Eight judges from the Los Angeles Superior Courts and one member of the San Fernando Valley Bar Association came to the Grand Salon at CSUN’s University Student Union to answer attendees’ questions about legal matters during the Meet Your Judges event on Monday night.
The change of venue for the judges from courtroom to forum room was an appreciated one, most notably cited by Judge John Farrell. During his introduction speech to the audience, Farrell said, “It is good to see people who are not ordered to come and be here-although you might have been coheres in some way.”
With the ice-breaking comment inciting a collective chuckle from the audience of those in attendance, the atmosphere became calm and open, which helped facilitate a constructive inquiry into the details of the judiciary process and its various intricacies.
Questions posed to the panel touched on a range of topics, from the type of standards to which law practitioners are held to the effectiveness of current policies regarding incarceration for drug offenders.
One of the first questions asked was what does it take to be an effective and competent judge. Among the panel members who answered, there was a common message they all shared: it takes patience and dedication.
CSUN Alumnus Judge Bert Glennon, Jr. gave his answer that established what colleagues agreed with, saying, “Above all, you have to have patience. You have to listen to both sides; you have to work with both sides?in my view, that is the primary quality. You can’t rush to judgment?if you don’t have patience, don’t do this job.”
Adding to that, Judge Daniel Feldstern said, “It helps to have a firm feeling of your convictions because, as they say, for every ruling you make, you make one temporary friend who you ruled in favor of and permanent enemy who you ruled against. It takes a personal constitution to make the hard decisions.”
CSUN Alumnus and Los Angeles Superior Courts Commissioner Jeffery Harkavy answered the question regarding drug offenders, or as it was put by a student, “how is drug court going?” referring to the progress of drug treatment courts, which generally offer treatment for substance abuse as an alternative to incarceration.
Harkavy detailed the workings of drug courts and a similar proposition in California, Prop. 36, which, according to Harkavy, has had a 25 percent success rate statewide since its implementation in 2001. But Harkavy defended the proposition, which he has worked under at the San Fernando court house, saying that, even with this percentage, the UCLA economics department’s 2005 and 2007 cost analyses of Prop. 36 stated that every dollar that has gone into Prop. 36 saved taxpayers $2.50.
“If we can get drug treatment for these individuals, we can avoid putting them in prison for their drug offenses, and it should be treated as a disease and receive appropriate medical treatment and then hopefully return to society clean, sober and crime free,” said Harkavy. “It is cheaper to treat people than to incarcerate them.”
A question about diversity in legal practitioners was raised during the event, specifically, how did the panel feel about increasing participation of minority groups in the legal system.
Judge Barbara M. Scheper diversity referenced committee, which is part of the community outreach program that is used to create awareness of law practicing opportunities among high school students. Scheper said that the committee does activities like hosting lunches on campuses where they can be approached by kids and answer any questions they might have.
San Fernando Valley Bar Association President Sue Bendavid had a more critical view of the amount of diversity among legal practitioners, while also encouraging that the situation changes, advocating for more involvement of minorities.
“The statistics on diversity are appalling. It is really appalling to see the people of the legal community that represent clients and that are on the bench don’t nearly represent the rest of the community,” said Bendavid. She discussed the California Bar Associations “pipeline” to get people involved to law practices at an early age, so as to open children up to the potential opportunities available.
Other questions that came up during the event, which was mediated by Political Science professor Chris Shortell, were about jury duty, medical marijuana and the reality of court programs on television, like “Judge Judy.”
“We had some good questions and the judges provided a lot of information that the students enjoyed,” said Shortell, talking about how the event went over.
“It is a lot of fun to come back and see the growth, see the increase of numbers of people here,” said Harkavy. “The qualities of the questions were excellent. Although there wasn’t enough time to answer all the questions, it just goes to show the level of interest here.”