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Judges, attorneys urge San Diego voters to get informed

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A group of retired judges and attorneys in San Diego are drawing attention to what they say is a critical judicial race on the November ballot in San Diego County, and are urging voters to learn about the candidates and vote.

Howard Weiner, a retired associate justice of the California Court of Appeal and an active member of the California State Bar, spoke for the nearly 20-person group Thursday when he voiced their main concern in this race.

“My biggest concern is I think a simplistic one,” Weiner said. “I want people to have an informed vote on this race, as well as any other races we’re going to have in San Diego.”

With one contender deemed “well-qualified” by the San Diego County Bar Association and the other “lacking qualifications,” this potentially could be the second time this year that an attorney given the lowest rating is elected to the San Diego Superior Court.

The San Diego Bar Association’s Judicial Evaluation Committee gave current candidate Robert Amador a “well-qualified” ranking, and found his opponent Jim Miller to be “lacking qualifications.” In June, Gary Kreep was elected to the San Diego Superior Court after receiving a “lacking qualifications” status, prompting these members of the law community to draw attention to the Nov. 6 race and urge voters to educate themselves on both candidates.

While gubernatorial appointments are the usual means of becoming a Superior Court judge, there are certain situations in which a contested election is necessary. Thirty years ago the San Diego County Bar Association created the Judicial Election Committee as a means of providing information about the possible judges to the public through a three-tier ranking system. The rankings are “well-qualified,” “qualified” and “lacking qualifications,” and are based on the 21 committee members’ inquiries by telephone, in person and through a questionnaire about the candidate’s knowledge of the law, temperament, reputation and integrity.

Weiner said it was not entirely accurate to say that the group supported Amador, though an open letter signed by 40-plus members of the San Diego law community, including District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and Weiner himself, states that the signatories “will be voting for Mr. Amador, and have urged [their] friends, family and colleagues to do the same.”

Both Kreep and Miller have cast doubt on the impartiality of the bar association’s ratings, with Miller claiming that the association has never found a private attorney endorsed by the Republican Party to be well-qualified. Weiner said that argument is invalid, and there is “no factual basis for his contention.”

Candace Carroll, an attorney at Sullivan Hill Lewin Rez & Engel, past president of the San Diego County Bar and signatory to the letter endorsing Amador, also said Miller’s claim is not true.

“I don’t think it’s accurate that the County Bar Association has never given a qualified or well-qualified endorsement to a Republican,” Carroll said. “First of all, I don’t think the county bar asks what party you’re on in its questionnaire. I can think of many Republicans on the bench who are rated qualified and well-qualified, and I don’t think the bar cares.”

This strong show of support for Amador from the legal community comes a week after the Lincoln Club of San Diego County, a pro-business political club, switched its endorsement from Miller to Amador claiming that Miller had not been entirely honest about his credentials.

Weiner said judges on the Superior Court have an impact on all San Diegans’ lives, and the election should be taken seriously.

“I mean it’s an equal branch of government with an enormous impact, and at a time when tragically the county of San Diego and the courts are facing a huge judicial budget cut, you have to have people with the temperament and skill to deal with the challenges,” Weiner said. “To every person, regardless of who you are and what you do, it will have enormous impact on everyone’s lives.”

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