Asking voters who know nothing about judicial candidates, and usually fail to do any research of their own is a recipe for disaster.
Well, looks like we’ve done it, San Diego. The electorate has spoken, and the electorate has chosen a completely unqualified individual to serve as a Superior Court judge in San Diego County.
Gary Kreep is a lawyer who decided he wanted to be a judge. Relatively harmless in and of itself, until you find out a little more about him. First, he is the founder of the United States Justice Foundation, an innocuous sounding name (aren’t they always?) for an organization that is dedicated to TEA Party causes and the advancement of right wing religious causes. They are anti-abortion, anti-gay, all conspiracy theory all the time whack jobs. His endorsement list reads like a who’s who of the TEA Party.
They are also the chief promulgators of the “Barack Obama as foreign born” nonsense. Gary Kreep is even the star of his very own USJF sponsored infomercial on why Barack Obama is the “foreign born Manchurian Candidate who was illegally elected to be the President of the United States.” Kreep was also the instigator of a bevy of birther lawsuits challenging the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency, all of which were thrown out of court on their face. He was a close associate of whackado Laguna Beach dentist/lawyer/immigrant/professional nuisance/embarrassment Orly Taitz, until the two drama queens recently had a falling out with one another, each accusing the other of “delaying” birther lawsuits.
To make matters worse, Kreep’s peers at the San Diego County Bar Association rated him “Lacking Qualifications,” their lowest rating in their evaluation system for judges up for election, whereas Kreep’s opponent, Garland Peed, was given the highest rating granted by the Judicial Election Evaluation Committee of “Well Qualified.”
The Bar Association essentially said to the voters of San Diego County “DON’T ELECT THIS GUY!!!” And yet it appears that that’s exactly what the voters have done.
In response to the SDCBA’s poor opinion of Kreep’s bona fides for the bench, Kreep told the UT San Diego that “the bar is biased against him because of his strong Christian beliefs and the causes he advocates.” “My being biased because of my religious and political beliefs is what they hit me with,” he told the UT.
Well duh! A judge’s primary responsibility is to remain unbiased and completely impartial in the legal judgments he or she makes. You follow the constructs of the law as it is written and nothing else. Kreep has all but declared that his religion and his political beliefs will drive his decision making process from the bench. His politics and his religion, not the law, will be of outsized influence. In his campaign platform, Kreep says that “arrogant judges who overstep their authority are a threat to society” because they can “let criminals go free based on procedural technicalities” and “and think nothing of overturning ballot measures approved by millions of voters.” Nevermind that said judges happen to be following the law to a ‘T.’
Kreep comes dangerously close to declaring that he will impose his particular religious beliefs, regardless of the beliefs or religious affiliation (or lack thereof), on those who appear before him in his courtroom. That’s a scary proposition.
The election of Gary Kreep to the bench is a major black eye for the entire San Diego region. I don’t for a second believe that 200,000 voters knew who Gary Kreep was and supported his candidacy in particular. I doubt that more than a handful had any idea who he was when they marked their ballots. More likely the voters saw his funny name and thought it would be a riot to put a guy named “Kreep” onto the bench.
Outcomes like this one in judicial elections are becoming too commonplace, bringing into question why judges are elected at all. Most voters have a hard time knowing anything about the members of Congress they elect, let alone judges who are limited by legal ethics standards as to what they can actually do to campaign. Case in point: The 2006 Superior Court Office number 38 in Los Angeles County.
In 2006, Lynn Olson challenged sitting jurist Dzintra Janavs for her place on the bench. Janavs was a highly respected judge by the legal community and had extremely widespread support for election to the bench (she had originally been appointed to the position by Governor Schwarzenegger). She earned a rating from the Los Angeles County Bar Association of “Very well qualified,” their highest rating.
Apparently sensing an opening due to a foreign sounding name, however, Olson, who owned and operated a bagel shop with her husband (who at the time was a sitting Hermosa Beach City Councilmember), blanketed the county with mailers promoting her candidacy.
At the time of the 2006 election, Olson hadn’t practiced law in nearly a decade. She had barely reactivated her bar license in time for the election to run for judge, and was deemed “unqualified” by the bar association.
She became derisively known as “The Bagel Lady.”
Let’s review this for a moment: The woman who hadn’t practiced law in years; who probably hadn’t so much as cracked open a law book in the decade or so since she and her husband owned and operated a bagel shop, won an election over a highly respected and experienced judge. What possible explanation could there be other than the “other” sounding name of the incumbent?
There was such an outcry from the legal community—defense attorneys and prosecutors alike—that Governor Schwarzenegger took matters into his own hands and reappointed Janavs. The presiding judges, relieved at Janavs’ return, relegated Olson to the judicial hinterlands.
In 2012 Olson was up for re-election. In the estimation of the bar association, even after having six years experience on the bench, Olson was still unqualified. A review of the race by the Los Angeles Times found an endorsement of Olson by the Metropolitan News-Enterprise, a publication dedicated to the legal profession, that was somewhat less than flattering:
“Olson is unworthy of trust,” the paper said. “She is unworthy of government office. We would be delighted to see her replaced by an able and ethical challenger.” But Weitzman (her opponent), the paper said, is “incapable of functioning as a judicial officer.”
The voters of Los Angeles County, it seems, were taken in by the campaign mailers sent out by Olson in 2006. They knew little of Olson’s record, or the fact that she hadn’t had even had an active license to practice law in years. They knew nothing of Janavs’ sparkling record on the bench and ostensibly chose to check the box next to Olson’s name out of sheer name recognition. Olson won that election by 8 percentage points. Now in 2012, they were stuck with two unqualified candidates (although it’s highly doubtful that many voters were aware of that fact).
“Judges hold considerable sway over those who appear in their courtrooms, whether for a divorce, and eviction, a traffic ticket—or worse” said the Times’ Ashley Powers. “But the average voter either has no clue how to assess judicial candidates or spends little time doing so.”
Kreep’s election is far worse. In this 2012 race, San Diegans have seen fit to place a an avowed ideologue and conspiracy theorist on the bench; a man who has explicitly stated that he will bring his religion and his controversial political beliefs into his courtroom. If the guy refuses to accept the authenticity of both the short and long form birth certificates provided by the State of Hawaii proving Barack Obama is indeed a natural born citizen of the United States, what’s going to happen when he is presented with material in the courtroom that offends his delicate sensibilities, his religious beliefs, or political standards, and he determines not to allow it into evidence simply because he doesn’t like it?
It is for this reason that judges should not be chosen by voters, but rather by those who know and understand the legal profession. It is a disservice to the justice system and to those who will by necessity appear before Judge Kreep. Judges are supposed to be impartial arbiters of the law. Putting a man like this on the bench serves no purpose other than to make an utter mockery of the very system he is claiming to serve.
The voters, in this case, have proven themselves unworthy.