Conservative group's candidates found not qualified for judicial positions by County Bar
May 24, 2010 (San Diego) – Judicial races are rarely headline news. But an organization called “Better Courts Now” founded by the late Don Hamer, an East County pastor, has lined up a slate of right-wing candidates to challenge four incumbent judges.
The group’s website states that judges should be accountable, uphold the law and make fair, impartial decisions—yet does not cite a single instance in which the incumbents failed on any specific point. (Better Courts Now notes that doing so would violate Canon 5 of the California Code of Judicial Ethics, which prohibits judicial candidates from leveling specific criticisms against opponents.)
Better Courts Now’s candidates were not found qualified for the positions they seek by the County Bar Association. In response, Better Courts Now has accused the Bar of "blatant political bias" and noted that Larry Stanwood Johnson, chair of the Bar's Certified Family Law Specialists Committee, has solicited donations from Committee members for the incumbent judges.
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis supports the incumbents. “In looking at these judges, they have a background and record that one should be proud of,” she said in an interview with KPBS.
Backers of Better Courts now include prominent anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage advocates. Republican Assemblyman Joel Anderson appeared in a video for the group touting judges who value “life and family values.“ Ron Prentice, chair of the Yes on Prop 8 campaign which overturned gay marriage, also backs the Backers of Better Courts slate.
Incumbent judges facing challenges by the group are Judges Lantz Lewis, Robert Longstreth, DeAnn Salcido and Joel Wohlfeil.
Judicial candidates are prevented by law from making negative comments about their opponents, making it difficult for voters to obtain information on their records. Hamer claimed to have selected a group of lawyers and law professors to vet voting records of the judges running for reelection—and said his hand-picked experts found judges were not following the law in legal decisions.
While Better Courts Now has not identified a single specific in any judge’s voting record to support that claim, all four incumbents have one thing in common: They are registered Democrats.
The San Diego Democratic Party has endorsed three of the embattled incumbents: Lewis, Longstreth and Wohlfeil. The fourth, Salcido drew controversy by suing fellow judges over enforcement of domestic violence probation conditions. The San Diego Republican Party has endorsed the full slate of Better Courts Now. There are no spending limits on Superior Court judicial races locally.
Four candidates—Craig Candelore, Bill Trask, Larry “Jake” Kincaid (all backed by Better Courts Now) as well as Salcido were listed as “lacking qualifications” by the State Bar. Harold Coleman, Jr., the remaining Better Courts Now candidate challenging a sitting judge, was ranked “unable to evaluate” by the State Bar because they reportedly did not have information to evaluate his qualifications.
Candelore is a family lawyer and retired Army Colonel. Trask is president of the Literacy First Charter School Board an attorney affiliated with the conservative Pacific Justice Institute. Coleman Jr, an arbitrator and civil litigator, is also a member of the Christian Legal Society. Kincaid, a retired deputy Sheriff, is also an Army veteran who has served as an arbitrator.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectedly stated that the California Bar Assocation found the Better Judges Now Candidates not qualified. In fact it was the County Bar Association that made that finding, which Better Courts Now has called biased. We regret this error.