LOCAL ELECTIONS : JUDGES : Order in the Races: Judicial Campaigners Proceeding in Courtly Manner : Candidates for openings in Superior Court and Westminster Municipal Court run in deliberately low-key way.
It’s unusual, to say the least: Two campaigns are being quietly waged with virtually no accusations or political arguments, hardly any fund raising or campaign literature and only a few speeches.
Yet, these races will put two new judges on the bench in Orange County for six-year terms.
Welcome to the ever-so-polite world of judicial campaigning, where the candidates are so full of praise for one another that they hardly seem like competitors.
The races are permeated by an unspoken code that makes super-aggressive campaigning too, well, unseemly . And for the three candidates who are sitting judges, that feeling is enhanced by very real rules: the canons of judicial ethics forbid them from soliciting money themselves.
All this has combined to produce two races that are so low-key as to be nearly invisible.
There are two vacancies, and three candidates vying for each one. The spots were created by the retirement of Superior Court Judge Frank Domenichini and Westminster Municipal Judge William L. Mock. Since it might be tough for any one contender in a three-way race to garner more than 50% of the vote, a November runoff election is viewed as likely.
Thirty-five other Superior and Municipal Court judges came up for reelection this year, but none was challenged.
In the race for Domenichini’s Superior Court seat, the candidates are: Robert E. Thomas, Glenn Mahler and Daniel Charles Dutcher.
Dutcher, 59, of Santa Ana, a Municipal Court judge in Westminster, has run the ultimate low-profile campaign: He has sought no endorsements, solicited no contributions and made only one speech. Dutcher says he believes that seeking support from special interest groups would compromise his judicial impartiality and independence.
Dutcher, who was elected to the bench in 1982 after winning a much-publicized court battle challenging his opponent’s residency, considers himself “middle of the road” in his approach to the law and says he prides himself on treating those before him in a “humane” manner.
Mahler, 42, of Irvine, a Municipal Court judge in Newport Beach, has relied on friends and colleagues to spread the word about his reputation after 13 years on the bench as a traffic referee, commissioner and judge. Mahler says he wants voters to know that he is a hard worker who is usually the first judge in the courthouse in the morning and the last one out at night.
Mahler also has refused all campaign contributions.
Mahler is concerned that the much-touted “fast-track” program of expediting civil cases in Superior Court has imposed longer delays on the civil cases that are not part of that program. Some of the burden could be eased by doubling the Municipal Court’s limit of $25,000 in damages to allow more cases to be filed there, Mahler said. Another courthouse and more judges are also required, he said.
Thomas, 48, of Newport Beach, has been a Municipal Court judge in Santa Ana for 9 1/2 years. A proponent of the death penalty, Thomas depicts himself as tough on crime. He says he is dedicated to protecting neighborhoods from criminals and pledges to deal sternly with drunk drivers, drug dealers, “gang thugs” and hard-core criminals.
Thomas’ stance has garnered endorsements from many law enforcement groups, including the Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, Deputy District Attorneys and Deputy Marshals associations and the police chiefs of Santa Ana and Laguna Beach, in addition to dozens of Orange County judges and the California Republican Assembly.
In Thomas’ view, the Superior Court’s biggest problem is the delays it poses to litigants. He hopes that the court will keep up its aggressive stand on trying new programs to expedite trials, such as transferring bulky paper case files into the computer system so they can be quickly circulated around the courthouse.
In the race for Mock’s Municipal Court seat, the candidates are: Donald S. Macintyre, Ross I. Gallen and Ralph Hansen.
Gallen, 49, an attorney, has launched perhaps the most vigorous judicial campaign of the election. The Irvine resident walks precincts, pressing literature into people’s hands. He appears in a commercial on local cable TV. He bills himself as a law-and-order candidate who will be tough on criminals and has won the endorsement of Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove).
Yet, Gallen says he believes that Municipal Court is a place where young offenders can still be turned around. If elected, Gallen hopes to tailor sentences to enhance a defendant’s chance of rehabilitation, whether through a stiff jail term or a community service project.
Hansen, 57, also an attorney, says he, too, believes in the rehabilitative value of work for those convicted of crimes. He would like to see a stronger judicial crackdown on crimes involving alcohol, such as drunk driving, and he says he believes that sentencing offenders to pick up trash or rake leaves makes a greater impact on them than simply imposing fines.
