Let’s face it: The election of Gary Kreep might’ve been the zenith of San Diego’s judicial races, in terms of pure bewilderment.

That race had everything – everything being two men with unfortunate names (Kreep narrowly beat Garland Peed), one of whom was a prominent “birther.”

This time around, San Diego will have to settle for a candidate who’s defended white supremacists pro bono and once wrote that a judge he was facing should be disqualified “by virtue of her permanent disability as a Negro racist;” and an incumbent with a drunk-driving conviction who was also admonished by a state commission for incorrectly putting a woman in custody for five days.

Those are two Superior Court candidates in five of the contested races – where an incumbent judge faces at least one challenger – for the June 3 election. Another 42 races for the bench are uncontested, meaning the sitting judge doesn’t have an opponent and will coast to another six-year term.

Judicial elections are generally right down there with community college trustees for some of the least-cared-about spots on the ballot. But judges, more than other elected positions, can wield extraordinary power individual residents’ lives.

There are currently 125 active Superior Court judges in San Diego County. Generally speaking, Superior Court judges are first appointed by the governor, but those judges can be challenged in the following election cycle.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

The Contested Races

Office No. 9

Incumbent: Judge Ronald S. Prager

Challenger: Attorney/recycler Douglas Crawford

Office No. 19

Incumbent: Judge Michael J. Popkins

Challenger: U.S. Justice Department attorney Paul Ware

Office No. 20

Incumbent: Judge Lisa Schall

Challenger: Federal prosecutor Carla Keehn

Office No. 25

The incumbent, Judge Cynthia Bashant, was recently confirmed as a U.S. District judge, so this is now an open election.

Challengers: Attorney/court volunteer Ken Gosselin, attorney/fraud examiner Michele Hagan and Deputy Attorney General Brad A. Weinreb

Gov. Jerry Brown could technically fill Bashant’s now-open seat, a court official said, but that is unlikely because there are people running in the election. The court official said there are currently seven more open bench seats that have not been filled, likely because of funding issues.

Office No. 44

Incumbent: Judge Jacqueline M. Stern

Challenger: Attorney Joseph Adelizzi

The Candidates

There are 11 candidates in the five contested Superior Court races and of those, the San Diego County Bar Association rated three – Crawford, Gosselin and Hagan – as “Lacking Qualifications.”

Of those three, Crawford has received the most attention recently because of a legal statement he penned in 2011 arguing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is a “militant, ‘black power’ organization” and that Judge Randa Trapp, who is black, should be disqualified from a particular case because she has a “racist bias and prejudice in favor of negroes and against whites.”

“Moreover, Crawford is well known in the legal community as an attorney that openly and vocally supports white supremacy causes by providing pro bono legal counsel to white supremacists,” Crawford wrote about himself, according to a copy of the legal statement.

“Plaintiff’s attorney contends that Judge Trapp will be unable to properly perceive the evidence and/or properly conduct the proceedings by virtue of her permanent disability as a Negro racist,” he wrote.

Crawford said recently that if he “could go back in time, I would never represented the client.” He said he does not share any white supremacist philosophies and was only doing his best to help his client at the time.

Crawford also has his own case pending in the State Bar Court – which hears attorney misconduct complaints where he has been found culpable on one count of professional misconduct.

The misconduct, according to court records, refers to a threat Crawford allegedly made that he would have his client trigger a federal audit against their opponents if they didn’t start settlement talks.

He is challenging that ruling.

Crawford said he knows he’s not a traditional judicial candidate and that he “would never have a chance in any way, shape or form of ever being appointed to the bench,” which is why he decided to run.

He says his nickname is “Dirty Doug” because he prefers junkyards and fixing cars to working in courthouses.

Meanwhile, the Bar Association ranked three of the four incumbent judges as “Well Qualified” and the last, Stern, as “Qualified.”

Of those four, Schall – ranked as “Well Qualified” – is the only one who has been called out (and not in a good way) by the state Commission on Judicial Performance.

Schall was first appointed by Gov. George Deukmejian in the 1980s and says she is facing her first contested race.

According to court records, Schall received a private admonishment in 1995 related to her involvement in a juvenile dependency case.

Then in 1999, she was admonished for “an abuse of the contempt power” after incorrectly ordering a woman into custody for five days, according to a copy of the admonishment.

And about a decade later, Schall was again admonished by the commission after she was arrested and found guilty of drunk driving. According to a copy of that admonishment, Schall had a blood alcohol level of approximately 0.09 percent after she drove on the wrong side of an Escondido highway.

