Graduating from a boiler room operation in Orange County to an opulent dinner at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday, the campaign to defeat California Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird has adopted a new, upscale fund-raising strategy, with engraved invitations to $500-a-plate dinners overshadowing bulk mail appeals for pocket money.
Spokesmen for the campaign against Bird say the new strategy is aimed at appealing to businessmen who have been reluctant to give, so far, despite a widespread belief that the state Supreme Court under Bird has been hostile to their interests.
The dinner Wednesday, providing a mixture of crime victims and sympathetic celebrities like actresses Carrie Fisher and Teri Garr, is the first of several such events scheduled to help raise $2 million of the $3-million goal set by a coalition of the principal anti-Bird groups, Crime Victims for Court Reform and Californians to Defeat Rose Bird.
The coalition also wants to defeat Justices Joseph R. Grodin and Cruz Reynoso who, with Bird, are regarded as part of the seven-member court's liberal majority.
The emotional highlight of the dinner was a speech by Patti Linebaugh, the grandmother of a 2-year-old girl who was brutally murdered in 1978. The convicted killer of the child, Theodore Frank, was sentenced to die but that sentence was reversed by the state Supreme Court.
In a tearful speech, Linebaugh said that she and her family, were "slapped in the face" by a court ruling she described as "a ludicrous technicality. . . . We are talking about a Supreme Court that has bent over backward to protect the rights of this vicious murderer."
Linebaugh's message sounded the theme of the campaign against the court--that the justices have shown more mercy toward convicted criminals than toward the victims of the crimes.
The force behind the new anti-Bird fund-raising strategy is a committee made up of several people whose names are well known in Southern California business and Republican political circles.
Committee members include Stephen Dart, whose late father Justin was one of President Reagan's earliest advisers; lawyer Charles Bakaly, a member of a committee created by Republican U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson to screen candidates for the federal bench in Los Angeles, and land developer Preston Hotchkis, a friend of Republican presidents and presidential candidates dating back to the 1930s.
According to Richard Riordan, co-chairman of the finance committee of Crime Victims for Court Reform, the new emphasis on big dinners was part of an effort to make up for a lackluster money-raising year in 1985. Last year's efforts, Riordan said, left the campaign $1 million short of expectations and drew a particularly unsatisfying response from major donors such as corporations and political action committees. "We've had trouble up to now raising money. We're not getting much at all from corporations," Riordan said.
The California Supreme Court has a national reputation for rulings expanding the rights of consumers, laborers and accident victims. Those rulings, however, have engendered a belief among many business leaders that the court is hostile to their interests.
But that belief has not led to an outpouring of money to the campaign to defeat Bird and her colleagues, Riordan said.
He said that corporate lawyers are telling their clients to refrain from giving because they are worried about reprisals in the event that the firms have cases that end up before the Supreme Court. "Corporate counsels are afraid of the vindictiveness of the Bird court," he said.
He's More Optimistic
Riordan said, however, that responses to Wednesday's dinner, which he estimates will raise $250,000 for the campaign, have made him more optimistic.
"I think we are beginning to do better," he said.
Steve Glazer, the primary spokesman for Bird's reconfirmation drive, said the opposition's change in fund-raising strategy is a sign of a panicky effort to "keep a leaky ship afloat."
Glazer pointed out that, as recently as last summer, Bird's opponents were pooh-poohing the idea of holding fancy fund-raising dinners.
He cited a July letter from Californians to Defeat Rose Bird to potential contributors that characterized elaborate fund-raising dinners as "a big waste of money."
Nevertheless, Glazer said, the efforts of the anti-Bird campaigners to solicit large donations from businesses might pay off.
"It's clear that big business' unhappiness with court decisions upholding consumer rights is a major undercurrent working against the justices," he said.
To date, the anti-Bird campaign has raised $4 million, but almost all of it has come from a high-overhead, direct mail operation that has left a balance of less than $300,000, according to campaign spokeswoman Janet Byers.