An Abbreviated Voter Guide to Electing Judges

by on October 23, 2014 · 1 comment

in California, Election, History, Ocean Beach, Politics, San Diego

justice scalesBy Anna Daniels / San Diego Free Press

Editor note: The OB Rag and the San Diego Free Press have not endorsed any judges. The opinions in the article are those of the author.

Does this sound familiar? ” I’m filling out my ballot and there are 14 judges. Who do I vote for and specifically not for?” The usual means at our disposal for choosing voter nominated candidates and propositions are noticeably absent when voting for judges. It is therefore easy to blow off this obscure exercise in democracy until you wake up one day to find out that you have been Kreep’d, as in San Diego Superior Court Judge Gary Kreep.

Gary Kreep is the conservative activist judge elected in 2012 who has since been “banished” to traffic court for his distinctly idiosyncratic approach to the practice of law. He is best remembered for being an Obama birther who openly flew his freak flag before the election. So shame on us and no, we don’t want this to happen again.

Judge of the Superior Court Office No. 25- Vote “Yes” for Brad Weinreb

We are called upon to vote for a Superior Court Judge this election cycle. This is the court that will hear local civil, criminal, juvenile, family, probate and traffic cases. Unlike the the Appeals and Supreme Court in which judges are appointed by the governor and then retained or not by subsequent votes, Superior Court Judges are elected. Our choices are Ken Gosselin, Attorney Business Owner and Brad Weinreb, Deputy Attorney General.

The San Diego County Bar Association rates judges as Well Qualified, Qualified or Lacking Qualifications. Ken Gosselin is rated as Lacking Qualifications for not meeting a number of unspecified factors. A KPBS article from earlier this year starts off with “San Diego Superior Court judicial candidate Ken Gosselin is accused of misleading voters about his education, his experience and the kind of law he practices.” A more recent article questions his law enforcement ties and endorsements.

Don’t over think this one- while Gosselin does not approach Kreep level, he’s decidedly hinky. Gosselin’s opponent Brad Weinreb is rated as Qualified by the Bar Association and that is good enough.

California Supreme Court Judges–Vote “Yes” to Retain Goodwin Liu, Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, Kathryn Mickle Werdegar

At first glance, it is easy to wonder why all the other judges in our sample ballot appear to be running unopposed. We are not being asked to elect these particular judges–they were all initially appointed by whomever was governor at the time. We are being asked whether they should be retained or not.

There are seven Supreme Court Judges in California. Their regular sessions are conducted in San Francisco and Los Angeles, not in San Diego. It is California’s highest court and its decisions are binding on all other state courts. This is the court that overturned Prop 8. They hear high profile cases.

These appointed judges are vetted in a way that elected judges often are not. There are a number of sites recommended by the League of Women Voters to find out more about these judges. The two sites which I found particularly helpful are www.courts.ca.gov and judgepedia.org. There is nothing in the information provided that leads me to believe that any of these judges should not be retained.

UPDATED Appeals Court, Divisions One, Two and Three- “No” on Terry B. O’Rourke (Division One)

Sarah Sainz submitted a comment from the Reader about Terry O’Rourke:

San Diego Reader | Candid Justice
“The candidate is viewed as having one of the worst temperaments among San Diego judges,” the State Bar paper said. “[He] has a reputation for being mean-spirited and vindictive…has not provided fair and impartial justice…outbursts of anger…slamming books and other materials on the bench…insults attorneys…loud, confrontational behavior.

There was worse. The Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation of the State Bar of California, usually called the Jenny Commission (after the initials JNE), cited criticisms of sexism and racism. “The candidate’s ill temperament and abusive behavior are disproportionately visited upon women…. He has been heard to make racially and gender-sensitive remarks such as ‘The quality of the bench has declined since governors have started pandering to women and minorities’; ‘Mexicans are the dregs of society’; and ‘We have to deal with all of this minority law practice.’ … Candidate’s behavior problems have become worse in the last decade.”

I did a little more research on O’Rourke. According to this LA Times article, the appointment process was rancorous–he was appointed by then governor Pete Wilson despite a “scathing negative evaluation by the state bar committee” and “critics calling him an abusive and volatile tyrant who is insensitive to women and minorities.” The original post has been updated with this information and my “No” vote. Thanks Sarah!

The Appellate Court judges, like those on the California Supreme Court, are appointed by the governor. We are being asked whether they should be retained. This is the intermediate court system between our San Diego County Superior Court and the Supreme Court. I have not finished researching the remaining ten judges in this category. My priority is Division One which has jurisdiction in San Diego and Imperial counties. Divisions Two and Three cover Inyo, Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange Counties.

Judges and Politics

The League of Women Voters cautions voters that “Justices must make decisions based on laws already created by the Legislature and facts provided by the parties, not based on popular opinion.” Judges are called upon to strike a balance between judicial independence and accountability.

Some of the most acrimonious debate surrounding the appointment of judges has centered on the issue of “activist judges.” Conservatives have rallied around this issue and it’s worth keeping in mind what that means to them. I came across a judge voter guide which has this to say about judicial activism:

Instead, activist judges have been advancing a political agenda that:

  • Destroys the separation of powers
  • Weakens the structure of federalism
  • Usurps the right of the people to govern themselves
  • Undermines protection of religious freedoms and the First Amendment
  • Seeks to impose humanism, multiculturalism, relativism and internationalism on us, regardless of the people’s will
  • Is biased against free enterprise and is anti-growth—resulting in higher taxes and less opportunity for our future

I look at these sites because they are often harbingers of get out the vote or recall efforts that fly under the normal electoral radar. They are the febrile swamps that spawn the next Gary Kreep. This particular site gives a “yes” to Ken Gosselin, the hinky guy running for Superior Court. I’m not recommending spending much time on these sites, but they are definitely out there.

What are your thoughts?

Are there other helpful resources? Do use have a different way to evaluate judges on the ballot? We’d like to hear from you.

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