By Miriam Raftery
February 27, 2013 (El Cajon)—“I’m very excited about the new challenge in a very important and emotional area of the law,” newly elected Superior Court Judge Robert Amador told East County Magazine. Assigned to the family law court in El Cajon, Judge Amador added, “I hope to be able to lower the tension and animosity between litigants that often occur in these types of cases.”
Amador faced tension and animosity in his own campaign against attorney Jim Miller. Miller was rated lacking qualifications by the San Diego County Bar Association and was removed by the Superior Court as a Judge Pro Tem (temporary judge), but claimed the ouster was politically motivated.
Amador was rated well qualified by the Bar and won endorsement of every law enforcement agency in the County. He served 29 years in the District Attorney’s office and later worked as a law enforcement liaison between the District Attorney’s office and law enforcement. Amador also started programs to help law enforcement identify serious juvenile offenders, launched a gang unit, and wrote a grant to start the Drug Endangered Children’s program.
At an installation program held February 21, 2013 at the Westin San Diego several weeks after Amador’s formal swearing in last month, speakers lauded his ethics and integrity, relating stories that bolstered voters’ support for his elevation to the Superior Court.
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis praised his accomplishments and experience, adding that he will be missed at her office. “He’s probably the only attorney in our office ever to bring a death penalty case to trial from the insurance fraud division,” she quipped. (The case began as a carjacking handled by the division’s Regional Auto Theft Task Force.)
Speaker after speaker said that Amador has showed respect for all who he has worked with, qualities that should serve him well as a judge. He has received many thank you letters not only from plantiffs, but also from defendants – including the man he prosecuted and who was sentenced to the death penalty.
An attorney who opposed Amador in a court case spoke of how well prepared Amador was in the courtroom. Others praised his sense of humor and commitment to family and community; he still coaches youth baseball even though his children have long since grown out of the league.
The Honorable Michael Wellington said that in teaching law enforcement officers, Amador helped them to understand the importance of professionalism. Overseeing the capital case argued by Amador, Wellington recalled, “It was a fight, but the punches thrown were hard, but fair.”
A friend recalled memorable times spent fishing for halibut in Alaska with Amador and others in the legal profession. “Most important question – was he invited back? Yes, he was,” he quipped.
San Diego County Bar President Marcella McLaughlin expressed satisfaction to have a judge with Latino heritage on the bench, then lauded Amador for fighting for more diversity in the legal profession by mentoring and recruiting Latino law students and lawyers.
Another speaker recalled that in his youth, Amador worked at a retail outlet where his duties included “cleaning up other people’s messes,” then quipped that the experience should prepare him well for family court.
Sheriff Bill Gore, was not present due to attending a funeral for San Bernadino deputy Jeremiah MacKay who was killed in Big Bear during the Christopher Dorner pursuit. Guests included numerous judges, retired judges, attorneys, law enforcement professionals, Supervisor Ron Roberts, Sand Iego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne, and San Diego Sheriff’s deputy Ali Perez, wounded in a gun battle last year.
Judge Amador’s wife, Nancy, and father, Orlando, led a robing ceremony to help him into his judicial robe. His children led the pledge of allegiance and Judge Rob Trentacosta administered the oath of office, presenting the new Judge with a gavel from his family with an inscription reminding him to always do the right thing.
Bishop George D. McKinney from St. Stephen’s Cathedral gave an invocation offering similar advice-though from a higher authority. He quoted from the Bible, Micah 6:8: “He hath shown thee, O man, what is good; and what the Lord doth require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”
Judge Amador took the podium last and said he felt humbled, then thanked the many people who helped him along the way—especially his wife of nearly 30 years, Nancy. Amador revealed that when he decided to run, he first asked Nancy, who responded, “That sounds like fun.”
The new Judge acknowledged that he believed the campaign would be a “presentation of accomplishments, experience and qualifications” but that it became a political race. Despite the bitter campaign, he also learned some lessons along the way.
“As a prosecutor I never realized how small my universe actually was,” he reflected. “I was entirely focused on my cases and the criminal justice system, along with teaching law enforcement…This campaign opened my eyes to the greater world around me. I went to places that I had never been.” Those places including Republican and Democratic group meetings, Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, a Muslim service, events at a Thai temple, and St. Stevens Cathedral, where he met Bishop McKinney.
“I now truly understand what it means to help keep a community safe because I have met members of that community, not as victims or the family members of victims, but as real people,” he observed.
He praised his parents for their sacrifices to help put him through law school, and recalled his greatest loss, the death of an adopted daughter at age 18. Noting that “the strength of steel is forged by the hottest fire,” he voiced appreciation for his wife’s support during the “long days and nights of trial and more recently the `fun’ of an election,” then presented her with flowers.
Judge Amador observed that the election campaign led to some “ugliness” generated “by the intolerance of others.” For those who enter his courtroom, regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion or sexual preference, he pledged, “As a Judge, I must and I will treat everyone who comes before me with dignity and respect.”