YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Bird's Opponents: Who Are They and What Do They Have to Say?

January 20, 1986|JOHN BALZAR | Times Political Writer

It seems to her like a page from the Old West. Rose Elizabeth Bird, pioneer woman in a man's domain, circling her wagons for an epic stand over the California Supreme Court. She gazes out and listens to the war whoops of a confident, raucous and largely anonymous enemy filling the horizon.

She calls them the "bully boys" and derides their motives for making her turbulent career as chief justice of the Supreme Court one of the biggest battles of the forthcoming 1986 elections.

To lots of Californians, most of these Bird opponents are unknown figures, too far out of sight and mind at this early date to discern the color of their hats, to decide if they are the good guys or the bad guys.

Unusual Nature of Campaign

This is the unusual nature of the election campaign facing Bird and five other of the seven Supreme Court justices up for election Nov. 4. Justices stand by themselves on the ballot. The vote is "yes" or "no" on each. There is no opposing candidate with whom to make contrasts.

In essence, anybody can--as lots have--proclaim themselves principals in the building campaign to oust Bird and the liberal voting majority on the court.

Storefront committees started popping up as far back as two years ago, and other groups are still jumping in. It is already a multimillion-dollar political effort. Some opponents have the big picture of justice and law-and-order in mind; others cry out with a single complaint.

Those in the forefront of the various campaign organizations are family members of murder victims who rage at a court they brand too lenient, and professional consultants who cast a cold ideological eye on a liberal judiciary that has churned up tremendous controversy during these conservative political times. There are prosecutors who want a more receptive ear on the bench, politicians who want their names in the news, and farmers with a bitter old grudge.

In some ways, the organized Bird opponents have been defined in the campaign debate by the most radical and outrageous among them, thanks, at least in part, to the Bird camp's generic assault on them all as right-wing political opportunists.

"The courts are the latest pressure point for New Right politics. Politicians, special-interest ideologists and crime victims are mere props for these headline hunters and money makers," says Steven M. Glazer, spokesman for the Bird campaign committee.

On the other hand, it is a common theme of Bird opponents that it is she who is the radical, an out-of-step liberal soft on criminals and heartless to their victims.

So, in this showdown over who is the more radical, what about these opponent groups? Who runs them and what do they have to say for themselves?

At the top of the list in terms of money, campaign experience and political connections are two separate organizations with Southern California headquarters.

One group operating out of Westwood is run by a veteran Republican-affiliated campaign consultant and relies on victims, victims' families and prosecutors to make its case against Bird. The organization is called Crime Victims for Court Reform. It seeks the ouster of Bird and associate justices Joseph P. Grodin and Cruz Reynoso.

The second organization, called Californians to Defeat Rose Bird, is based in Orange County and is built around another big-league political consulting and fund-raising firm. Involved are a couple of dozen Republican elected officials, tax crusader Howard Jarvis and a network of associates, as well as an assortment of prosecutors and police chiefs. In addition to Bird, Grodin and Reynoso, Justice Stanley Mosk also is targeted for defeat.

Only judges appointed by Democratic governors are under attack. The two newcomers appointed by Republican Gov. George Deukmejian have not attracted organized opposition. They are justices Malcolm M. Lucas and Edward A. Panelli.

Using state-of-the-art direct mail appeals, old-fashioned endorsements, county-by-county organizing, networks of conservative political activists, both campaign organizations are building for the forthcoming bouts of television advertising, so often decisive in California elections.

Anthony Murray, the dour former California Bar Assn. president who is leading Bird's reelection campaign, attributes to them sinister and selfish motives, money and the glory of the conservative cause. Mostly money.

"The politicians--they're in it for politics. The operatives--they're in it for the money. Nothing could be clearer than that," says Murray, who notes that professional consultants get a fee plus a percentage of all the advertising money spent. Typically, the fee is 15% of the amount spent on commercial time. In a $3-million advertising campaign, commissions alone would reach $450,000.

The families of murder victims enlisted by one group or the other are viewed by Bird's campaign as pawns caught up in the unfamiliar rituals of politics. "They are the victims of more than criminals," says Glazer. "They are the victims of consultants."

Los Angeles Times Articles