Ben Allen’s Bill Makes Judicial Ballot Descriptions Fairer

State Senator Ben Allen wrote a bill that would require candidates vying to become a judge to use a ballot title that reflects their actual occupation.

Senate Bill 235, which had bipartisan support, was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown and will take effect on January 1, 2018.

The old law regarding judicial elections allowed candidates to use three words to describe themselves, and a deputy district attorney might have listed “Hardcore Gang Prosecutor,”“Sex Crimes Prosecutor,”“Gang Homicide Prosecutor,”“Criminal Gang Prosecutor,”“Gang Murder Prosecutor,”“Major Narcotics Prosecutor,” “Criminal Murder Prosecutor,”“Criminal Homicide Prosecutor,”“Child Molestation Prosecutor,”“Government Corruption Prosecutor,”“Violent Crimes Prosecutor” or “Sexual Predator Prosecutor.”

State Senator Ben Allen

By using one of those descriptions, that attorney was more likely to be elected, with winning margins as high as 86 percent.

As Allen points out, the litigating of ballot designations has become a common occurrence. In one recent judicial election, three out of five candidates were forced to change their designations after rivals claimed they misled voters. He said that such cases are expensive for both candidates and the court system while not necessarily providing voters any better information.

The new law allows four designations: attorney, attorney at law, lawyer or counselor at law. The law also allows candidates who have other principal occupations to use those designations, such as deputy district attorney.

“Permitting exaggerated and misleading designations on official ballot materials does a disservice to the public,” Allen said. “By limiting ballot designations among candidates for judicial office, SB 235 more stringently requires candidates to adhere to the higher ethical standard of the judicial branch they wish to join.”

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