Defenders of Justice Urges Votes for Non-Prosecutors for Los Angeles Judge Seats

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By The Vanguard Staff

LOS ANGELES, CA – A group here continues to try to convince voters to elect non-prosecutors to the bench as March Primary Election winds down, noting 78 percent of judges now are former prosecutors.

A 2024 cohort of Defenders of Justice – public defenders claiming they are “seeking to create transformation within the LA Superior Court by ending the prosecutor-to-judge-pipeline” –  said Angelenos will have their “final say regarding who they want to sit on the judicial bench for the next six years or more.”

The Defenders said they “follow in the footsteps of attorneys in cities like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and New Orleans, and seek to build on the 2022 victory of public defender and now-judge Holly Hancock, who voters chose by a 17 point margin in our own county of Los Angeles.”

The Defenders said “three candidates – Ericka Wiley, George Turner, and La Shae Henderson – are focused on Black freedom, alternatives to incarceration, and social justice.”

“Each of them grew up in South Central Los Angeles and Inglewood, bringing to their candidacy lived knowledge of the issues that working class communities of color face. Each of them also brings a career-long background in public defense to the table, collectively with over sixty years of experience,” the Defenders state.

The Defenders said the candidates “have the skills and perspective needed to use diversion where appropriate, so that, for example, our community members can remain home in the community instead of in LA County’s deadly and fiscally costly carceral facilities.”

The candidates “also have a track record of decades of work addressing issues that commonly come before the courts, such as mental health crises, youth and housing justice issues, and the disproportionate negative impacts of pretrial detention on Black, Latine, LGB+, TGI+, and poor defendants. Their skills align with voters’ demands to address housing and public safety issues at their root, and to stop the vicious cycle of wasting taxpayer dollars on failed incarceration.”

The defenders noted the following reasons for bad outcomes in LA’s court and jails:

  • “78 percent of LA County Superior Court judges were formerly prosecutors (meaning that they have had career incentives to lock community members up, including when individuals are being sentenced harshly and/or in step with a ‘tough-on-crime’ ethos).
  • “Only two LA County Superior Court judges were public defenders ever elected to the position: one of whom was last cycle’s Defender of Justice, Holly Hancock.
  • “63 percent of LA Superior Court judges are white, while only 12.4 percent of the total LA County jail population is white (meaning that a disproportionate number of white individuals are sentencing majority Black and Latine individuals to incarceration).
  • “64.8 percent of LA Superior Court judges are male.”

The Defenders offered these direct comments from sponsored judge candidates:

George Turner, Candidate for Los Angeles Superior Court, Seat 39 – “I’m running for a judge to democratize the judicial bench. For too long, the process of judicial elections has happened out of the public eye, leading to outcomes that don’t represent the breadth and diversity of Los Angeles’ people. Myself and the other Defenders of Justice are working to change this, and bring the values of Los Angeles communities to the judicial bench to fight for more just outcomes in our court system.”

Ericka Wiley, Candidate for Los Angeles Superior Court, Seat 48 – “I have been practicing criminal justice reform for decades before it had a name. My goal as a bench officer will be to apply the law with fairness and integrity. I will evaluate the facts of every case and make determinations that advance justice and ensure public safety.”

La Shae Henderson, Candidate for Los Angeles Superior Court, Seat 97 – “My experience working with young people in the juvenile justice system has taught me one thing: that hyper-criminalization doesn’t work. I have fought throughout my career to provide youth with resources to be successful, and advocated to judges to see the youth I’ve worked with as a whole person in need of care and support. Now it’s time to bring that same lens to the role of judge – and I’m asking for your support.”

Gabriela Vázquez, Deputy Director of La Defensa, said, “With the 2024 Defenders of Justice cohort, we are seeing judicial bench transformation in action. 

“The Defenders of Justice exemplify our deepest values: investment in treatment, rather than criminalization; judicious application of the law, especially as it has evolved towards justice in the past two decades; and a deep empathy and compassion for all members of our community, whom they each aim to keep safe. The Defenders will undoubtedly make thoughtful and scrupulous bench officers, contributing to the larger movement for re-imagining public safety in LA county.”

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