don’t have to – you don’t have to have something on your record.

A lawyer can ask the court they can get an evaluation and say, look, my client is schizophrenic. This charge is the result of his illness. Can we divert him and get him services instead of a charge? And so for two years, as long as they get treatment and services, they don’t get a charge and then the case will be dismissed.

That’s an option that judges have and they can use their discretion to grant. The prosecutor does not have to be on board. There’s also things like the collaborative courts that could actually help people instead of just throwing them away for a few years. And the client, of course, you plead, but you come back to court you sort, you get your treatment, you get your services, and they check in on you and still hold you accountable, but make sure that you get treatment and you’re living in the community.

So that way these people that are suffering from mental illness are getting treatment, that they’re also getting housing. They have case managers that help them function in their everyday lives. And they they end up doing better than they would be if they went to prison for four years. And then we’re just released with no money, no housing and nothing else to to support them.

I think we need to use these options more.

01:06:06:15 – 01:06:13:23
Brittani
Thank you, Anna, for that wonderful response. I will now call on Ivette.

01:06:15:09 – 01:06:49:06
Participant: Ivette A
Yeah. Thank you so much, Brittani. And thank you so much to the candidates. I have a question around the use of electronic monitoring. Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen an exponential growth in the use of electronic monitoring and pretrial release. It’s gone up. I think it’s something like 5000% in the last year. And so I’m curious to the candidates any any candidate that wants to answer, you know, what is your approach to pretrial release?

Will you lean on electronic monitoring in any cases? You know, in particular, we’ve seen it use – used in both low level and higher level charges. And what is your take on the use of risk assessment instruments to determine release?

01:07:14:19 – 01:07:16:23
Brittani
Let’s start with Elizabeth.

01:07:20:17 – 01:07:47:22
Elizabeth
Yeah. Thank you for those questions. I think there’s a couple questions in there. And so I’m going to give this caveat. I can’t make promises of what I would do if I were on the bench. So I can I can speak generally about the things I’ve seen and and what I feel about certain services with the caveat that, you know, I can’t say I would do this.

I wouldn’t do this because each case has to be taken individually. But what I would say is electronic monitoring in general, to me is another tool in the caveat, the sort of cadre of options that the justice system uses to basically keep people of color under some type of surveillance. That’s what I would say in general is my feeling about it.

We’ve got probation, we’ve got parole, we’ve got electronic monitoring, we’ve got, you know, I mean, the list goes on. And all of the statistics show that these are disproportionately used against black and brown people. Typically in Los Angeles. So that’s my sort of general thoughts about it. I, I have seen it used it’s very frequently used in the juvenile court and I have heard case after case, I’m in juvenile court.

I have a case in juvenile court right now and I hear the families, I hear what they’re saying. I hear the children. And it sounds so incredibly unhealthy to me. You know, I hear parents saying things like it’s the whole summer and my son is can’t sit on the back porch to get fresh air. And we don’t have air conditioning in our house.

I mean, to me, it’s like it’s just such an easy way to go through life to have a child, a teenager locked sometimes in a one bedroom apartment for months upon months. There’s got to be a better way. But I would say this as well. I think it could be used delicately as a tool, if if a judge is considering factors like should someone be released, you know, and not if we’re going back to the bail issue right.

It’s one of the things that judges could consider, you know, rather than county jail while someone is awaiting trial, you know, the judge might have concerns about whether or not they would return to court or public safety, which are the things they’re supposed to consider, not how much money they have, but if a judge wants to use it as something to release from jail and rather they’d be at home, maybe on electronic monitoring, I could see it used in those specific types of circumstance.

But not, overused for just anybody all the time. The last thing I would say is risk assessments. Risk assessments like the eighties like IQ testing has been shown proven by studies, by experts, by scientifically tested folks in the education world that they are disproportionate against, again, people of color, lower income people. So risk assessments need to be really used sparingly, or maybe not at all, but they really need to be examined critically because they very often come out much worse for people of color for lower income people.

So and it’s just the same if anybody has read about IQ testing and SATs even, they are biased against certain groups. So we need to be extremely careful. I would rather see an evaluation by an independent doctor, an independent expert, a tool which tends to disfavor certain communities and favor others.

01:11:33:08 – 01:11:36:16
Brittani
Thanks for that, thanks, Elizabeth.

01:11:36:17 – 01:12:10:03
Brittani Nichols
I really appreciate you highlighting some of the realities of what these practices, cause I just want to remind people again that you can raise your hand to ask the question or you can post it in the chat. I’ll also give any candidates that want to hop in on the last question, an opportunity if they’d like. If not, I will wait a little bit to see if any hands go up. Let’s go to Titilayo.

01:12:13:05 – 01:12:23:21
Titilayo R.
Thank you. This is a question that was submitted by our moderator, Rena, who is also on child care duties and giving her son a bath, some asking the question, in her honor.

We know that the criminal legal system is not broken. It is working as designed, and more and more visionary candidates look to transform the judiciary from the inside. We know you will be met with resistance from current judges on the bench who want to maintain the status quo. If elected, how do you plan to resource yourself to weather those types of storms and hold yourself accountable to the values that motivated you to run? 

Brittani Nichols
I see Holly’s hand up, so we’ll hear from her.

01:12:58:11 – 01:13:22:11
Holly Hancock
I think there are a few things that we can do. First of all, I’ve always believed that I have this idea in my mind that I will make connections with judges in other jurisdictions. And by that I mean, I know that there are other people who have come in the way that I will come in as a public defender through an elected process.

