After an acrimonious campaign marked by mudslinging, El Monte attorney Richard Van Dusen narrowly defeated incumbent Municipal Judge J. B. Casas Jr. in Tuesday's primary election, the first contested jurist's race in the 34-year history of Rio Hondo Municipal Court.
And in the Pasadena Judicial District, none of the five first-time candidates vying for an open seat on the Municipal Court bench received 50% of the vote, leaving top vote-getters Deputy Dist. Atty. Judson Morris and Municipal Court Commissioner Kevil Martin to face each other in a runoff in the November general election.
Van Dusen received 11,359 votes, or 52.06%, in the Rio Hondo race. Casas received 10,460 votes, or 47.93%.
"I'm very disappointed," said Casas, who had sought election to the bench for the first time since his 1983 appointment by then-Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. "It was a very dirty campaign."
The race was marked by charges from Van Dusen that the incumbent was lenient on criminals and does not live in the judicial district.
"It seems that people are buying this idea that if you say a judge is soft on crime long enough, people will believe it," Casas said Wednesday.
Casas was named presiding judge of the four-judge court last July. The judicial district covers El Monte, San Gabriel, South El Monte, South San Gabriel and part of Hacienda Heights. Casas lives in Montebello, outside of the judicial district.
Rebuttal to Charges
Earlier in the campaign, he had countered Van Dusen's charges that living outside the district made him less responsive to the area by noting that Montebello was adjacent to the Rio Hondo district and that none of the other three judges lived in the district either.
Van Dusen, 41, downplayed his opponent's contention that the race was a bitter one. "What I ran was actually a grass-roots campaign of going to every home and individual that I could find," he said. "The grass-roots campaign had no bitterness at all."
Casas, 44, said he most likely will return to private legal practice when he steps down from the bench in January.
In Pasadena, the judicial race was relatively sedate. The only controversy among candidates centered on ratings released by the Los Angeles County Bar Assn., which deemed attorneys Bill Paparian and Helen Bunt Smith "not qualified" to hold office.
The association rates candidates as "well qualified," "qualified" or "not qualified" based on professional ability, experience, integrity and temperament.
Both Paparian and Smith accused the association of political favoritism in its rating system.
Morris was the only candidate who received the highest rating.
Candidates Martin and Robert Lutz, both Municipal Court commissioners in Pasadena, were rated "qualified."
Morris received the most votes in the judicial primary, capturing 13,852, or 37.1%. Martin was was second with 8,512 votes, or 19.92%.
Smith received 6,916 votes, or 16.8%; Lutz received 6,040 votes, or 14.3% and Paparian, 5,401 votes, or 12.64%.
Paparian, a well-known spokesman for Pasadena's increasingly influential Armenian community, expressed surprise Wednesday at receiving the fewest votes.
He had hired Cerrel Associates Inc., a political consulting firm known for handling judicial candidates, to run a high-profile campaign.
"I don't know how to assess it," a subdued Paparian said Wednesday of his resounding defeat. "We did everything we could possibly do. I'm just really surprised at the outcome of the election."