Hungry for Justice
“A party without cake is just a meeting,” said the famous American culinary icon, Julia Child.
It is also said that “Where there is cake, there is hope.” So, notwithstanding the wisdom of Julia Child, an interesting “brainchild” of the Big Pine Civics Club this year is to offer an apparently hungry electorate in Inyo County the opportunity to attend a Combination Carrot Cake Competition-Superior Court Judge Candidates’ Forum on Monday, February 10th starting at 6:00 p.m. at the townhall.
The three candidates vying for election to the Superior Court judgeship on the March 3rd Primary ballot will be given a 5 to 7 minutes opportunity to talk about themselves before responding to questions to be filled out by those attending, or at least those who can tear themselves away from eating carrot cake long enough to listen.
The three candidates for the position are the current Presiding Superior Court Judge Brian Lamb, up for reelection for the third time, Philip Ashworth of Independence, and Susanne Rizo of Bishop. Of course, it is a requirement of the position that candidates must be an attorney. Julia Child for example, would not qualify because she is not an attorney and, well, she’s also dead. So, you must also be “alive.” The Superior Court Judge office holder term is for 6 years.
In interviews with The Sheet, the two new candidates contesting Superior Court Judge Lamb’s reelection bid, Ashworth and Rizo, both cited the Public Admonishment of Judge Lamb in July 2019 by the Commission on Judicial Performance for “failing to timely act in three cases and by signing two false salary affidavits” as one reason they both decided to run for the office. Lamb was first elected in November 2002, began his service in 2003 and otherwise has had very little controversy in his tenure of 17 years.
Lamb’s response to the Admonishment was that “he is grateful for the opportunity to serve as a judge,” and that “he accepts the commission’s findings and will continue to do his very best to adhere to the judicial canons and to comport himself in a manner that supports public confidence in the judiciary.”
“When we have undue delays in hearings and extended periods before our court issues a decision, it negatively affects the parties, families and children,” says Rizo. “In a rural community, it is especially important that our court both processes cases timely and strengthens partnerships within our community to improve the services our court provides.”
Rizo, who has 18 years of law experience, also expressed concerns over what she claims are the inefficiency of the court’s administration in the area of civil case processing time. She would like to see more energy put into restorative justice, and feels there is a need for more innovative thinking on approaches to that keep communities safe and expand services through partnerships with local native tribes and agencies.
Ashworth emphasized his long association with indigenous communities and focus on civil rights. He has worked for the Owens Valley Career Development Center (which encompasses four counties) for the past 16 years overseeing contracts and other legal issues. Ashworth would like to see a “new drive” to move the building of a new courthouse for Inyo County forward. He feels that Lamb has had plenty of time to make that happen. (Although it should be noted that local Superior Court judges have little to no say on when or even where a new courthouse will be built. It is the state that makes that decision.)
Ashworth expressed a concern that Lamb may not intend to serve out his full term as he is only two years away from eligibility (if reelected) for retirement with twenty years on the bench.
“My concern,” he says, “is that, when a judge retires early, and another is appointed in his or her place, the public is denied of the opportunity to vote for whom they want to fill the position.”
Lamb, for his part, emphasizes his 17 years of experience on the court and the fact that he principally presides in cases arising out of criminal prosecutions. He also feels that he is a valuable resource for the new Superior Court judge, Stephen Place, who was appointed two years ago to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Dean Stout.
“I aspire to decide every case coming before me with justice, and to treat the persons coming to court, whether they are witnesses, defendants, family members, or observers, with patient, dignity and respect,” says Lamb.
All three candidates have websites with more information for voters:
The best way for voters to get to know the candidates is to attend Monday night’s Candidates’ Forum in Big Pine where, yes, you can “have your cake (made with a vegetable!) and eat it too.” Be both informed and fed.