In his column over at the Jewish Journal, Bill Boyarsky looks at the ballot battle over a judgeship that once again appears to be a case of a challenger trying to capitalize on a sitting judge having an ethnic name. The highly ranked incumbent is Superior Court Judge Sanjay T. Kumar. The challenger is a guy named Smith. And that's all most voters will know when they look at their ballots. They won;t know that Smith, Hawthorne Assistant City Attorney Kim Smith, was rated unqualified to be a judge last time he tried two years ago.
What makes this an unusual election is that Kumar’s supporters say Smith is running against Kumar only because they believe he is vulnerable because of his name, bequeathed to him by his father, an Indian-born physician educated in Britain and at Massachusetts General Hospital. In the view of Kumar’s friends, a foreign-sounding name, especially one that hints of Indian, Pakistani or Middle Eastern ancestry, could be as risky politically in today’s world as a Jewish name was in the days when Stanley Mosk first ran for office.
District Attorney Steve Cooley, who once was Smith’s colleague in the district attorney’s office, opposes Smith.
“Kim Smith is eminently unqualified to be on the Superior Court, and he has proven that,” Cooley told me. “When I heard he was running, I called him personally to urge him to not pursue the challenge against Kumar. I explained to him that Kumar was widely considered by me and others to be an outstanding jurist with impeccable character and superior qualifications. There is not any reason to challenge him on the merits. I suggested to Smith he was running because of Sanjay Kumar’s foreign-sounding name, and I thought it was despicable and un-American and that he, Kim Smith, would be properly vilified for making this challenge. He said something to the effect, ‘I have got to take my best shot, I’ve got to do this, and I’m going to do it.’ ”
Roger M. Grace, editor and co-publisher of the Metropolitan News-Enterprise, a Los Angeles legal newspaper, has written that Smith is targeting Kumar, “it can’t be doubted, based on his name.” Grace had asked Fred Huebscher, who managed Smith’s 2010 campaign, if the name “Kim Smith” was enough to defeat Kumar, solely on the basis of the name. Huebscher responded yes, Grace wrote.
The LA Times editorial board has also endorsed Kumar, with enthusiasm.
Kumar is one of the court's superstars, well known for his unflappable demeanor in even the busiest courtrooms and, especially, for his ability to parse difficult legal issues and then to explain his reasoning in writing. He is one of the very few trial judges called on to sit in for appellate justices when the need arises; he probably has a future waiting for him in a higher court, should he choose someday to pursue appointment....
Why is he being challenged? We would ask Hawthorne Assistant City Atty. Kim Smith, but he rejected our request for an interview. And probably with good reason; he ran for judge two years ago, and our meeting then didn't go any better than the rest of his campaign. The Los Angeles County Bar Assn. found him "not qualified" for judicial office. Given his bombastic personality and lack of judicial demeanor, we agree with the group's rating.
Why Smith is challenging Kumar is of particular concern because of the known tendency of voters, who have little information on which to make their decisions, to reject judges with foreign-sounding names.