Request to Remove 4 Judges From Cases Is Rejected
A Santa Barbara judge has rejected efforts by the Ventura County public defender’s office to remove from cases four judges who had endorsed a prosecutor running for the bench.
In a decision released Wednesday, Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Thomas P. Anderle ruled that the attempts in June to disqualify Judges Charles W. Campbell, Donald Coleman, Vincent O’Neill and Barry Klopfer were without merit.
The four were among 14 judges who had endorsed Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Kevin McGee in the June primary. McGee will face Public Defender Gary Windom in the Nov. 3 election.
More than half of Ventura County’s 26 full-time judges are former prosecutors.
The public defender’s office contended that the endorsements in letters to the editor and Campbell’s participation in a radio advertisement suggested a bias in favor of prosecutors.
“I was disappointed,” said Public Defender Ken Clayman. “The judges did something they were not permitted to do.”
Clayman said his office is considering an appeal, which must be filed within 10 days.
For years, public defenders and other attorneys have criticized the local bench for its domination by ex-prosecutors. That theme has been a key point in Windom’s campaign and in those of judicial challengers before him.
However, Anderle did not see the letters or the radio ad as improper political activity.
“We see nothing in the record to persuade us that if a conflict exists, it is so grave as to render it unlikely that the defendants will receive fair treatment,” Anderle wrote.
Anderle stressed that “there was nothing unethical about the endorsement.”
“Such endorsements are permitted because judicial officers have a special obligation to uphold the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary and are in a unique position to know the qualifications necessary to serve as a competent judicial officer,” he wrote.
The public defenders had argued that the endorsements of a prosecutor by judges who are former prosecutors suggested a measure of control over the courts by Dist. Atty. Michael Bradbury.
But Anderle rejected that notion as well.
“Campaigns for judicial office will often see the same behind-the-scenes participants, including police chiefs, county sheriffs, lawyers, and others interested in the judiciary,” he wrote. “That fact, if it is a fact, cannot be stretched to support a disqualification for cause.”
Anderle was assigned the controversial case to keep Ventura County judges from any possible conflict-of-interest in the matter.