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JUDGESHIP RACES : Two Judges Make a Bid to Move Up

November 01, 1996|HENRY WEINSTEIN | TIMES LEGAL AFFAIRS WRITER

Depending on how you look at it, the only Superior Court race on Tuesday's ballot is a case of either insider vs. outsider, or well qualified vs. not qualified.

The contest pits veteran downtown Municipal Judge Karl W. Jaeger against the top vote-getter in the primary, Citrus Municipal Judge Patrick B. Murphy.

Jaeger said he has dreamed of becoming a Superior Court judge since he was a bailiff while attending law school. Murphy is a self-proclaimed outsider who contends that the legal system is in deep trouble.

Rated "well qualified," by the Bar Assn., Jaeger, 60, was appointed to the bench by then-Gov. George Deukmejian in 1987 and served as presiding judge of the Municipal Court in 1991. He has been endorsed by 136 of his judicial colleagues and by Sheriff Sherman Block, as well as by former Gov. Deukmejian and the woman he defeated for attorney general of California in 1978, county Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke. A graduate of Southwestern University Law School, Jaeger was a civil lawyer for 20 years before becoming a judge.

Murphy, 41, worked as a nurse for nine years before graduating from Southwestern Law School. In 1991, he pulled off a major upset when he defeated presiding Citrus Municipal Judge Abe Khan. At the time, Murphy was ranked "not qualified," by the bar, and he got the same rating this time. The bar's 48-member committee said it felt "he lacks the judgment needed to perform the functions of a Superior Court judge."

The ebullient Murphy attacked that assessment in an interview, asserting that the rating process was controlled by a small clique of attorneys. "Not one of the attorneys who evaluated me has ever stepped into my courtroom," he said.

Both Jaeger and Murphy said they hoped to make a more significant contribution to the community by being able to handle bigger, more complex cases in the new position. Each said he supports the three-strikes law.

Some of Murphy's backers also note that he has become the first judge in the nation to initiate the use of a program called Criminon in lieu of, or in addition to, incarcerating misdemeanor offenders.

Based on the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology, the program is aimed at getting criminals to critically examine their behavior and reform, according to material provided by Hollywood-based Criminon.

Indeed, the primary teaching tool in the Criminon course, offered at a community facility in Covina, under Judge Murphy's supervision, is "The Way to Happiness," a self-described "nonreligious moral code" of 21 precepts written by Hubbard.

Murphy, who said he is not a Scientologist, said Criminon "has turned lives around," including those of hard-core offenders. "When we look at Criminon, its philosophy is absolutely consonant with mine. . . . I truly believe people are good. We have to work aggressively with them."

Rosemary Dunstan, Criminon's media coordinator, said the program is also being utilized in prisons around the United States, as well as in foreign countries, including Argentina and Hungary.

The candidates have debated twice, once on Century Cable television and once on KCRW's "Which Way L.A." public affairs program. In both instances, Jaeger stressed his experience and qualifications, while Murphy made light of his bar rating and emphasized the backing he has received from a bevy of law enforcement organizations.

Because neither judge has enough money to advertise on television, both men are relying on direct mail to spread the word about their candidacies. Jaeger is also using the services of the campaign firm of longtime Los Angeles political consultant Joseph Cerrell, who specializes in judicial races.

Jaeger and Murphy have put a healthy chunk of their own money into the campaign. According to official campaign reports, Jaeger and his wife have loaned his campaign $87,250 and Murphy loaned his campaign $58,456.

In all, as of mid-October, Jaeger had outspent Murphy by $163,699 to $77,808.

Among Jaeger's recent contributors is Municipal Judge Stephen Marcus, whom Jaeger barely nosed out (32% to 31%) in the March primary to get into the runoff. Murphy led the field with 37%.

Judgeship Races

* A look at the contests in Citrus Municipal Court in El Monte and Claremont, and in Municipal Court in East L.A. B4

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