Hansen, a Costa Mesa resident, also believes that the courts must expand their hours to accommodate the growing caseload and the schedules of working people who are litigating cases. But he opposes building a new courthouse, saying that money could be better spent on health care for the poor or shelter for the homeless.
Macintyre, 47, a commissioner in Municipal Court in Westminster, has taken several weeks of vacation time to walk precincts all over the county. In talking to voters, the San Clemente resident has capitalized on his extensive judicial experience, something his rivals cannot claim.
Since he was elected to Justice Court in Lassen County in 1976, Macintyre has sat by assignment as a judge in 10 counties in California. A former prosecutor, Macintyre also paints himself as tough on crime.
“I have a track record which law enforcement endorses,” he says. “You violate the law, you go to jail. That’s what judges are supposed to do. Just look at the crime. That’s why citizens are sitting in their houses with bars on the windows and big dogs.”
SUPERIOR COURT, MUNICIPAL COURT
Superior Court, Office No. 7Daniel C. Dutcher
Home: Santa Ana
Occupation: Municipal Court judge, Westminster
Background: Elected to Municipal Court in 1982. Twelve years in private practice, handling personal injury, family law, business litigation and criminal defense cases. Earlier career in aerospace management.
Issues: Believes the main challenge facing Superior Court is the backlog of civil and criminal cases.
Contributions: Has refused contributions.
Occupation: Municipal Court judge, Harbor Court, Newport Beach
Background: Appointed to Municipal Court in 1986 by Gov. Deukmejian. Presiding judge in Harbor Court, 1989. Served in Harbor Court as commissioner from 1979-86 and traffic referee from 1977-79. Deputy district attorney in San Luis Obispo County, 1975-76, and in Orange County, 1973-75.
Issues: Key issue facing Superior Court is backlog of civil cases. Favors addition of more judges and building of another courthouse.
Contributions: Has refused contributions. Loaned himself $13,000.
Robert E. Thomas
Home: Newport Beach
Occupation: Municipal Court judge, Santa Ana
Background: Elected Municipal Court judge November, 1980. Served as presiding judge in Central Court 1988 and 1989. Orange County deputy district attorney 1972-80. Los Angeles deputy city attorney, 1969-71. Adjunct professor, Western State University School of Law. Faculty, California Center for Judicial Education and Research.
Issues: Believes chief issue confronting Superior Court is delays in getting to trial. Favors trying new programs to expedite cases and moving ahead with computerization of case files.
Contributions: $10,700, plus $17,350 in loans to himself.
Municipal Court, Office No. 3Ross I. Gallen
Background: Riverside County district attorney’s office, 1968-69. Orange County public defender’s office, 1969-74. Private practice for the last 16 years, specializing in negligence, personal injury and landslide law. Has served as judge pro tem in Municipal, Superior and Juvenile courts.
Issues: Believes Municipal Court judges have to “get through” to young offenders and “turn them around” with combination of tough sentences, counseling and work programs tailored to defendant’s needs.
Contributions: $19,500, plus $30,500 in loans to himself.
Home: Costa Mesa
Background: Orange County deputy district attorney 1968-72, private practice in civil litigation, including family law, personal injury, breach of contract, real estate. Licensed real estate broker and general building contractor. Taught law at Rancho Santiago Community College.
Issues: Seeks to protect victims’ rights by making victims as “visible” in courtrooms as defendants. Believes every drunk-driving conviction should carry some form of community service to reform offenders. Favors expansion of night court hours.
Contributions: Has refused contributions.
Donald S. Macintyre
Home: San Clemente
Occupation: Commissioner, Municipal Court, Westminster
Background: Selected commissioner by judges of West Court in 1986. Sat by assignment as Municipal or Superior Court judge in 10 counties in California. Presiding judge, Lassen County, nine consecutive years. Assistant district attorney, Lassen County.
Issues: Views the growing workload as Superior Court’s most important issue. Favors computerization of all cases to expedite trial calendar. Campaigns as tough on crime, promising that if offenders break the law, they will go to jail.
Contributions: $25,400, including $1,500 he contributed to himself.