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'Rose Bird Under Attack'

September 07, 1986

The effrontery of Barbara Allen Babcock's argument (Opinion, Aug. 31), "Rose Bird Under Attack for Results," is astounding.

She argues that voters should not judge Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird and her cohorts on the basis of the results of their decisions, but only on the quality of their reasoning. At the same time, however, we are told that ordinary citizens are not capable of judging the quality of legal reasoning. "The law's complexity," she writes, "requires voters to take the word of experts on the quality of Bird's work."

As a distinguished law professor at Stanford, Babcock should qualify as such an expert. Bird's opinions, we are told, are "credible." For example, "Bird follows a longstanding tradition of state appellate courts and the U.S. Supreme Court in demanding the highest procedural standards for death penalty cases." The Bird Court counts every procedural error as reversible error, regardless of whether the error had any effect on the outcome of the trial. The facility with which the Bird Court creates new procedural requirements makes it unlikely that there can ever be a "fair" trial.

It is no exaggeration to say that no trial judge in California today knows--or can know--what a fair trial is. Trial court judges bend over backwards to insure a fair trial, particularly in death penalty cases. Is it credible to believe that trial judges--legal experts, surely--can be so often mistaken about the requirements of a fair trial?

EDWARD J. ERLER

Claremont

Erler is professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at California State University, San Bernardino.

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