OJ Blog Early 2016 Primary Recs, pt 4: Judges for Seats 3, 40, & 49 (UPDATED, OCBA Recs!)

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IN BRIEF:  Stein seat 3; Yellin seat 40; Martin seat 49.

See UPDATE in orange at the bottom for the OC Bar Association ratings.

Stein and Yellin

Protest vote for Andew Stein; earnest vote for Larry Yellin

JUDGES — OFFICES 3, 40, 49

We have four races this year: one with three candidates and three with two. One of those three is likely to generate more sparks than the three others combined; we’ll address this in Part 5.
Because one of us is a lawyer who may appear before these jurists, we’re a little skittish about making recommendations on things like our perceptions of their honesty, judicial philosophy, etc. Instead, we use some rules of thumb:

  1. Points off for an endorsement by OC District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.
  2. Optional points off for endorsements by other Deputy District Attorneys
  3. Points off for involvement in scandals
  4. Points off for documented true judicial whack-a-doodle-ism
  5. In some cases, occupation
  6. OC Bar Association Ratings — which have not yet been posted (but watch this space!)

We are posting their web sites (links are on their names) where we can find them.

Office #3

The candidates are Megan Wagner, Wayne Philips. and Andrew Stein.

Wagner: Endorsed by an absolute horde of sitting judges, DDAs, police associations, and Republican politicians, Sandra Hutchins, and … Tony Rackauckas. Married to Assemblyman Don Wagner, which is not a positive, but she does not bear responsibility for his negatives. She is a prosecutor in the DA’s Major Fraud unit, which is nice.

Philips: Lists hundreds of endorsements by what appear to be regular everyday people with no involvement with the law. Has extensive military experience, including as a military lawyer. He also ran against Judge Joanne Motoike last time, which we did not find endearing. (He got crushed.) If he were elected, he would likely be a pretty idiosyncratic judge.

Stein: Endorsed by a dozen or so judges, none of whose names seem to be from around here. Extensive litigation background in criminal defense and civil rights. Says that “he is the man that cops love to hate, but call when they need help! ” He’s a member of the California Public Defenders Association. We don’t know much about him and we hope that he’s a good guy.

Conclusion: There is such a thing as being too well-connected — and Megan Wagner is. She is as close to being an establishment Republican candidate as you can get without having an “R” after your name — but there’s no obvious reason to think that she won’t do as good of a job as the many fair and competent Republican judges on the county’s bench. She is clearly going to win — and will probably win in June. So the question is: do you want to cast a protest vote — and, if so, is it for someone who is on the civil rights and anti-police abuse side or on whatever side Wayne Philips represents. Plenty of lawyers in OC don’t like how Rackauckas has been leaning heavily into judicial races to stock the courts with people who owe him. He’ll probably continue doing so, but every vote against his hand-picked candidates is a warning to Todd Spitzer or whoever else succeeds him (hopefully in 2018) that we don’t want the DA to be packing the court with his (or her picks.) OJB Recommendation: Join the losing team — and cast a protest vote for Andrew Stein.

Office #40

The candidates are Larry Yellin and Thuy Pham. This was the seat for which Shawn Nelson had filed before deciding not to follow through. (He reportedly plans to run in 2018.)

Yellin: Has outgoing Judge Steven Perk’s endorsement and testimonial to his having high ethics, which is not to be ignored. Many endorsements (though not Megan Wagner-level “many”) from judges, prosecutors, and police associations, though he does not list one from OCDA Rackauckas, which is comforting. He is a spokesman for the OC’s public attorney union (which represents prosecutors and defenders), so perhaps that bad reason is why.

Pham: Endorsements from about a dozen judges and court commissioners, all or most of whom appear to be from Los Angeles. Stresses experience as both prosecutor and defense attorney, which is also nice. Like Stein, there’s no real sign that having him on the court would be scary.

Conclusion: Either seems fine. Judge Perk is a straight shooter, though, and his endorsement for his own successor inclines us towards Yellin. Yellin seems very likely winner — and if he wins by much less than Wagner that will suggest something unpleasant about OC’s judicial elections. No need for a protest vote here. OJB Recommendation: Yellin, and we hope that Pham will run again.

Office #49

The candidates are Mike Murray and Thomas Martin.

Murray: Has a huge fire hose spray of endorsements, much like Wagner’s: the usual prosecutors, police, and Republican officeholders. Hopes for him rose when Rackauckas’s name was not immediately apparent in the list — but then were dashed because he was listed down towards the end. (Well, hiding him is some progress, at least.) Seems highly qualified and not a especially worrisome prospect for the bench — but may come stamped with the prosecutor’s perspective.

Martin: Seems to have a good deal of legal experience — but not much in the way of endorsements besides a couple of good sitting judges.

Conclusion: Looks like another rout. Does it demand a protest vote? I don’t think so — but the taint of the Rackauckas endorsement remains. OJB Recommendation: Skip this one until candidates learn not to take an endorsement from just anyone. Seriously, Murray would have had our endorsement if he’d had just given Rackauckas a stiff-arm.

And now, some late-breaking news (hat-tip to Voice of OC)

UPDATE 5/17 WITH OC BAR ASSOCIATION RATINGS!  (Our choices are in orange)

3:   Wagner — Well-Qualified; Phillips — Qualified; Stein — Qualified.

40: Yellin — Exceptionally Well-Qualified; Pham — Qualified.

48: Schatzle — Well-Qualified; Steiner — NOT Qualified(!)

49: Martin — Qualified; Murray — Qualified

Comments: These ratings justify our difficult choice to supporting ousting a sitting judge, not something to be taken lightly.  But what strikes us most is not the NOT QUALIFIED rating for Steiner, but the discrepancy among the four subordinates of OCDA Tony Rackauckas.

Yellin gets an “Exceptionally Well-Qualified” rating; we are pleased and relieved.  Schatzle gets a “Well-Qualified” rating; she probably earned it, but it also underlines the Bar Association’s rejection of Steiner.  Wagner is also “Well-Qualified,” and while we oppose her, it’s not based on a lack of qualifications.

Murray, however, gets only a “Qualified” rating — equal to his largely unknown opponent Martin, who almost entirely lacks the local endorsements of Murray.  Not even “Well-Qualified”?  This leads us to suspect that the OCBA is trying to tell us something about Murray in relation to the others.  It may be that it has to do with the topic of this article, which lands a light glancing blow on Yellin but raises a blaring alarm siren on Murray.  We’re going to investigate — but if we had to vote right now, at least one of us would support Martin over Murray.


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