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Whitman will appoint only judges who support the death penalty

October 25, 2010 |  4:55 pm

Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman would not appoint judges who oppose the death penalty, her campaign spokeswoman said Monday.

The capital-punishment litmus test comes as Whitman, who is trailing in the polls despite spending more than $140 million of her own money on her campaign, sought to gain an edge with time running out before election day.

“One more week until we have another governor who is going to protect the rights of victims of crimes in California,” she told hundreds of supporters gathered on a grassy field by a Westlake Village hotel swimming pool. “Jerry Brown was soft on crime, 40 years of soft on crime, appointing justices like Rose Bird, who was not qualified, who fought against the death penalty.”

Whitman has been invoking the specter of Bird for months. Brown appointed Bird when he was governor in the 1970s, and she served as chief justice for a decade. She was a controversial pick from the beginning because she lacked experience as a judge. Her appointment came as the courts were weighing new efforts to reinstate the death penalty.

She voted to overturn capital cases 64 times, leading to a campaign to oust her that featured the families of crime victims. Two-thirds of voters cast ballots to remove Bird, and she became a symbol for a soft-on-crime mentality.

Brown has refused to say whether he regretted the appointment. The Democratic gubernatorial candidate is opposed to the death penalty but has long said that the matter is decided and he would follow the law of the land. As the state’s current attorney general, he has supported more than 500 death penalty cases.

But Whitman has seized on his personal opposition to the death penalty, broadcasting an ad that wrongly says that he opposes capital punishment, even for cop killers.

Whitman rallied hundreds of supporters at the Westlake Village event. Her campaign handed out orange and green pompoms and thunder sticks and hand-painted signs that said “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” and “Meg is ready.”

Protesters from a nurses union stood at the perimeter and held signs that said “California values, not corporate values” and “Nurses say no” above a hedge. Whitman pointed to their presence as proof that she would shake up Sacramento if elected, while Brown would be cozy with labor.

“Why do you think they’re following me around?” she said. “Because they know I’m going to change Sacramento. I am not beholden to the bosses of the public employee unions. I will owe nothing to anyone except for the voters of California.”

-- Seema Mehta in Westlake Village