July 14, 2024 #1 Local News, Forum, Information and Event Source for Venice Beach, California.

Yo! Venice Interviews Kimberly Repecka, Candidate for Judge of the Superior Court Office #124

Deputy Public Defender takes on Judge Emily Theresa Spear in a two-candidate contest 

By Nick Antonicello 

Recently endorsed by the Los Angeles Times, we chatted with judicial hopeful Kimberly Repecka about her candidacy and approach to serving on the bench should she be successful come election day as there will be no runoff in her battle with Emily Theresa Spear. 

Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, Repecka describes herself as a “diligent worker and a career public servant.”

While an undergraduate at Oberlin College, Repecka volunteered with the Jails Project at the ACLU of Southern California, which monitors the conditions of LA County Jails under a Court mandate. There, “the troubling, inhumane, and unconstitutional conditions” that she witnessed and that sadly continues today, were the catalyst for her focus on public interest legal work and decision to seek a seat on the bench. 

Here is the full interview with this judicial challenger below: 

  • Do you possess the demeanor and temperament to be a successful jurist?

Being a public defender requires thick skin. In many cases, our zealous advocacy will make prosecutors’ jobs more difficult. It may inconvenience witnesses. Occasionally, that advocacy and the time it requires will frustrate the Court. It is not the role of a defense attorney to placate any of those parties but that does not mean that those parties will not become upset. Occasionally those parties are even verbally abusive towards defense attorneys for insisting on their clients’ rights. 

At the same time, while many clients are respectful, sometimes clients or their family members direct their frustration at their public defender. Clients or family members are angry at the situation. Sometimes because they are innocent and frustrated that the Court and DA don’t see it. Sometimes because they’re not innocent but are being overcharged. Sometimes because they’re struggling with mental health issues and are unable to fully understand the process. The process is, by its nature, often frustrating. 

Criminal court and dependency court are both frequently highly emotional settings and I have always focused on my responsibilities in those settings, whether I was children’s counsel, parent’s counsel, or a public defender. Even in my role as an advocate, I’ve taken a measured approach that is focused on the law and the facts. I maintain an open mind without tolerating abusive treatment and am pragmatic in my efforts to resolve cases. 

I am able to empathize and appreciate the emotional components of cases—I don’t consider it a failing for judges to have emotional responses to cases. But I don’t allow it to cloud my judgment or distract from the fundamental legal issues, which is consistent with a proper judicial demeanor and temperament. 

  • How important is confidentiality in the responsibilities of being a judge?

Preserving confidentiality, in those cases which are confidential or protected, is critically important as a judge. Additionally, discretion, even when cases are not explicitly confidential, is warranted in order to maintain the respect of the parties and the integrity of the Court. 

  • It has been determined that non-citizens can serve on juries as well as sit for the bar. Should non-citizens be allowed to serve on the bench?

Whether or not non-citizens can serve on the bench appears to be the type of issue that could be a matter in controversy that could come before the Court, and I am concerned that I cannot answer this question consistent with the canons of judicial ethics. 

However, it is a sad commentary on our immigration system that a process of learning and working within our legal system that typically takes, at minimum 17 years of hard work (a 4-year degree, followed by 3 years of law school, and 10 years of practicing as an attorney) may actually be easier to achieve than naturalizing as a citizen. 

  • What kinds of cases would you like to hear as a judge? Do you have a preference?

If I’m granted the great privilege of serving this county as a judge, I’m happy to work wherever I can be most useful. Because of my extensive experience in dependency court and criminal court, I think I could be exceptionally effective there. But I also have some familiarity with many different areas of civil law, including small claims, and think I would really enjoy developing a depth of experience in those areas. 

There are no small or inconsequential assignments. Many judges start in traffic court, but that does not make it an unimportant assignment. Trials in traffic court are bench trials on a beyond reasonable doubt standard. The cost of a traffic ticket can be the difference between making rent for a struggling family. A point on someone’s driving record could cost them a job if they are a commercial driver. Every bench officer should appreciate that their decisions are very consequential for the people who are coming before them. 

  • How important is instruction by a judge before a jury deliberates?

Instruction by a judge before a jury deliberates is important, but the voir dire/jury selection process is even more important. If jurors that should have been excused due to bias are on the jury, no amount of instruction is likely to fix it. Jurors are presumed to have followed the law in every instance. Yet post-deliberation polling (both anecdotally and statistically) shows us that most jurors have issues with holding the prosecution to a standard of beyond reasonable doubt and observing the presumption of innocence, especially when the defendant chooses not to testify. 

