San Diego Has Four Open Seats for Judges on March 2020 Primary Ballot

by on January 17, 2020 · 1 comment

in Election, San Diego

There are four judicial seats appearing on ballots for the March primary. None of them are for incumbents. All are for seats vacated by a retiring judge.  I wish it was easy to tell you who the progressive candidates are, but the way the system works makes it hard to tell.

With rare exceptions, incumbent judges run unopposed in the primary. In fact, unless there is announced opposition, incumbents names don’t even appear on the ballot.

One third of the 1,535 judges in the California Superior Courts compete in nonpartisan races in even numbered years. Technically the elections are for a six year long judicial “office” as opposed to an individual.

When a judge retires in the middle of a term, his or her seat becomes vacant, and is filled by appointment by the governor. If a candidate files election papers, but the sitting judge decides to retire, it is considered an open seat race, which is what we usually see on the ballot.

Judges can and do pick retirement dates strategically to force a popular vote, blocking the governor from appointing a replacement.

California’s judiciary is protective of its own, with a “wall” of black robes protecting the reigning officeholders from all but the most egregious of offenses. Less than 10% of all superior court races–open or not– are contested. Generally speaking, it’s considered professional suicide for an attorney to challenge a sitting judge.

Unless you’re a lawyer or have had other reasons to interact with the legal system, the names appearing on the ballot mean little or nothing. What’s even worse is the social protocol involved in running for judicial office makes it difficult to discern what kind of judge candidates will be based on what they say. They all say they’ll be impartial, fair, protect the constitution, etc.

The Brennan Center for Justice has an explainer about how and why California judges are chosen.

One hundred thirty five judicial offices are in San Diego County, spread out over seven facilities, employing a support staff of 1200 people.

The San Diego County Bar Association evaluates judicial candidates in contested judicial elections; questionnaires sent to candidates were just returned this week, so their findings are not yet online. When they are you can find then here: SDCBA Judicial Evaluations link.

The San Diego Union-Tribune performed a great public service this year by interviewing candidates for judicial offices. What follows are brief summaries and analysis of what was said. There are few hints buried in the transcripts of the interviews. It’s also helpful –but not foolproof– to note who has endorsed candidates.

SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE – OFFICE NO. 18 
Currently held by Hon. Jackie Stern

C.J. Mody has been a prosecutor with the San Diego District Attorney’s office for 17 years. My take on the UT interview is that he learns in a conservative direction. He’s been endorsed by DA Summer Stephan, the Deputy District Attorneys Association, County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, San Diego Police Officers Association, County Probation Officers Association.

Link to Union-Tribune Interview

Money quote: 

  • We must provide individuals with the incentive, ability and desire to take responsibility for their actions and advantage of the resources available through our Collaborative Courts and other treatment programs. By building this awareness, engaging in cognitive behavioral therapy, allowing them to recognize the underlying causes of their criminality, and treating those causes, we can balance our rehabilitative efforts with public safety and victims’ rights by reinstilling individual accountability into our criminal justice system and giving offenders a pathway to succeed.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Roberta Winston has been a practicing attorney for 32 years. She is a professional singer and the endorsed choice of the San Diego Democratic Party.

Link to Union-Tribune Interview

Money quote:

  •  It’s not enough to say, “I’ll be fair.” We are obligated to identify systemic bias and recognize our own unconscious bias to give parties faith that they will be treated fairly in accordance with the rule and spirit of the law. I understand that as a judge, I must be ever mindful of the weight of authority I have to affect the lives of our community and will work diligently to do what is right with wisdom and humility. 

Website | Facebook | Twitter

SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE – OFFICE NO. 22 
Currently held by Hon. Esteban Hernandez

Steve Miller was a federal prosecutor for 27 years. HIs father was Edwin Miller, Jr, San Diego’s District Attorney for more than two decades. His platform as listed on his website says  “The guiding principles of my legal philosophy is to preserve and further Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms.” He is listed as a Democratic candidate on the local party’s page.

Link to Union-Tribune Interview

Money quote:

  • A judge’s decisions must maximize deterrence of future criminal conduct, but a judge must be wise enough to recognize no punishment will deter future conduct if there is no incentive to remain crime free. I think the most important change must be establishing a support system once a person’s sentence is finished. This would include drug treatment, mental health counseling, and job training and placement services. Without efforts to install a safety net after release, it is not hard to predict that desperation will force a person to fall back on the same skill set that landed them in jail in the first place. Though many may view such a proposed safety net as coddling criminals, it is more appropriately viewed as a sort of Marshall Plan for the criminal justice system.  

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Alana Wong Robinson has been a federal prosecutor for 29 years. She has endorsements across the political spectrum, including State Senator Toni Atkins, Assembly member Todd Gloria, and retired San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman.

Link to Union-Tribune interview.

Money quote:

  •  Our community deserves judges with the very best professional credentials and also judges that understand the many diverse communities that make us strong, resilient, and vibrant. As the daughter of Chinese and Mexican immigrants, I understand the journey of so many in our community, which has deepened my commitment to equal justice for all. Having a diverse and strong bench that reflects the community it serves is vital to promoting faith in our judicial system and our democracy. Having earned a broad base of support, from both law enforcement and the defense bar, from judges, community organizations, elected officials and local leaders, I am confident that I will serve our community with distinction as a fair, compassionate and just judge.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Mark Skeels is the Senior Chief Deputy City Attorney, City of San Diego. He says he’s the only candidate for this office endorsed by an association of prosecutors, state court defense attorneys and Superior Court judges.

