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Los Angeles County judge acquitted of elections code violation

Judge Harvey Silberman had been accused of offering to pay a rival to drop out of a 2008 vote.

August 02, 2011|By Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times
  • Harvey Silberman when he came into the Los Angeles Times for an endorsement meeting with the paper's Editorial Board.
Harvey Silberman when he came into the Los Angeles Times for an endorsement… (Nico Smedley /Los Angeles…)

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge was acquitted Monday of the charge that he had offered to pay an opponent to drop out of a 2008 election.

The panel returned the verdict finding Judge Harvey Silberman not guilty of a count of elections code violation after about a day of deliberation, ending a trial that marked a rare prosecution of a sitting judge. Silberman was accused of violating a law that makes it a felony to offer money to dissuade someone from running for public office.

Silberman, 54, broke into a wide grin as the verdict was read and silently mouthed "Thank you" to the jurors. He had faced up to three years in state prison if convicted.

Outside court, he said the two years since he was indicted in mid-2009 had been "horribly nerve-racking" but that he had kept his faith in the judicial system.

"I believe in the process, I've devoted my life to the process," he said after the verdict. "This can do nothing but make me a better judge."

The criminal case stemmed from phone calls before the June 2008 election in which Silberman ran for seat No. 69 on the Superior Court bench against Deputy Dist. Atty. Serena Murillo. In one phone call, Murillo was given the message that Silberman would be willing to pay her $1,787 filing fee if she would drop out of his race to run in another.

Murillo declined and ran, unsuccessfully, against Silberman.

At this month's trial, a prosecutor alleged that Silberman had authorized his two campaign consultants to make the offer, citing phone records. The consultants, Evelyn Jerome Alexander and Alan Randall "Randy" Steinberg, had pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor conspiracy charge and testified against their former client.

Silberman's attorneys contended that Alexander and Steinberg lied in their testimony to get a favorable plea deal from the prosecution. They argued that the investigation, launched by the L.A. County district attorney's office where Murillo works as a prosecutor, was politically motivated.

The case offered a rare behind-the-scenes look into judicial elections, which one attorney said was being "politicized" by the involvement of consultants who often stand to receive bonuses if their clients win.

Silberman said Monday that there was "potential for problems" in the high-stakes races and that there should be safeguards to guarantee voters' rights.

"I went into the process, my first election since fourth grade, as a very naive candidate," he said.

Silberman, who heard family law cases before his indictment, said he would return to the bench as soon as possible.

victoria.kim@latimes.com

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