This year, eight candidates are running for four spots on L.A. Superior Court. The court serves nearly 10 million people spread out across the county, and judges oversee both criminal and civil matters – everything from contract disputes to homicide trials.
Take Two spoke to all eight of the candidates running for the bench. Here are highlights from our conversation with Steven Schreiner, candidate for Office No. 11:
What work do you currently do and why do you do it?
I'm working for the District Attorney's Office currently in the Norwalk branch, and the assignment I have is referred to as "special trial," so basically cases that are especially assigned to me – typically, murder cases or special circumstance murder cases that I prosecute up the line.
How did you first get into law and what drew you to this career?
Once I went to law school, tried moot court and trial competitions, I realized, I’m a trial lawyer. That’s what I can do. That’s what I enjoy doing. So I went into law school because I knew it was a challenge that I wanted to take on and it wasn’t until I had been in it for a while that I realized where my talents lay and what I wanted to do.
What makes you the best candidate for the office you're running for?
You want a judge who has experience in the law, who’s been in the courtroom, who knows the rules of evidence, who knows the applicable law. You only acquire that experience through time. A lot of times you’ll talk to people in our office that have been a D.A. for 20 years... but you have to really question what have they really done in that period of time? And for a lot of D.A.s, trial work is something they do early in their career and then…they shy away from it as they go further on. I’ve never done that. I just began jury selection on a murder trial this morning. So, I’m continuing to do that all the way through. It’s sort of a measure of a work ethic as well.
The other side of the coin is that you want somebody that knows the law and has the experience, but also has the appropriate judicial demeanor. You have to treat both sides with respect. You have to give everybody the opportunity to be heard. I think I bring the combination of experience, of judgment, of having done a lot of heavy cases to know ones that aren’t meriting that sort of serious treatment, as well as the demeanor that allows all people to come in and feel comfortable and heard.
Do you remember a particular case that stands out for you during your career?
One of the cases that I had 15 years ago or so, that was one of the most serious cases I ever had, it was a triple murder…It was a potential capital case. As I studied it, and I became concerned about when the witnesses had made statements and the circumstances under which they’d done it, I came to the conclusion that although I was by no means certain as to whether or not this defendant had committed these murders, that I questioned the credibility of our own witnesses. And ultimately, made a decision to go up our chain in the office and say, I have to recommend dismissing this case. It was a very difficult thing to do because I didn’t know...But I felt it was ethically something I was obligated to do and that’s one of the tough lessons to learn, especially as a prosecutor.
What should the public know about who you are outside the courtroom?
My upbringing is unexceptional. My father [is from the] Midwest, first one in the family to go to college, my mom, from the East Coast in Brooklyn, met in L.A. I was born in L.A. and grew up in Northern California in a fairly middle-class existence. My parents have been married for over 60 years. I was not a star student all the way through. I kind of did what I had to do, when I had to do it. I always decided I wanted to dip my toe in the water for law and it wasn’t until I got to law school, and then I worked for the Public Defender’s Office in Santa Clara County, doing intake interviews in the jails for about a year, so I got a lot of exposure to it, and worked for a criminal defense firm. And then thought about the different roles, and thought okay, I think I’d be comfortable prosecuting on the other side, and that’s what I’ve been able to do. But you’re an advocate there. So, to make the transition into the bench, you have to cease to be an advocate and be able to be the neutral arbiter and I think that’s something that, after all the years I’ve been doing this, I’m prepared to do it.
This series is a part of our voter game plan, in which we make it easier for you to vote. To read more about the L.A. County Superior Court Judge candidates, and for a digital version of your personalized ballot, visit kpcc.org/votergameplan. (Don't see all of the judicial candidates at that link? They'll be on Take Two now through the election, so check back for more!)
Related: Meet the LA County judge candidates