You open your sample ballot, flip through the pages, and notice there are dozens of candidates running for judge of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. You may start looking into the candidates and feel like there isn’t much information to help you make a decision.

LA Superior Court judges oversee trials across LA County, covering anything from traffic tickets and DUIs to granting restraining orders and deciding child custody cases. In the courtroom, judges listen to arguments, ensure all evidence is considered, interpret laws, and make rulings. Judges should be impartial decision-makers and treat every person fairly regardless of their background.   

Feeling overwhelmed, you feel inclined to “eeny meeny miny mo” your way into voting for someone or even consider leaving the section blank, but you can do your own research using a few tools publicly available to you.

What do Superior Court judges do?

Judges, and sometimes juries, make important decisions that can change the trajectory of a person’s life such as punishing those deemed guilty of breaking the law and settling disputes. In Superior Courts, also known as trial courts, a judge listens to witnesses’ testimonies and other evidence and decides cases by applying the relevant law to the facts. Superior courts are different from appellate courts where people can appeal a decision made on their case.  

As of December 2022, an overwhelming 60% of judges in the Superior Courts of LA County were male, according to demographic data collected by the Judicial Council of California, the policy-making body of California courts. Additionally, 49% of judges in the county were white, 17% Latino, 13% Asian, and 12% were Black. In a county where 49% of the population is Latino and 25% are white alone, having judges who are reflective of the population can bring unique experiences to their decision-making in the courtroom.

“If you bring in people with differing perspectives, I personally believe that you’re gonna get closer to justice,” said George Turner, candidate for LA Superior Court. 

Judges don’t always make the final decisions in the courtroom, some cases are decided by jury trials, which are made up of people who live in the county with different occupations and backgrounds. Sometimes parties request jury trials because they want diverse voices to decide their cases. But whether a judge or trial makes the final decision, judges facilitate every step of the proces including dictating what evidence the jury sees, what questions the jury is asked, making sure all parties are respectful, and ensuring the laws are being followed. 

The majority of cases in California begin in one of the 58 superior courts, one in each county. (LA County has the largest trial court system in the country). Superior Courts have jurisdiction over all criminal and civil cases. In LA County, there are 36 courthouses where legal matters are handled in one of nine court divisions: appellate and appeals division, civil, criminal, family law (such as child custody and divorces), juvenile, mental health, probate (including conservatorships and trusts), small claims, and traffic. The number of judges in each county can vary from two in sparsely populated counties like Alpine to over 430 judges in densely populated counties like LA.

Who can run to be a Superior Court judge?

To be able to run for judge of the Superior Court, candidates must be attorneys or judges in California for at least 10 years directly before their candidacy. Superior Court judges serve six-year terms but don’t always have to face reelection when their term ends. Judges only appear on your ballot if someone challenges an incumbent. Judges who are unchallenged are automatically reelected and don’t appear on the ballot. If a judge retires, dies, or leaves their position during their term, the vacant seat is filled through appointment by the governor.    

You may notice that there are different offices with numbers on the ballot. Pay no attention to that, those are just arbitrary numbers that the county uses to keep track of seats. When elected judges aren’t elected to go to a specific office, they are put wherever the county needs them. For example, if a candidate has a background in criminal law, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be placed in a courtroom where only criminal law is taken.

How can I evaluate a candidate’s record?

LA County Bar Association ratings

The LA County Bar Association is dedicated to supporting members of the legal community to “advance their careers,” according to their website. Every election, the association’s judicial elections evaluation committee investigates and rates candidates in contested LA Superior Court judicial elections. Candidates are invited to participate in the process by completing a questionnaire, submitting at least 75 professional references, and agreeing to an interview. All candidates are given ratings whether they choose to participate or not. Two candidates, Rhonda Haymon and Osman Taher, declined to participate in the committee’s evaluation this election season. 

The committee is composed of 38 volunteers across LA County, including lawyers, prosecutors, and criminal defense attorneys. In their investigations, committee members rate candidates on whether they have certain characteristics that they believe will make them good judges such as fairness, temperament, reputation in the community, and even health problems.     

Candidates receive one of the following ratings:

  • Exceptionally well qualified: “The candidate must possess qualities and attributes considered to be of remarkable or extraordinary superiority so that, without real doubt, the candidate is deemed fit to perform the judicial function with distinction”
  • Well qualified: “The candidate must possess professional ability, experience, competence, integrity and temperament indicative of superior fitness to perform the judicial function with a high degree of skill and effectiveness”
  • Qualified: “The candidate must possess professional ability, experience, competence, integrity, and temperament indicative of fitness to perform the judicial function satisfactorily”
  • Not qualified: “The candidate lacks one or more of the qualities of professional ability, experience, competence, integrity, and temperament indicative of fitness to perform the judicial function satisfactorily” 

No candidate received an “exceptionally well qualified” rating this election season.

