Ballot comeuppance for Judge Lynn Olson?
This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.
Oh, the irony. Is it the hammer of justice? The gavel of comeuppance? Or just another judicial election?
It may be wrong to take satisfaction in the fact that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lynn Dianne Olson drew a rare challenge in the June 5 election (read last week's news story by Metropolitan News-Enterprise reporter Kenneth Ofgang). But if taking satisfaction is wrong, then at least for now I don't want to be right.
Perhaps you remember Olson. She was the operator of Manhattan Bread and Bagel in Manhattan Beach when, six years ago, she filed an election challenge against Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs. And won. Janavs, an experienced and well-regarded jurist, was forcibly retired to make way for Olson, who had not practiced law in years and was patently unqualified to take the bench (she drew a "not qualified" rating from the Los Angeles County Bar Assn., and a thumbs-down from the Los Angeles Times editorial page; Janavs was rated "exceptionally well qualified").
Of all the 140 or so incumbent judges who were standing for reelection, why would Olson pick Janavs? Olson explained later that it was because Janavs was a Republican, but there were lots of Republicans to challenge. Janavs was beatable, probably because voters breezing over a ballot and candidate names they don't know are more likely to pick an easy name like "Lynn Olson" over a tough-to-pronounce, foreign-sounding one (it's Latvian) like "Dzintra Janavs."
In California, most trial judges are appointed by the governor, but every two years a few candidates are elected to fill vacancies -- or challenge sitting judges at the ballot box. Challenges are rare. Successful challenges are rarer. And unlike with other political offices, in which voters should have a free hand to oust incumbents for any reason or no reason at all, it's a bad practice to boot out competent sitting judges. Why? Because we want them to remain sufficiently independent in their rulings, and not feel that they have to make popular decisions or to hook up with a political party, fundraiser or special interest just to keep their jobs.
Most judges go unchallenged when they are up for reelection, and their names don't even appear on the ballot. They automatically win a new six-year term.
So Olson ousted Janavs (although then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger almost immediately reappointed her). And now, the first time Olson is up for reelection, she has been challenged. No automatic re-up for her.
The challenger? Perennial candidate Douglas Weitzman. Olson has the edge in campaign and fundraising know-how, but still -- instead of cruising to automatic victory, she will have to campaign and raise money to keep her job.
What's this called? Payback? Turnabout? The hunter becoming the hunted? Divine justice?
Or just a judicial election.
[For the record, 3:12 p.m. Feb. 14: The original version of this post misspelled the word comeuppance in the headline.]
Photo: No credit. From a 2006 election flier.