Everyone has friends who are in bands. But who hangs out with judges? Next week, original O.C. punk Joe Escalante (The Vandals, and more recently the Sweet and Tender Hooligans) is on the ballot to serve on the bench as Judge of the Superior Court for the City of Los Angeles. He’s a smart and realistic guy—and good friend–who wants to do it for the right reasons. It all started with a legal advice radio show that stemmed from his working in entertainment law, representing his own record label as well as working for CBS. I’m voting for him and if you’ve ever been to a show at the Cuckoo’s Nest, Perkin’s Palace, or Fender’s Ballroom (or even visited Club 33) you might want to support him, too.
MW: Is judging something you’ve always wanted to do? What do you like about it?
JE: I applied to become a Temporary Judge in 2008 to broaden the amount of stuff I can cover on my radio shows. I usually only give “showbiz” legal advice on the radio, but I thought for job security I should brush up on the kind of stuff that more people need like small claims, traffic, and landlord-tenant stuff.
After doing it for a few years I’ve started to like it more than all the other stuff I do. I am able to use my brain, help people, and help the county, and I’ve met a lot of great people who are judges, prosecutors, clerks, translators, defense attorneys, bailiffs, etc. (Not my world until then) And I think I’m good at it.
You can have fun on stage or recording music, but are you really helping people? Maybe, maybe not. And is your brain valued? Or is it your looks? Can you grow old gracefully in a band? You certainly can on the bench.
Traffic Court is often joked about as a punishment for low-level judges. I love traffic court. We’re in Southern California and it’s a car culture in a big way. The rules of the road are on everyone’s mind every day. To be the final arbiter of a traffic dispute is a big honor. I love being involved in it. Everyone wants to make a difference. I think I can on the bench.
MW: I was surprised that so-called “nonpartisan” competitors weren’t interested in your suggested moratorium on mailer mudslinging. How is that going?
JE: I thought I was doing them a favor. It’s like going to a street fight and saying, “Okay, no guns; knives only.” They are saying, “We like guns. Guns are the only way to win a street fight. We know it’s unethical but it’s the way it has always been done. You’re crazy, Joe. You obviously don’t want to win. Leave us alone.”
I’m not surprised. People have ignored the suggestions at the Geneva Convention for decades. But I’ve started receiving some of these crooked slate mailers already, and they make me puke. I see people on them that don’t believe in the “cause” that the mailer is associating them with. They are just paying to get into your junk mail. Not to mention the trees that are dying so they can keep this up.
MW: “Legal commentator” is an apt description of your radio show gig. But did you ever consider writing “O.C. punk” or something like that for even a second in the voter information pamphlets? Isn’t there a chance it would actually get more votes?
JE: Actor/Juggler/Mime was what I really wanted to put there.
JE: I had a soldier write an email thanking me for how I treated him in the courtroom once. He recognized me from the publicity about the Vandals playing for the troops in Iraq. I’ve had a guy tweet: “I just got judged by Joe Escalante, so I’m punker than you,” or something like that. But I get more people recognizing me from my church in Hawaiian Gardens or as their kid’s Catechism teacher.
I stay away from places where Vandals fans might be. I always volunteer in places like Downey, Huntington Park, Compton, Inglewood, East L.A., etc. Raider Nation not Vandal Nation.
MW: Would it hard to be impartial if a plaintiff happens to play shitty music?
JE: Impossible. I’d have to recuse myself. And I do have one pet peeve: Bad Religion shirts in the courtroom. Is that really a good idea? That’s when the scolding begins.
MW: Which band do you like more: Justice or Judge?
JE: I’ve actually gone out of my way to go to a Justice show, but I like Judge’s merch. If elected, I plan to buy a lot more of it. Maybe I can trade them for some Shepard Fairey originals.
The Judge of the Superior Court is a nonpartisan position, so all types of punks (skins and Mohawks alike) can support Joe. Los Angeles residents vote on Tuesday, June 5. Polls open at 7:00 a.m. and close at 8:00 p.m. If you’re not sure where your polling place is, go to www.lavote.net.