Jewish Journal

Jewish Candidates Vie for Court Posts

by David Finnigan

Posted on Feb. 26, 2004 at 7:00 pm

Jewish district attorneys and subordinate judicial officers are among the 36 candidates seeking to fill nine Los Angeles County Superior Court judge vacancies in Tuesday's primary election.

One interesting Superior Court race is for Office 69, where the five candidates include two Jewish women: Los Angeles County Superior Court Commissioner Donna Groman, 48, and Deputy District Attorney Judith Levey Meyer, 37.

The election pits a Reform Jewish lesbian soccer mom, plugged into Westside gay-and-lesbian circles and the Democratic Party, against a Long Beach-based, ex-whitewater-river raft guide now prosecuting domestic violence and child abuse cases -- whose father is remembered by Camp Hess Kramer alumni as the campfire-starting "Chief Texaco."

The Los Angeles Times endorsed Groman, while the small but well-read legal community newspaper, Metropolitan News-Enterprise, endorsed Levey Meyer.

The News-Enterprise reported that when Groman was a court commissioner at the Inglewood Courthouse, she was, "chased out of Inglewood by virtue of a blanket affidavit policy of the District Attorney's Office."

A blanket affidavit -- which is used sparingly -- is when a judge or court commissioner is considered so difficult for deputy district attorneys or defense attorneys to appear before that cases going before that judge or commissioner receive blanket, automatic requests from the district attorney or defense council for transfer to another judge. Since that time, Groman has been at the Airport Courthouse near Los Angeles International Airport.

The New York-reared Groman, who is active with her life partner at Temple Beth Chayim Chadashim near the Fairfax district, said she wants to emphasize "a real need for diversity in the legal community." Groman said that unlike Levey Meyer, she has sat on a judge's bench for seven years as a court commissioner.

"Why take the risk of putting somebody on the bench that [lacks such experience]?" Groman said.

Levey Meyer is blunt in her opinion of Groman. "My opponent has been criticized for lacking on some temperament skills, as when the entire District Attorney's Office would not let her hear their cases in the Inglewood Courthouse," said Levey Meyer, who grew up attending Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

Groman said the district attorney's affidavit action in 2002 was sour grapes by district attorneys displeased with her denial of at least two prosecutors' request for more time through a trial continuance.

"I denied them continuances on trials they were not ready on, so they started affidavting me," Groman said. "It was a disagreement over judicial rulings I made."

Groman's supporters include unions, gay activists and familiar Democratic/gay political names such as state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) but no law enforcement endorsements.

Levey Meyer's supporters include District Attorney Steve Cooley, three Los Angeles City Councilmembers and three county supervisors, victims advocates and 11 police unions, including the LAPD's Police Protective League.

In other Los Angeles Superior Court races, candidates include Deputy District Attorneys Daniel Feldstern, Jeffrey Gootman and Laura Priver. They are running for separate posts in Departments 18, 29, and 52, respectively. Superior Court Referee Daniel Zeke Zeidler is running for Office 53.

Raised in the Conservative Mogen David synagogue on Pico Boulevard, Gootman, 49, prosecutes major crimes in the Antelope Valley's Lancaster Courthouse.

"I think my first formal priority [as a judge] has got to be violent, predatory street crime," said Gootman, a married father of two who attends Congregation Beth Shalom in Santa Clarita.

Feldstern, 49, has been a criminal prosecutor for 18 years and lives in Calabasas with his 9-year-old son and his wife, Deputy District Attorney Lisa Kahn, head of the office's forensic science section. Based at the Glendale Courthouse, he works in the hardcore gang division and also has worked in the major narcotics and special investigation units. If elected, Feldstern said he would, "pay attention to victims' rights, tough and fair sentencing and efficient administration."

Priver, 45, was raised Presbyterian, but she and her Jewish husband, an attorney in private practice, have raised their two sons Jewish.

During Priver's 20-year career as a prosecutor, she has successfully handled 80 trials, including those for sex crimes, murder and child abuse. She also has worked as a trial deputy and administrator, which she said has taught her the importance of "appropriate judicial temperament."

"I would like the public to understand and know that overall, the system does a good job," she said. "And I think one way to show that is to be a good judge."

Before Zeidler was named a dependency referee at Edelman Children's Court in 1998, he was an attorney in private practice, representing abused children. Growing up, he was as an active United Synagogue Youth teenager in Ventura County.

His mother is Jewish cookbook author and Journal contributing writer Judy Zeidler, whose namesake, Zeidler's Café ,is at the Skirball Cultural Center .

Zeidler, 40, lives in Larchmont Village with his partner of the past 13 years. Before moving there, Zeidler was elected twice to the Redondo Beach School Board.

Zeidler wants to be a judge partly to expand his role in reforming court administration.

"As a referee, I'm limited in the involvement I can have in court administration," he said.

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