Predicted low voter-turnout in the upcoming June 3 election does not hold Pamala Matsumoto back. The legal veteran and La Cañada mom is a candidate for the Los Angeles Supreme Court bench, seat 22, with more than 25 years of experience working in Los Angeles courtrooms.
"They're expecting maybe 200,000 to 300,000 to show up to the polls. Out of 9 million that's not many people," Matsumoto said.
On Sundays, she campaigns at the Rose Bowl Flea Market and on weeknights attends debates for candidates in other elections. Matsumoto is aiming to meet some of the 9 million voters who could bring her to the bench after unprecedented state budget cuts in July 2012 shut down the juvenile courtrooms and courthouses where she worked as a referee, leaving her without a job.
"It was heart-breaking. I actually sat at 12 different courthouses and I had no plans to ever do anything else and then I got laid off," said Matsumoto, explaining that judicial employees had never lost their positions before.
She found a new role as an administrative law judge, handling disability appeals in California this past year. Matsumoto decided to file papers to get back on the bench and begin her campaign, running against one other candidate, Los Angeles County Deputy District Atty. Amy Carter.
"Who knew there were so many hands to shake?" said Matsumoto, who was born in San Francisco. She is a graduate of University of California, Berkeley and Boston College School of Law. After law school, she landed her first position as a public defender in downtown Los Angeles. That's when she met her husband, Phillip.
"He's an Angeleno, a local boy, so we just stayed [in the Los Angeles area]," she said.
Matsumoto recently received a "well qualified" rating by L.A. County Bar Assn. and was endorsed by Los Angeles County Democratic Party, presiding judges David Wesley, Judge Michael Nash and Holly Fujie. The Los Angeles Times, a parent company to Times Community News, which includes publications the La Cañada Valley Sun, Burbank Leader and Glendale News-Press, also endorsed Matsumoto this month.
"What makes me different from my opponent is obviously my work experience. I've done defense, prosecution, and I've been the bench officer. So I've sat on both sides of the aisle as well as on the bench. There really isn't anyone else on the ballot who has that kind of experience," she said.
Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, and fellow Crescenta Valley resident Henry Hall, believes Matsumoto's years working with children in the juvenile court system make her a qualified candidate.
"She seemed to be able to get to the crust of what was going on with each individual kid," Hall said. "It wasn't like an assembly line, it was one-on-one, individualized orders for each individual kid. There are some kids you need to hammer. She's very sensitive and tough when she needed to be tough. The juvenile court referees are criticized for almost being too understanding, but that was never her issue."
Matsumoto has "terrific judicial manner," Hall said.
"She's very bright. She's very dedicated and she works very hard. She has a very broad range of experience and I think she would be a wonderful judge," Hall said.
"I worked in juvenile justice for so long. You can really get a connection with the kids. I know it sounds strange, but the kids would talk to me before they would talk to their parents. The kids will look at you and they will tell you stuff that they would never say to their parents," said Matsumoto.
Teaching a child to be accountable can make a change in a child's life, she explained.
"If they buy into that, you can really see a change in a person. But if you just punish them it just makes them resistant. Justice needs to be collaborative, not just punitive," Matsumoto said, adding that when she isn't working in the legal world, she loves to work with children as a volunteer guide at the Space Shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center.
"I get to talk about rockets, NASA and JPL, and especially coming from La Cañada, the Mars Rover," said Matsumoto, who adores her volunteer work, sharing secrets and stories behind the making of the shuttle.
"It's so much fun to talk about science at a level that everyone can understand and identify with. That's what I really enjoy."
Follow Nicole Charky on Twitter: @Nicosharki.