When is the election?
June 5, 2012. Please mark it on your calendar to make sure that you don’t miss it.
When will absentee ballots be received?
The Registrar will start mailing absentee ballots on May 7, 2012.
Why is there an election?
The vast majority of California judges – 87% -- are appointed by the Governor. Only 13% are elected to the bench. However, unlike federal judges, California state court judges are not appointed for life. Instead, they have six-year terms. At the end of each term, they must be re-elected.
If no ones files to run against the judge, then the judge is automatically re-elected without appearing on the ballot. that is what usually happens for judges across the state, and that is what has happened for all Riverside County Superior Court judges since 1994. This year, however, four highly qualified judges in our county are being challenged: Judges Riemer, Tranbarger, Cox, and Cameron. These judges are hardworking, experienced, and dedicated both to the law and to the public whom they serve.
How large is the district within which the judges run?
The office of Superior Court Judge covers the entire county. There are no electoral districts. Therefore, the elections for judges are countywide, involving all 825,000 registered voters spread out over 7,200 square miles.
Why is one public employee union spending so much money on this race?
The overwhelming majority of the financial support for Judge Riemer's young challenger comes from a single public employee union, the Riverside County Deputy District Attorney's Association. That single union has contributed over $102,000 to Judge Riemer's challenger, and another $15,000 to Judge Tranbarger's challenger!
About 87% of all judges come to the bench by being appointed by the Governor. Applying to the Governor for such an appointment costs the applicant nothing. Why spend over $100,000 when the challenger has never even applied to the Governor for an appointment?
Judge Riemer has had a civil assignment for over a year, and thus only rarely hears criminal cases. Why would the DDAs' union spend over $100,000 to try to remove a judge who no longer hears criminal cases?
The answers to those questions is that this race is not about his challenger's ambitions; instead, it is all about the DDAs' union's political ambitions. The union is throwing its political power around in an attempt (1) to elect judges that the union feels will slant justice in favor of the prosecution, (2) to intimidate all the other judges on the bench, and (3) to elect or influence elected county officials whom they hope will look favorably on them at budget time or when the union's next contract is being negotiated.
What is the difference between appointed judges and judges who are elected?
As noted above, most judges are appointed, but some are elected. Compared to the electoral process, the process by which judges are appointed affords the opportunity for a more thorough investigation and evaluation of the candidates, and tends to select better judges.
Before a governor decides to appoint a judge, the candidate goes through an exhaustive evaluation process. The process begins with the candidate completing an extensive written questionnaire, which is reviewed by the governor’s judicial appointments secretary and by a local judicial evaluation committee, and supplemented by interviews of individuals familiar with the candidate.
If the candidate’s application survives that review, it is then sent to the Judicial Nominee Evaluation Commission. That commission, which is run by the State Bar, reviews the application, sends out hundreds of questionnaires to other attorneys in the same county, investigates any unfavorable responses, and interviews the candidate.
If the commission’s recommendation is favorable, the governor’s judicial appointments secretary personally interviews the candidate. Only then is a decision made whether to appoint the candidate.
After such an extensive evaluation process, I was honored to receive an appointment by the governor in 2003.
The appointment process has the benefit of extensive information and extensive investigation.
By contrast, politicians who choose to run for judge are not subjected to any of these qualifying tests. There are no written applications, no investigations, and no interviews to insure that the candidate has what it takes to be a good judge.
The process by which a person becomes a judge does not necessarily determine how well that judge will perform on the job. Excellent judges can be either appointed or elected, as illustrated by the judges of the Riverside County Superior Court.
Nevertheless, the benefit of the extensive vetting process that precedes gubernatorial appointments is that it tends to identify and weed out candidates who are not suited to the job. This is demonstrated by the fact that a much higher percentage of judge who were elected to the bench are disciplined by the Commission on Judicial Performance (the state's disciplinary agency overseeing the judiciary) than are judges who are appointed. Judges who came to the bench through election are 46% more likely to be disciplined than are judges were were appointed to the bench.
As a voter, why should you care about this election? You probably don't plan on being in court, so what difference should it make to you that the prosecutors' union is trying to determine who should be a judge and who shouldn't? In other words, what would happen if the union were to win?
An experienced judge would be replaced by one with no relevant experience.
Well, no one plans on being in court, unless you are an attorney or someone else whose job is to be there. But like it or not, nearly all of us, or our family members or close friends, get involved in the court system at some point. Perhaps there is a divorce in the family, leading to arguments over child custody. Perhaps our parents need a conservatorship, or we are being sued by someone. In that case, you want to have a judge in front of you who knows the law in those types of cases.
Judge Riemer's young challenger's experience is limited solely to criminal law. But if he were to be elected as a judge, he could not be assigned to a criminal courtroom for many years. Having accepted over $102,000 from the county prosecutors, he would be ethically barred from hearing cases in which those attorneys are appearing. And prosecutors appear in every criminal case.
Instead, he would have to be assigned to some other area of law -- civil, family, or juvenile law -- in which he has absolutely no experience. Do you want your grandchildren's custody arrangements decided by someone who knows nothing about family law? Do you want a judge who knows nothing about civil law to decide a case regarding your business while he spends 9, 12, or 15 months gaining even a rudimentary understanding of the law on that subject?
Our judges would tend to become less impartial and more political
That any special interest would spend such a huge amount of money to place its hand-picked candidate on the bench should concern anyone interested in impartial courts. That the special interest comprises the county's prosecutors -- who appear every day in every criminal case in every courthouse in the county -- is particularly troubling.
We want and expect our judges to make their decisions solely on the strength of the evidence and of the law. But the more likely a potential electoral challenge, or the louder an existing electoral challenge, the more difficult it is for a judge to ignore the political ramifications of a decision. Having seen one of their colleagues removed at the whim of the prosecutors' union, our judges - consciously or not - would be tempted to favor the prosecution
The bench would become less diverse
For deputy district attorneys, an appointment to the bench means a higher salary. But for a successful civil attorney, the same appointment often means a cut in pay. What rational, well-qualified private attorney would give up his or her practice to accept that reduction in income, knowing that he or she may have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to retain that seat every six years, and that even s pending a small fortune, may lose his or her job? Frequent electoral challenges will inevitably increase the percentage of former prosecutors on the bench, and decrease the all-too-small percentage of civil, family law, and probate practitioners we need so that we have judges who are experts in all areas of the law.
None of these things have to happen. We need not allow the DDAs' union to determine who will sit on our local bench. We need not surrender our courts to the whim of political special interests. We need not lose an experienced and respected bench officer. We need not allow our bench to become politicized. We need not permit our bench to become dominated by former prosecutors. To prevent those things from happening, please vote for Judge Riemer and the other judges on the June 5th ballot.