California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, one of three high court justices facing election opposition, has unveiled a militant media campaign that portrays Reynoso as a judge who has upheld the death penalty, won the support of law enforcement and the esteem of Gov. George Deukmejian.
Reynoso's media advertising, three 30-second television spots and a brochure shown to reporters here Monday, makes its case for the judge without indicating that he has voted to reverse death penalty sentences in 44 of 45 capital cases that have gone before him. Nor does it point out that he is opposed by Deukmejian and by several law enforcement groups, including the state's largest, the 30,000-member Peace Officers Research Assn. of California and the statewide Latino Peace Officers' Assn. Those groups, along with Deukmejian, are also opposing Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird and Justice Joseph Grodin.
The 55-year-old Reynoso, who was appointed to the court in 1982 by former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., is the first Latino member of the Supreme Court. He is being opposed, along with Bird and Grodin (also Brown appointees), primarily because of his record on death penalty reversals.
Neil Rincover, Reynoso's campaign manager, defended the new media campaign as an appropriately hard-hitting response to unfair attacks by the justice's opponents.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday October 3, 1986 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 1 Metro Desk 2 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
A Sept. 30 story incorrectly reported that the statewide Latino Peace Officers Assn. is opposing Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso. According to the group's president, Ruben Diaz, the association has rejected three motions to endorse Reynoso during the past two years. But Diaz says the association has not voted to oppose the justice.
He was referring to a series of misstatements by opponents of the justices that the court's death penalty reversals have caused convicted murderers to be released from prison.
"We have decided to play the political game the way it has been played against us," said Rincover.
However, he insisted that Reynoso's advertising is aggressive without being dishonest.
"In some ways, we are using the tools of the political campaign that the other side has been using . . . but we are doing it up front and honestly," he said.
Up to now, Reynoso's campaign has been limited to personal appearances where the justice has emphasized the court's opinions on behalf of poor people, minorities, consumers, workers and renters.
Rincover said Monday that polling he has done shows that a more aggressive campaign, using television and printed material, is necessary to win over a large number of voters who remain undecided about Reynoso.
The television ads, which are to be shown around the state, offer a Lincolnesque portrait of an Orange County farm worker's son who grew up to become a distinguished jurist who is "compassionate and fair" and who "knows when to be tough." "He's voted to uphold the death penalty," the narrator in two of the ads says.
One ad features a pastiche of big-city police work, scenes of squad cars, flashing lights, an officer handcuffing a suspect, with a voice-over announcing Reynoso's endorsement by the California Organization of Police and Sheriffs.
The 6,000-member organization has a long record of endorsing liberal candidates. A spokesman for the group said it endorsed Reynoso out of respect for his opinions on law enforcement matters and on labor issues that affect the working conditions of police officers.
Reynoso's brochure quotes Deukmejian as saying, "I don't think Cruz Reynoso would ever change his views or positions. I think he is very honorable."
The brochure does not point out that Deukmejian made that statement in the midst of taking issue with the death penalty opinions of both Reynoso and Grodin and suggesting that he might not support them if their voting in capital cases did not change. Speaking last March, the governor was saying, in effect, that while he disagreed with Reynoso and Grodin, he thought they were honorable men who would not change their votes simply to gain his support. Later in the year, Deukmejian came out against both justices.
Janet Byers, the press aide for the two largest groups campaigning against the justices, described Reynoso's advertising message as "hypocritical at best."
"When Reynoso was first appointed to the court, the outcry was that he was soft on crime and anti-death penalty, and that has certainly proved to be true," said Byers, speaking for Crime Victims for Court Reform and Californians to Defeat Rose Bird.
The same message was echoed Monday by an association of prosecutors in a 50-page paper attacking Reynoso's opinions in criminal and death penalty cases. Prepared by the Prosecutors Working Group, a political action committee representing 1,500 district attorneys, city attorneys and deputy attorneys general, the paper stresses similarities between the voting records of Reynoso and Bird.
The paper says that, since Reynoso joined the court, there have been 174 criminal cases on which he and Bird have voted and 155 cases in which they have voted the same way. And they have voted in favor of the defendant at least 80% of the time, according to the paper.