And I think that those two things are important. The elect – the election process is very important because really, even though it’s county-wide, you’re voting for your neighborhood judge. You really are. We’re going to be in, you know, other than those who work downtown, of course, we’re going to be in every neighborhood courthouse, all around the county.

And there are many of them and we can also be, as was mentioned before, by Jiyoung, we can be, you know, put in family court. We can be making decisions about divorces, child custody. We can be put in dependency court. We can be making decisions about, around foster, foster care, should the child be taken and fostered, et cetera.

So I think that you really are you know, you can be having disputes with your neighbor over the back yard space, et cetera. I mean, there are so many ways that we can be serving communities and I tend to think that we need to expand out and look at what are people doing in other states, what are people doing in other countries?

Even – there are a couple of organizations out for judges that are international. And I certainly intend to become a part of that. I think that I’ve worked with the…the homelessness initiative and what that’s done for me is in a kind of a quasi-supervisory position. I’ve helped and continue to help to establish and maintain and expand the homeless courts around.

And they’re called homeless, although I call the people unhoused. But the homeless courts are starting to expand and I know that you can approach the Judicial Council and you can start to look at what kinds of collaborative courts can really help in our neighborhood. It’s what kinds of courts can we do to…to add wraparound services for those who are intersecting, intersecting with the police and the…and the criminal court system.

And clearly the unhoused intersect with them all the time. So you know, it’s…it’s more about what can we do? And they are also there was an earlier question about mental health and we give them those wraparound services as well in the homeless court. So making connections like that, dealing with the with the Judicial Council, which is kind of like the administrator of arm working with the presiding judge and the prosecutors because that’s what we’ve had that’s what I’ve been doing to put together additional courts that are collaborative and wrap around.

That is what I fully intend to try to do. Whether I’ll be able as a newbie to make any headway in that. That’s what I’m going to keep talking about. And also making connections with judges in other jurisdictions, other states and other countries.

01:16:42:01 – 01:16:42:15
Brittani Nichols
Thank you, Holly. We’re coming up on time here, so we are going to take our last question from Ambrose. 

01:16:51:14 – 01:17:02:16
Participant: Ambrose B.
Thank you. And apologies, because this may be a heavy one. So every year the county pays out tens of millions of dollars in settlements related to. Federal civil rights claims against the sheriff’s department and the county. This is often due to wrongful death and murders at the hands of the sheriff’s department. And these settlement claims are overseen by L.A. Superior Court judges through settlement conferences. And many families feel like the Judiciary is an inadequate place to seek justice for their loved ones. And I’m wondering as, running for judge, if you could make a statement that addresses this concern.

01:17:41:03 – 01:17:42:16
Brittani Nichols
I see Jiyoung’s hand is raised.

01:17:42:16 – 01:18:10:07
Jiyoung Park
Yeah. I want to say that the courts are not the end all, be all of our paths to justice. We have to vote in legislators, lawmakers who will create the laws that provide for accountability of law enforcement when they do something wrong. We need lawmakers to do so many things to make the justice system more fair. Now, the judges have to apply those laws. We are restricted by the existing laws, although judges have some discretion with respect to things like sentencing and bail and some things like that. But really, we have a lot of work to do on many fronts.

And so I would say we…we have to get the lawmakers that we need elected and we need to also get elected. The judges who will apply the newer laws designed to fix things that need fixing instead of obstructing them, as some judges may want to do. And and my my understanding is that some judges are obstructing some of the policies and laws in place. So there’s no…there’s no silver bullet. It’s … change from many many sides.

01:19:58:05 – 01:20:21:11
Brittani Nichols
Thank you, Jiyoung, for the reminder that our organizing must always be sustained, creative and from every available angle. And so with that, we are going to close out. Well, actually, I want to uplift a couple of the questions that have been raised in the chat. And that said, out loud, we had a question about where these races are.

This is for all of Los Angeles County. Again, the question was asked about the seat number. The answer being that it’s not indicative of any district. You can vote for all four of these candidates. Someone asked simply, How do you vote for these races? As Jiyoung mentioned, if you are registered to vote, you will be receiving a mail-in ballot that will start going out May 9th.

And the primary itself is on June 7th. These are top-two primaries. So the top two vote-getters from the primaries will go on to the general election in the fall. And if you are not registered to vote, there is still plenty of time to do that. So please, you can find that information online. Thank you all so much for being here.

Thank you to our moderator, Rena. To the candidates Elizabeth, Jiyoung, Holly, and Anna. To the interpreters, Jen / Eliana, Alexia, Gabi, Ashley, Fran, and UNASUR. Thank you. To the provider SLA Bar. Thank you to the team that worked so hard to put this together and do the outreach that got all of the folks here in this room. Thank you again to the guests for being interested in these races.

Please stay in touch with the candidates. You can follow them on social media – on Twitter and Instagram and Tik Tok @TDOJ2022 . You can also follow them on their own personal handles. If you have further questions for them, I am sure they would be over-the-moon to hear from you all and all of their contact information is on their websites, and you can find all of the paths to get to them 

Through the Defenders of Justice website, as well. So thank you again for being here. I really appreciate you taking the time to learn about these races that do not get enough attention.f And let’s keep this energy going and get these folks elected.

01:22:33:05 – 01:22:42:16
Brittani Nichols
Appreciate y’all 

Jiyoung Park
Thank you, everyone. 

Anna Slotky Reitano
Thank you. 

Holly Hancock
Thank you, everybody. 

Elizabeth Lashley-Haynes
Thank you.

Final Graphic Slide: Vote for the Defenders of Justice, June 7, 2022

For more information visit: TheDefendersofJustice2022.com

 

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