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Picturesque Location Viewed as Springboard : 19 Candidates Vie for Job as Judge on Catalina Island

February 20, 1988|JAMES RAINEY | Times Staff Writer

They talked about law and order. They talked about judicial impartiality. They talked about the tradition of the bench and service to the community.

But only a few of the candidates for Catalina Justice Court judge confessed last week to another reason they are running for the one-day-a-week job: the allure of the island.

When filing closed last week, a record 19 candidates had declared that they would run in the June 7 nonpartisan primary for the supreme, and only, judicial post on 70-square-mile Santa Catalina Island.

"It's really strange for all these people to run," said Jeffrey Lake, the only full-time island resident in the race. "But it's a desirable position. It's one day a week in a beautiful spot. It certainly has some charisma to it."

Municipal Court judges from the mainland have filled in for nearly two years since Justice Court Judge Robert H. Furey Jr. was suspended from the bench for misconduct and abuse of his contempt powers. Furey was permanently removed from office in October, 1987, and the Board of Supervisors ordered an election to fill the $29,800-a-year seat.

A candidate must receive more than 50% of the vote to win the primary outright; otherwise, the top two finishers will square off in the Nov. 8 general election.

No more than three candidates ran in previous elections for the Justice Court, which hears traffic citations, small claims, civil disputes and some criminal matters.

Many of the 19 would-be jurists are crediting, or blaming, a newspaper article for attracting the record crowd.

The Daily Breeze and the News Pilot ran a news story Feb. 5 that began: "Wanted: Attorney willing to spend one day a week in sun-drenched island resort town, 26 miles across the sea."

Only three candidates--Deputy City Atty. Joe Piro of San Pedro, Long Beach lawyer Donald E. Grisham and Manhattan Beach lawyer A. William Bartz Jr.--had registered and paid their $298 filing fee before the article. Sixteen others filed afterward.

"Yeah, it got my interest," said El Segundo lawyer and candidate Timothy C. Chang. "It shows what good advertising will do for you."

Others were not as pleased with the story.

Piro, the second to declare his candidacy, said he expected only three or four competitors.

"It looked like a classified ad for a used car," Piro said. "The balance of the people filed on the Monday following the article. . . . This is worse than the Kentucky Derby."

Need 20 Signatures Each

The 19 lawyers still must submit 20 signatures of Catalina voters to qualify for the ballot.

On Catalina, where outsiders are said to be from "overtown," links to the island could be important. And candidates mused about how they would establish such connections.

Rolling Hills attorney Colleen M. Barry fondly recalled her Catalina honeymoon 30 years ago. Wendy P. Park of Fountain Valley noted that her brother is a fire captain on the island, and that she hopes soon to buy an Avalon restaurant with her husband.

Peter J. Mirich of San Pedro said he has worked there several times during his 20 years as a part-time ocean lifeguard. Bartz joked that his home near the tip of the Palos Verdes Peninsula is closer to Catalina than any of the other mainlanders' homes. And C. Laurence Chamness of Claremont said he once worked in Honolulu and wants to "get back to practicing law on the islands."

Other overtown candidates are: Richard L. Brand of Calabasas; Sidney F. Kroft of Torrance; Harry C. Flynn of Culver City; Darryl W. Genis of Torrance; Frank A. Hillsinger of Torrance; Jack Medove of Santa Monica; Thelma J. Muzik of Redondo Beach; Owen D. Petersen of Torrance; Robert Waddell of Torrance, and Roger Wesley of Long Beach.

6-Year Residence

Lake said he expects to benefit from his six-year residence on the island, where he operates a public golf course and practices law on the side.

He gave up a full-time law career in Oregon to come to Catalina, and said that it will be up to the island's 2,200 residents whether they will accept a judge who sometimes "wears shorts, works on his own car and likes to go fishing."

But many of the other candidates said they see the job as the first step toward higher judicial office.

Furey and his predecessor, Robert LaFont, served as substitute judges in mainland municipal courts four days a week and on Catalina one day a week. The post became a springboard for LaFont, who was appointed to the Los Angeles Superior Court in 1983.

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