Judge Charles S. Crandall’s viewpoint published May 9 ("Qualified sitting judges shouldn’t have to defend themselves at the ballot box") reveals a blind spot in our county judiciary.
After years appearing in his court, I have a great deal of respect for Judge Crandall. Had he drawn an election opponent this year, I would have supported him. But no rational observer can conclude that someone “temporarily” appointed to a judge’s seat is entitled to a job as judge.
Judge Crandall’s viewpoint failed to explain California’s Constitutional framework, which makes judges elected representatives to each county’s bench. Unlike federal judges appointed for life, California’s founders created Superior Courts to be as close to voters as possible.
In their Constitutional Convention, the founders rejected the federal life-time appointment model, in favor of (small “d”) democratically elected judges. Article 6, Section 16, requires a county’s Superior Court judges to be elected by the people. Giving judges six-year terms, like U.S. senators, guaranteed their insulation from political passions, while elections assured they would not become aloof to the people’s need for access to justice.
The founders stripped governors of power over selection of Superior Court judges. The only privilege given governors was to make a “temporary appointment” until the next judge was elected to the seat if a death or resignation created a vacancy.
California’s founders didn’t prevent these temporary appointees from running for the seats. But they recognized that, like a bride whose parents had selected her groom, the voters should have a choice before tying the knot for a long, six-year term. Like a good marriage, a good union between voters and any judge is based on trust, respect and fidelity. These attributes are earned, not given.
Just as no amount of “vetting” by parents should require that a bride accept a groom chosen for her, the California Constitution provides that voters should not be saddled with a judge who hasn’t earned those voters’ trust and respect.
Contrary to Judge Crandall’s view, a judge who runs for election secures courage to be faithful to the Constitution, the law, and to serve as a check on the legislative and executive branches of government.
Running for election builds listening skills to discern truth in the midst of passion, and falsehood clothed in poetry.
An elected judge is more likely to open access to the court, not close branch courts.
An elected judge is prone to oppose barriers to justice, like SLO County courts’ new charge for the required electronic filing of documents that can add thousands of dollars in cost for citizens seeking justice.
Judges who slid into office without ever facing voters adopted this per-document filing charge that resembles the Stamp Act; a small tax on every legal document that cumulatively posed such a barrier to justice that it led to the American Revolution.
Like Judge Crandall, I may vote for Mr. Hernaldo Baltodano; but it will not be because he was “vetted.” It will be because I had a chance to weigh his character through the election campaign.
In the other judicial contest between Mr. Tim Covello and Mr. Ilan Funke-Bilu, having seen Mr. Funke-Bilu’s superior conduct during the campaign, I will be canceling Judge Crandall’s vote.
California’s Constitution reserves you the right to make your own choice. Don’t leave your decision about who will sit in judgment to any governor, or to judges protecting their turf.
Two six-year Superior Court seats are on our ballots. Before we tie the knot, let voters decide if Mr. Baltodano or Mr. Andy Cadena should sit in judgment.
Let voters choose whether Mr. Covello or Mr. Funke-Bilu will be more independent in protecting your right to justice.
Vote June 5, for the person in each contest who has most earned your trust and respect
Stew Jenkins is in his 40th year of practicing law in SLO, and serves on the board of the San Luis Obispo County Chapter of the ACLU.