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Illustration by Ladoris Cordell

Order in the Court

A judge is one public official you may actually meet

HOW MANY county officeholders can force a citizen to come into their office, and send for the police if they don't? A Superior Court judge can jail you, confiscate your property, divide up your assets in a divorce, decide where your children will live, protect you (or not protect you) from a stalker, or decide how much you should pay on a traffic ticket.

Ironically, however, candidates for judicial office are often the least-known individuals on the ballot, at least to the general public. While judges themselves are on public view from the bench practically every day, candidates who are not yet judges often build their résumés in an insulated world of law and law enforcement, rendering it difficult for voters to make a choice.

Even so, Metro believes there are certain keys to look at in judicial candidates.

Office No. 1

Deputy district attorneys do not always make the most objective judges because they have spent most of their careers on the law enforcement side of the aisle. Deputy DA Dolores Carr was a defense attorney for five years before she took up prosecuting, however, so she's been on both sides of the fence. And we like the fact that she heads up the DA's Sexual Assault Unit, specializing in prosecuting child molesters and rapists, and she has served on the board of directors of the WOMA Battered Women's Shelter. She makes a far better choice, we think, than attorney Douglas B. Allen, one of those "support strong law enforcement" guys.

Office No. 2

Santa Clara County Public Defender Susan Bernardini has the type of experience we're looking for in a judge: aside from her trial work, she's served on the Santa Clara County Mental Health Jail Diversion Steering Committee and Task Force, the Santa Clara County Domestic Violence Council and the Santa Clara County Housing and Industry Task Force. Her opponents, Superior Court Commissioner John Schroeder and Deputy District Attorney Dale Lohman, are not necessarily bad choices--we just think Bernardini is better. And with the courts too often tipped in favor of prosecution, we think having someone from the defense side is a good idea. Our choice: Susan Bernardini.

Office No. 11

Easy choice here. Superior Court Commissioner Margaret Johnson has specialized in family law, particularly in defending battered women, an area where judges have historically been a bit weak. Her opponents, attorneys Bill Priest and Blaine Fields, both proclaim their support for "law enforcement" and "three strikes," with Fields adding support for the death penalty. Like it or not, the death penalty is California law, which judges are bound to follow, so why should a candidate proclaim his support for it? Metro's choice: Margaret Johnson.

Office No. 20

Deputy District Attorney Linda Condron says in her campaign statement that she is "dedicated to victims of crime." That may be a laudable sentiment, but what does it mean? Are there Superior Court judges who are dedicated to criminals? Superior Court Commissioner Gregory Saldivar has the endorsement of La Raza Lawyers Association; ethnic politics ought not to be the only consideration, but it's an important consideration in a county as diverse as Santa Clara. Metro's choice: Gregory Saldivar--if nothing else, to provide some needed ethnic balance on the bench.

Office No. 14

Metro is a bit worried by Deputy Public Defender Thomas Spielbauer's campaign statement that the "great political issue our times is not liberalism versus conservatism or capitalism versus socialism. It is personal responsibility and freedom versus governmental paternalism and domination." We'd be more comfortable with that position if this were a legislative race, since we're not quite sure what it has to do with being a judge. His opponent is Deputy District Attorney Paul Bernal, who says he has the support of 49 Superior Court judges, but he can't say who they are because he promised not to release their names.

We're all for keeping promises, but Bernal really worked himself into a corner here, a troubling trait for someone who wants to be a judge. All things considered, we think Bernal is the superior candidate. He's a respected prosecutor. Spielbauer strikes us as something of a loose cannon. Vote for Bernal.

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From the February 24-March 1, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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