Schall said that it has been about seven years since her drunk-driving conviction and that she has “been a better judge out of that very bad choice that I made.”

Schall said she was going through a divorce at the time and her parents’ health was declining. She said that she served her probation and sometimes speaks at civic events about the dangers of drunk driving.

Schall said two of the other admonishments had to do with not following proper procedures.

Schall’s challenger is, unsurprisingly, using the drunk-driving conviction and admonishments as part of a platform.

“Ninety-nine percent of all judges get through their entire careers with nothing and that’s how it should be,” Keehn said. “This is the first election to hold Judge Schall accountable not just for her three judicial admonishments, but her criminal conviction.”

Elected vs. Appointed

By the time California became a state in 1850, much of the country had already moved toward the popular election of judges.

“The idea was to make government as inclusive and democratic as possible … in terms of white men … and the idea of electing judges fit right in with that idea,” said Reuel Schiller, professor of Law at UC Hastings.

But at the beginning of the 20th century, there was a radical change: People started to want partisan politics out of government, Schiller said.

So California developed a sort-of hybrid system where judges would generally be initially appointed by the governor with approval by a commission and then those judges would eventually face voters.

“In some ways Californians have tried to split the difference,” said Schiller.

The debate over whether Superior Court judges should be elected or appointed recurs nearly every election cycle.

Jon Williams, head of the San Diego County Bar Association, said candidates who run for a bench seat avoid the usual vetting that would occur if they were appointed.

“It’s been my observation that there is more interest these days in obtaining the position of judge through the election process,” Williams said. “Back in the day, you didn’t see as many people raising their hand to challenge a sitting judge.”

    This article relates to: Elections, Government, News, Share

    Written by Ari Bloomekatz

    Ari Bloomekatz is an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego, focusing on county government. You can reach him directly at ari.bloomekatz@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5669.

    D.P. Pomeroy
    D.P. Pomeroy subscriber

    Full Disclosure, I support Brad Weinreb a state prosecutor (Deputy Atty General) who keeps violent criminals and child sex predators off the street, & the only one in his race rated "qualified" by the bar assoc:  www.Brad4Judge.com  

    Manny Chen
    Manny Chen subscriber

    judges should be appointed.  what issue do they campaign on?  upholding convictions and arrests?

    Nicole Larson
    Nicole Larson subscriber

    I think you'd do well to examine credentials of all the people running, not just a few.  I met both Michele Hagan and Carla Keehn and was impressed by them.  And Gosselin, whom you didn't discuss, has been excoriated for misrepresenting his education and credentials.  This article just doesn't go far enough.

    By the way, Judge Randa Trapp isn't on the ballot this time.

    Matty Azure
    Matty Azure subscriber

    The name "Kreep" says it all.


    A rose by any other name...

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    This right here says it all about the careerist protectionism that reigns rampant in our so-called elections for Superior Court Judge:

    "Meanwhile, the Bar Association ranked three of the four incumbent judges as 'Well Qualified' and the last, Stern, as 'Qualified.'

    "Of those four, Schall – ranked as 'Well Qualified' – is the only one who has been called out (and not in a good way) by the state Commission on Judicial Performance."

    Attorneys who practice before these Judges don't like to ruffle their feathers, so they protect the Judges running for "re-election" and attack those who have the temerity to actually offer voters a choice. The SD Co. Bar Assn's granting Judge Schall its highest rating, while she has been admonished 3 times by the State Commmission on Judicial Performance shows that the Bar Assn clearly is just a rubber stamp for sitting judges and the status quo, and its ratings should be taken with a grain of salt.

    Of the three challengers rated "Lacking Qualifications" by the SD Co. Bar Assn, two have been embroiled in controversy. In addition to Crawford discussed in this VOSD report, Gosselin was required by a court to change statements on his ballot regarding his experience and education that a judge found to be misleading.

    East County Magazine reported: "The third candidate who received the 'lacking qualifications' rating, Michele Hagan, appears to have an extensive resume. The Bar does consider other factors such as judicial temperament and fairness, but did not respond to our inquiry as to its specific reasons for her ranking."

    Could it be that the SD Co. Bar Assn doesn't like this 25-yrs experienced trial attorney's "Trial Ready" website and blog?

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    Hugh Yonn
    Hugh Yonn subscriber

    Now's your chance, Boys and Girls...

    Do your homework...and vote.

    I lost that right with a marijuana conviction.   Don't let it happen to you...