Orange County Elections : 2 Battles Brewing for Superior Court Seats
The battles for Orange County Superior Court seats this June 3 include a tough, three-way contest for an open seat, plus a race between an incumbent judge and a challenger who is campaigning largely on his biblical beliefs.
In the race for Seat 5, the candidates include William W. Bedsworth, from the Orange County district attorney’s office, Irvine attorney Robert H. Gallivan and Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Joseph L. Barilla. All three are seeking the seat left vacant by the retirement of James F. Judge.
In the race for Seat 17, incumbent Judge William F. McDonald is running against Newport Beach attorney James E. Wilkoski, who said his efforts to convey God’s way to voters is more important than whether he wins or loses the election.
Superior Court judges on the June 3 primary election ballot who have no opposition include Francisco P. Briseno, Everett W. Dickey, Robert R. Fitzgerald, John L. Flynn Jr., Leonard H. McBride, Donald A. McCartin, Henry T. Moore Jr., Jean H. Rheinheimer, John J. Ryan, Tully H. Seymour, David G. Sills, Donald E. Smallwood, James L. Smith and Samuel B. Taylor Jr.
Elsewhere, West County Municipal Judge David H. Brickner and Deputy Dist. Atty. Anthony J. Rackauckas are running for the seat left vacant by Superior Court Judge Mark A. Soden, who is not seeking reelection.
In the race for Seat 5, all three candidates have crafted campaign strategies that they believe will bring them victory.
Bedsworth, who is head of writs and appeals for the district attorney’s office, believes none of the three candidates are likely to win the election outright in June. According to his election scenario, Bedsworth believes he will wind up in a November runoff with Gallivan.
In that race, Bedsworth is convinced the “deputy D.A.” title beside his name on the ballot will bring him victory. He is banking on strong opposition to Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird--and voters’ resulting sympathy for district attorneys--to win support.
“If ever there was a time for a prosecutor to win, this has got to be it,” Bedsworth said.
Bedsworth, 38, has been in the Orange County district attorney’s office for 14 years. For the last seven years he has been an appellate specialist, and for the last five years has been head of the writs and appeals section.
“We are tough on criminals in this office, but we are more interested in justice than we are in putting people in jail,” Bedsworth said. “Sometimes it’s more important to know when not to charge someone with a crime.”
Bedsworth has won endorsements from most of the Superior Court judges and from most of the police agencies in Orange County. The most noticeable thing about his campaign so far are Bedsworth’s numerous campaign signs, which say “deputy D.A.” next to his name.
Gallivan, however, disagrees that the “D.A.” label assures Bedsworth of victory.
“It concerns me,” he said of Bedsworth’s forecast. “But I didn’t get into this election to get beat. It means I may have to work harder to get my name out before the public.”
The Irvine attorney ran second out of six Superior Court candidates in the June, 1984 election. Although he lost the runoff race in November, he said it whetted his appetite to try again.
Gallivan, 52, acknowledges that Bedsworth may have jumped off to a fast start in the campaign. But he vowed to come on strong in May to get his name and background before the voters.
After he lost the nonpartisan 1984 race, Gallivan changed his political affiliation from Democrat to Republican. There is nothing wrong with being a Democrat, Gallivan said, “but to some people, Democrat means you are a liberal. I’m a moderate, but I think being a Democrat might have hurt me last time. So I switched.”
Gallivan points to the high rating he received from the Orange County Bar Assn. in 1984, his endorsement by 15 past presidents of the Orange County bar and his years of experience practicing criminal, civil and family law.
“I really think I’m the most qualified because the other two have spent most of their careers as prosecutors, which is a limited part of the law,” Gallivan said. “It’s true, they may know more criminal law than me. But most of the cases in Orange County Superior Court are civil cases, and it’s civil judges who are needed the most.”
Barilla, meanwhile, believes he is better qualified than either of his opponents.
Although he has run unsuccessfully three times for a Superior Court seat, Barilla blames the media in each case for not conveying his qualifications to voters. The present race, he said, is no exception.
“I was trying cases when Bedsworth was still watching cartoons in front of the TV chewing on his favorite Popsicle,” the Los Angeles deputy district attorney said.
Bedsworth lacks sufficient trial experience, he said, adding that Gallivan also lacks adequate experience in criminal law.
Barilla has been a deputy in the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office for 23 years. He points to a record he has kept of the number of cases he has handled which have gone to trial and challenged his opponents to match it.
Barilla also criticizes his two opponents for holding fund-raisers. Barilla said he refuses to take money from anyone for his candidacy because it’s the only way to be truly independent as a judge.
Although his opponents have viewed him as a spoiler candidate, entering the race largely to force a November runoff, Barilla disagrees.
“I’ve taken out a mortgage on my home to run,” Barilla said. “Does that sound like someone who has given up?”
In the race for Seat 17, Wilkoski is not considered to be a serious threat to McDonald, who is the only incumbent Superior Court judge out of the 15 running to draw an opponent.
McDonald was appointed to the Municipal bench in 1981 by Democratic Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. and was elevated to the Superior Court by Gov. George Deukmejian in January of this year. He points to that as evidence of his support from both ends of the political spectrum.
McDonald is on the Board of Directors of For Kids Sake, an organization to detect and prevent child abuse and noted in his candidate statement that he is a scoutmaster.
There is an asterisk, however, connected to his judicial seat. McDonald was appointed to the vacant post last year when Superior Court Judge Mark Robinson decided to leave the bench. Robinson lost a subsequent lawsuit to get his seat back and has appealed the case to the District Court of Appeal.
Should Robinson win, McDonald would have to return to his previous seat in North County Municipal Court. He acknowledged that the loss of his new post would be a disappointment.
“I really enjoy being a Superior Court judge,” he said. “I’ve had a variety of assignments since I’ve been here. It’s a tremendous challenge.”
Meanwhile, Wilkoski is running the most unusual judicial campaign Orange County has seen in years. The Newport Beach attorney, who practices out of his own home, said he decided to run because “God was nudging me in that direction.”
Wilkoski’s platform is “to make man’s ways more like God’s ways.” If he is elected, Wilkoski said, he will begin each day in court with the Lord’s Prayer, the singing of “God Bless America” and the Pledge of Allegiance.
“If I could get just one-third of the judges to start off their day in court with those three things, my campaign will have been well worth the effort,” Wilkoski said.
Wilkoski refused to let The Times take his photograph, explaining that the Scriptures say “man should not glorify himself with graven images.”