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Competing for a Seat on the Bench

Citrus district: Engineer Nida Alex is taking a tongue-in-cheek approach. Deputy D.A. Tom Falls is emphasizing his record as a prosecutor.

November 01, 1996|MAYRAV SAAR | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

According to her campaign materials, Nida Alex has come a long way, baby.

While canvassing the cities between El Monte and Claremont that make up the Citrus Municipal Court's district, judicial candidate Alex, 57, handed out fliers featuring a 1957 newspaper article noting her "resemblance to a Hollywood starlet" and a 1958 story headlined "Blond Chooses Engineering," touting her as the first female engineering student at Los Angeles State College.

The same six-page glossy ad lets voters know that she raised three children while attending and graduating from Southwestern University. It also tells voters that she plans to "make our court . . . run more efficiently."

Like the candidate, Alex's flier is tongue-in-cheek and diverse. Her opponent Tom Falls' one-page campaign flier is of heavy stock, spilling over with law enforcement endorsements and emphasizing his record as an "experienced gang prosecutor."

A Western State University graduate and nine-year deputy district attorney, Falls, 36, boasts that all of his 20-plus jury murder trials have led to convictions. If elected, he says, he would use the same no-nonsense approach when sitting on the bench that he has used when addressing it.

Alex, a 21-year criminal and civil attorney, says she would bring a victims' rights sensitivity to the bench. If elected, she would become the first woman judge in Citrus Municipal--but it's a distinction, her opponent said, that is one of Alex's few.

"I've met people on the campaign trail who have told me flat out that they are voting for [Alex] because she's a woman," he said.

But the former engineer and a veteran attorney said she is running on her qualifications alone.

Alex came out slightly ahead of Falls in the primaries and won a local newspaper's endorsement, and she said she can offer a unique perspective to the court--not just because she is a woman, but because, as a former engineer, her background is so diverse.

"The court should be a bastion of safety in a chaotic world," she said. "I want to give people access to the courts."

Falls, who is also a Covina city councilman, said he has given plenty of people access to the courts. As founder of Covina's Gang and Graffiti Task Force, which combats truancy and graffiti in the city, Falls has given countless hoodlums more access to the courts than they ever wanted.

But that's not the kind of access Alex is talking about: She wants to restore a small-town feel to the bench, something she said a prosecutor can't do.

"My opponent is part of the revolving door system," said Alex, who is financing the bulk of her $122,000 campaign.

Maybe. But it's a system that likes him very much.

Encouraged to run by two Pomona Superior Court judges, Falls has garnered endorsements from law enforcement agencies, lawyers and several judges. He also received a "well-qualified" rating from the Los Angeles County Bar Assn., a local organization that evaluates judicial candidates based on professional ability, competence, integrity and temperament.

Alex was rated "not qualified" because "she lacks the necessary experience with significant legal matters," according to a statement issued by the association.

Dan Thomas Oki, the only Citrus judge to publicly endorse a candidate, also backed Falls because, "I just think Mr. Falls' background as a prosecutor makes him more qualified."

But it also makes him more one-sided, said Alex's supporters, who criticize the law enforcement endorsements backing Falls' $33,000 campaign.

"She has contact with real people," said Pasadena psychologist and Alex endorser Archie J. Rellas. "She's very aware of what is going on."

Falls, however, says that doesn't qualify her for the bench. And he added, "My opponent is trying to buy the respect that she cannot earn herself."

But Alex, who said she has had to take time off from her case work to run--and would have to take an income cut if she wins, said her actions speak louder than her coffers.

"Nobody sacrifices as much as I have in a campaign if they are not sincere about it."

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