One of the best judicial voir dires I have ever seen in trial was by Judge Carter in Burbank. A key idea to introduce early on and to remind the jurors of is that “beyond reasonable doubt” is not a standard they have likely ever used in their normal day-to-day life. We do not know beyond reasonable doubt if we can make it through a light on yellow. We do not know beyond reasonable doubt if a family member will survive their surgery. We do not know beyond reasonable doubt if we will end up divorcing the people we choose to marry. We make tremendously consequential decisions—not flippantly—but on a lower standard of certainty than beyond reasonable doubt. When jurors fail to understand that and instead think that they are supposed to make a decision based on feeling, instinct, or their gut, they will almost always get it wrong. 

  • How will you be guided in the sentencing of any defendant?

I would be guided by the sentencing factors outlined in the Rules of Court. Those factors are expansive but include the defendant’s prior record and whether the victim was particularly vulnerable. It also includes considering the defendant’s age, their trauma history, whether mental health was a factor in the offense, and any military service. I would consider the factors listed in PC 1385(h) which invites the striking of enhancements in certain situations. I would consider any legal proper factors set forth in the parties’ sentencing memoranda. I would consider the long-term best interests of all parties involved, including the requests of the victim or victims on the case.

  • Do you consider yourself an active listener? Is listening an important trait when it comes to testimony and evaluating evidence?

I am an active listener and I think that is a very important trait when evaluating testimony and other evidence. While prosecutors are used to eliciting direct testimony, which is often rote and based on provided reports, cross-examination requires careful and active listening to testimony as it develops and shaping clarifying questions in the moment. 

It is not uncommon for judges to ask questions of witnesses during preliminary hearings and even occasionally during trial. During trial, judges should be mindful of whether their questions may create an appearance of bias towards one side or the other or might imply some commentary on the evidence by the judge. That is not to say the judge should refrain from asking questions—the judge has a fact-finding responsibility that is separate from that of the jury and should ask questions to that end. 

  • How will you generally speaking conduct your courtroom?

Generally I would like to conduct my courtroom in a manner where staff, parties, and visitors know that they will be treated fairly and be heard fully when their matter is before the Court. I would give priority to parties and their attorneys who arrive at Court early and are ready early in order to promote efficiency, and I would consider setting time-certain matters to increase efficiency for more involved trials or contests. I would encourage written briefing in advance or, at minimum, exchange of case law amongst parties and with the Court. I would ensure that respect is given to all parties regardless of race, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

  • Do you believe you can provide objective analysis and be a fair and impartial jurist?

I provide objective analysis whenever I am assigned a case. I frequently provide my clients with feedback about what I feel the relative strengths and weaknesses of their cases are, and sometimes they question whether I am still their advocate because I am very honest with them when I feel that their case does not have strong legal defenses. Although my current role is as an advocate, I frequently remind my clients that I don’t feel like I’m doing my job by telling them their case will turn out exactly as they’d like it to. Instead, I explain the challenges in presenting their case to a judge or a jury and how I anticipate the case proceeding. I listen to any contrary points they make and occasionally it changes my analysis. Sometimes it does not change my analysis and just requires me to educate my client further about the elements of the charges against them. 

I also frequently consult with the other parties on the case, including victims. While I cannot provide them with advice, I will still give them information about the case as long as it is not inconsistent with my current responsibilities as an advocate. All those interactions lead me to have a more holistic view of cases. As a judge, I would not be able to do my own independent investigation, but I know what factors would meaningfully affect my view of a case and would be able to direct parties to focus their arguments towards those factors. 

  • Do you think judges should be continued to be elected by the public and why? 

There are clear issues with judges being elected by the public. Mainly, that judges are meant to be independent to a far greater degree than other elected officials and most members of the public do not have sufficient information to make informed decisions about what would make a candidate a good judge. Resources like LACBA provide ratings, but they consistently give higher ratings to those with prosecution backgrounds and there’s little to no transparency to their process. Bizarre upsets have occurred where less qualified challengers have managed to defeat incumbents for reasons unrelated to the incumbents’ integrity or work ethic (like the jurist’s perceived nationality or their gender or age), which undermines confidence in the election process. Simultaneously, the incumbent advantage remains strong and even judges that had been admonished or committed misconduct have rarely been defeated at the polls. 

But the solution to a misinformed public that sometimes makes misinformed decisions is not to take the decision-making power from the community. The solution is to educate the community. Publicly funded elections would go a long way to correct the lack of public education related to judicial candidates. But ultimately judges must answer to someone when they act egregiously and voting them out is truly the only recourse the public has. 

To learn more about the candidate, visit her online at www.kimrepeckaforjudge.com

Nick Antonicello is a thirty-one year resident of Venice who is covering the judicial races in the upcoming March 5th Primary. Have a take or a tip on all things politics on LA’s Westside? Contact him via-email at nantoni@mindspring.com

in News, upbeat
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