“Our rating standards have nothing to do with a candidate’s ability to serve competently as a lawyer,” said Susan Schwartz, chair of the judicial election evaluation committee  

The process claims to be impartial. However, three candidates, Ericka Wiley, George Turner, and La Shae Henderson all had concerns with the committee’s evaluation process, specifically with how their interviews were conducted. They noted that the subcommittee that interviewed them lacked diversity— the majority were white, private lawyers, and prosecutors.

Wiley told LA Public Press she was successful at avoiding convictions that resulted in her clients going to prison by diverting them to community-based treatment. A committee member questioned how Wiley was able to give her client mental health diversion suggesting it was separated from trial. 

“It was really striking to me that someone who was making an evaluation of me as a lawyer had no apparent information about the work that I do,” said Wiley. 

In order to avoid potential bias, every committee member must sign a conflict of interest statement and not be allowed in the decision-making process of a candidate with whom they have a close relation, said Schwartz. This year, the state bar asked the committee to attend implicit bias training, she added.

“We should take [the ratings] with a grain of salt,” said Gabriela Vázquez, deputy director of La Defensa, a femme-led organization dedicated to advocating for alternatives to incarceration.

How to review their record 

The State Bar of California is responsible for licensing and disciplining attorneys. You can look up all attorneys registered to practice law in California using the State Bar website, which provides attorney’s contact information, what law school they went to, what type of law they practice, and whether their license is active. More importantly, the website can tell you whether an attorney or candidate running for judge has been disciplined.

If you’re interested in seeing an incumbent judge’s record, that may take a bit more effort. Certain people, such as the parties involved in a case and their attorneys, can have remote access to case records, if available by the court. You can look up information on a case in LA County through the LA Court portal if you have the case number or names of those involved. Not all case information is available to the public and obtaining information can come with a fee. 

Candidates websites and social media 

Check out each candidate’s website. Although some candidates may have more information than others, you can usually find information about their professional and personal backgrounds on their websites. It is a good way to know what issues they care about and if they are involved in the community. 

Look closely at who is endorsing them. Endorsements can be made by organizations, politicians, and community leaders. Since judge’s offices are nonpartisan, endorsements can be a good indicator of where they lie on the political spectrum. If an organization that advocates for a particular issue endorses a candidate odds are the candidate has a special interest in such issue. 

For example, Henderson, Turner and Wiley are all running as “The Defenders of Justice” cohort. The platform was launched in 2022 by La Defensa and Ground Game LA, a grassroots group building electoral power in LA. La Defensa declares itself as an anti-racist, feminist, and anti-capitalist movement and consistently pushes county officials to prioritize community-based care to those impacted by criminalization. Similarly, some important issues for Ground Game LA are environmental justice, ending state violence, and seeking justice for renters and unhoused people. If these organizations are willing to back up these candidates then it’s likely they also care about these issues. 

Don’t forget to look candidates up on social media. Following candidates on their social media accounts can help you stay updated with their latest endorsements and know if they will be participating in a public forum where you can learn more about them.  

Other websites

You can also check out Vote411, a “one-stop-shop” for election-related information administered by the League of Women Voters. Simply put in your address in the search bar and the website shows you all the races and propositions you are eligible to vote in from local to the federal level. 

The website has information on the majority of judicial candidates including their contact information and answers to three questions — what background experience qualifies them for this elected office; what their theory on punishment is; and other relevant experience they bring. 

What to do after election season?

Voting is important but keeping people in power accountable shouldn’t stop there! You can contribute to keeping judges transparent by using the following two tools developed by La Defensa.

CourtWatch LA is a program aimed at promoting transparency in the judicial system. The program trains people to sit in courtrooms and collect data on judge’s decision-making that is shared with the public. The program seeks to raise awareness about the criminalization of poverty and homelessness, including fines, fees, and predatory practices. You can sign up to be a court watcher at

Rate My Judge is a resource where community members, public defenders, and other justice-involved people can leave honest reviews of their interactions with LA County judges. The tool hopes to keep judges accountable by promoting transparency. For more information check out If a candidate is an incumbent this can also be a useful tool to look at the reviews and see what others who have dealt with them are saying.

Ashley Orona is a journalist and community organizer from South Central Los Angeles. She loves spending time with her family, supporting local businesses, and finding new scenic views around LA.