Link to Union-Tribune interview.

Money quote:

  • A recent report from SANDAG included data from adult arrestees in the San Diego region. Some troubling findings include the following: 1) the median age of homelessness is 26 and drug use was a leading cause, 2) methamphetamine use is rising, and 3) drug use for adult females is at the highest rate for women since the study began in 2000. Proposition 47 was supposed to provide more resources for treatment. Instead, the revolving door at the jail results in individuals being released before a meaningful opportunity to engage in treatment. So my office created the S.M.A.R.T. Program, which provides wraparound services to chronic offenders and offers substance abuse treatment and housing, along with medical care, mental health treatment and job training.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE – OFFICE NO. 30 
Currently held by Hon. Louis Hanoian

Michael Murphy is a Deputy Attorney General with the Criminal Division of the California Department of Justice. He says he’s been endorsed by Sheriff Bill Gore, former Chief of Police David Bejarano, former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, the San Diego Deputy District Attorneys Association and San Diegans Against Crime.

Link to Union-Tribune Interview

Money quote:

  • The over-arching concern of our criminal justice system is public safety. Towards this end, we have traditionally relied on punishment as a deterrence to committing crime. But recently many have recognized that a one-size-fits-all approach is not the best strategy, and have sought innovative ways to more effectively and humanely address the variety of circumstances that lead to crime. I support these efforts. In particular, I support the effort to emphasize rehabilitation as a means to decrease recidivism. If done right, this will reduce costs, enhance public safety and result in a more just system. But there is one big caveat: Public safety must remain the paramount concern. 

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Peter Murray is a Deputy Attorney General with the Criminal Division of the California Department of Justice handling cases of elder/dependent adult abuse as well as major fraud within the state health-care system.

Link to Union Tribune interview

Money quote:

  • Most of the current calls for reform in the criminal justice system seem to be a backlash to previous reforms that sought to tackle crime by taking away discretion from the very person in the best position to make sound judgment calls: the judge. One change that I think would be beneficial to the entirety of the criminal justice system would be to put more of that discretion back into the hands of judges.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Tim Nader is a Deputy Attorney General with the Criminal Division of the California Department of Justice. He is a Board Member, Southwester College, former Mayor of Chula Vista, endorsed by county Democratic party.

Link to Union-Tribune interview

Money quote:

  • The most important change is to extend opportunity without becoming lenient. As a community college trustee, I’ve been a leader in supporting programs that extend educational opportunity to incarcerated people, without shortening their sentences. These programs offer classes that provide job skills and college credit. Prison education programs have been shown to reduce recidivism by as much as 40%, making all of us safer. Since a large amount of crime is caused by drugs, effective drug rehabilitation programs should also be offered.

Website | Facebook |Twitter

UPDATE: Paul Starita was inadvertently left out in the original posting of his article.

Paul Starita is an assistant U.S. attorney and U.S. Marine Corps judge advocate. His endorsements include County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, County Supervisor, La Mesa Police Officers’ Association, and San Diego Harbor Police Officers’ Association.

Link to Union-Tribune interview

Money Quote:

  • Proposition 47, passed in 2014, changed certain offenses from felonies to misdemeanors in order to save money on incarceration costs that could be reinvested in drug and mental health treatment as well as other services. Proposition 57, passed in 2016, reduced the lengths of prison sentences in order to incentivize offenders to improve their behavior and begin rehabilitation while in custody before transitioning to supervision.
  • These changes were intended to reduce recidivism and in turn, promote public safety. In order to compliment the role of the courts, such changes should include a comprehensive plan to increase funding for county probation offices. Probation offices must be properly staffed and funded to: 1) provide the appropriate input to courts on each offender; and 2) properly supervise those subject to early release.

Website | Facebook | Twitter   

SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE – OFFICE NO. 36 
Currently held by Hon. Harry Elias

Michelle Aleggio is a County Deputy District Attorney and ethics advisor for the DA’s office and adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law. Endorsements include county Democratic party, Sheriff Bill Gore, City Attorney Mara Elliot, District Attorney Summer Stephan.

Link to Union-Tribune interview

Money quote

  • I am running for San Diego Superior Court judge to protect the rights of all who enter the courtroom, uphold the important role of the judiciary in preserving our democracy, ensure the ethical administration of justice and improve equal access to justice.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Shawn McMillan is a private attorney whose practice has included lawsuits against counties for “failing to adhere to constitutional safeguards leading to the tragic deaths, molestation, and severe physical abuse of toddlers to teens. “

Has been recognized by the Orange County Trial Lawyers Association as a “Top Gun” trial attorney in the area of Civil Rights. Calls himself The People’s Judge. Twitter feed includes retweets from far right sources disparaging AOC & Nancy Pelosi.

Link to Union-Tribune Interview

Money quote:

  • As the only civil practitioner in this race, I know our civil justice system is broken: It is too expensive and complicated. Justice for civil disputes is outside the reach of most Californians. This needs to change, and I want to usher in that change, or at least try to do so.
  • I want to use my perspective as a start-up founder, business owner, husband, father, libertarian and civil rights attorney to meet or even exceed what the public expects from its judicial branch of government.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

From Words&Deeds

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie January 20, 2020 at 10:28 am

UPDATE: Paul Starita was inadvertently left out in the original posting of his article.

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