By Doug Porter
The story in last Friday’s UT-San Diego seemed pretty straightforward: the local legal establishment closed ranks, telling Carla Keehn that she wasn’t welcome to challenge incumbent Superior Court Judge Lisa Schall.
The newspaper’s account stemmed from a decision by the Tom Homann Law Association, a group for gay and lesbian legal professionals, to withdraw an earlier endorsement. It seemed a little odd, but not too far out of line in a city where truth and reality are regularly mangled in the quest to keep business as usual on track.
The San Diego Free Press ran a profile of candidate Keehn in early February. Contributor Eva Posner met Keehn, found her to be an interesting person and wrote a profile. She certainly didn’t seem to be any kind of troublemaker, having worked in the US Attorney’s Office in San Diego as a federal prosecutor since 1995.
So I thought this political shunning might make fore an interesting item for one of my daily columns. Then two things happened: the SDPD misconduct scandal reached a peak and I started getting emails about this judicial race. I decided to hold off writing the story until I poked around a bit.
The fifteen hundred judges of California’s Superior Court system have it good when it comes to weathering the rigors of re-election campaigns every six years. Opposition to sitting judges is rare, as is publicity about the existence of any electoral oversight. Most judges run unopposed and hence are automatically reelected.
San Diego Superior Court Judge Lisa Schall (the incumbent) appeared to be have matters well in hand for 2014. Her campaign for re-election this year has been endorsed by District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, the Alliance of California Judges and all 127 sitting judges in the San Diego Superior Court.
Last time out (2008) she ran unopposed, as did 48 of the 51 judges up for re-election that year. This year there are five candidates opposing sitting judges. And that apparently is a trend that doesn’t sit well with the city’s legal establishment.
Changing the Rules…
Carla Keehn was endorsed by the Tom Homann Law Association on October 3rd for a seat on the San Diego County Superior Court. On February 6th, the group apparently updated its bylaws and rescinded all previous endorsements in light of the fact she was running against a sitting judge..
Hence the lede in the UT-San Diego story:
A candidate challenging a longtime Superior Court judge in the June primary election says she is being pressured to drop out by a legal organization she belongs to and by some judges.
The candidate, federal prosecutor Carla Keehn, said she won’t drop her bid to replace San Diego Superior Court Judge Lisa Schall.
Thou Shalt Not…
The big deal here is the 11th commandment for lawyers, which states, “Thou Shalt Not Run Against Incumbent Judges.” Tom Homann president Nicholas J Fox reportedly wanted challenger Keehn out of the race because of concerns about putting the group in a potentially awkward situation. The UT story quoted him in an email saying,“Openly challenging a sitting judge can be seen by some as undermining the support and relationship we have worked so hard to build.”
Then Keehn sought the endorsement of the County Democratic Central Committee. The Committee endorsed two incumbent judges (Michael Popkins and Cynthia Bashant), but when it came time to vote on Carla Keehn, it was suddenly “too political” and the consensus was the committee should “refrain from being involved in the judiciary.” Judge Paula Rosenstein was at the meeting and spoke about the party staying out of it.
Attorney Richard L. Duquette, a member of the Central Committee, was dissatisfied with this decision and fired off an email in protest. Here’s a partial text::
The failure to endorse Ms. Keehn, merely because she is a challenger, does not show patience or prudence. Rather, it reveals weakness. Surely, the Committee is well aware that Ms. Keehn’s candidacy would be severely hamstrung if it lacked her own Party’s endorsement, especially after the Committee has forsaken its judicial independence by endorsing the sitting judges.
I have also heard arguments that withholding the endorsement of Ms. Keehn does not prevent her eventual success because she may be appointed by the Governor. Of course, this process is not only speculative, but also lengthy. It would likely take well over two years for such an appointment, (if it ever comes, given the nature of the Executive Branch). Further, such delay ignores the importance of immediacy when change is required.
Need I point out that the Republicans are promoting their own candidates, many of whom are groomed by large corporations, or large law firms that service them? We need diverse candidates, not servants to corporate America who have Lily white souls. Further, we cannot ignore lessons provided by the 2000 Presidential election (Bush v. Gore) and the influence of the conservative Supreme Court’s Justices on the eventual outcome.
In this coming election, an immediate opportunity is available and Ms. Keehn has a legal right to run. There is no justifiable reason to withhold endorsement of a viable Democratic candidate. This is particularly true when the sitting Judge has suffered an arrest, criminal conviction, judicial reprimands, and numerous appellate reversals. We, as a unified group, are duty-bound to investigate not only these issues, but also any financial investments that may create an appearance of impropriety. (One such source is the Fair Political Practices 700 Form, which are available on line.) Are they beholden or deeply invested in the insurance industry while sitting on injury victims cases or in companies that outsource American jobs strictly to line their investment pockets?
The fact that a sitting judge has not yet been removed should not provide relief from continuous scrutiny, nor should our Committee shrink from backing the campaign of one of its own. We should also investigate Democratic Judges up for re-election in order to determine if they are truly Democrats, in order to uphold the integrity of a Democratic endorsement.
San Diego Dems for Equality were also going to vote on endorsing Keehn. But Judge Rosenstein reportedly spoke to Doug Case, club president, and the item was removed from the agenda. Carla Keehn was uninvited to the meeting where she was supposed to make her case for the club’s backing.
An Important Update
Representatives from the San Diego Democrats for Equality have contacted me and are adamant in their denials that the incident as recounted above never happened. They say the group is proceeding as planned with judicial endorsements at the previously scheduled time at their April meeting and that Carla’s candidacy is on that agenda.
Given that the candidate IS getting a fair shake, I say “Bravo.” So we have conflicting versions of what occurred here. (My sources on this story are standing by their version.) For now I say we have to take the Dems for Equality at their word.
Back to the story….
The “off the record” warnings have been even worse. Threats have ranged from being told running against an incumbent judge was “suicide” to promises that “life in this county would be miserable” for Keehn and her family unless she dropped out.
For her part, Keehn told the UT that she wasn’t backing down.
“It’s my constitutional right to do so. I’m a qualified candidate. And I think I would make a good judge.”
The X Factor…
Now, however, Keehn’s candidacy has attracted the attention of a group of people at war with the judiciary in general and Judge Lisa Schall in particular. Investigating their claims has consumed way too much of my time over the past five days, and it’s impossible for a layman like me to know for sure if they are valid.
Suffice it to say these folks have lots of web presence and are litigious. I believe Judge Schall became a target because of decisions made in divorce and custody cases. Digging a little deeper, I reached the conclusion that I’d stumbled onto a cottage industry of angry people on the losing end of domestic disputes.
These folks are where the numerous emails are coming from about this issue. They’ve filed suit or threatened lawsuits (including RICO claims) against an impressive list of law enforcement, judicial and elected officials. I read the legal papers, scoured the web and have no idea what exactly it is they’re talking about.
Are they fighting for freedom or just fighting mad? Maybe I just don’t get it. I am convinced that I don’t want to share my web platform with them, which I hope explains the paucity of links in this story. (If you’re really curious and have time to kill, just Google “Judge Lisa Schall”)
I’ve corresponded via email with candidate Carla Keehn, who assures me she is not connected with any of these folks, and is just as bewildered as I am.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
On This Day: 1940 – The first televised basketball game was shown. The game featured Fordham University and the University of Pittsburgh from Madison Square Gardens in New York. 1953 – In a Cambridge University laboratory, scientists James D. Watson and Francis H.C. Crick discovered the double-helix structure of DNA. 1993 – Federal agents raided the compound of an armed religious cult in Waco, TX. The ATF had planned to arrest the leader of the Branch Davidians, David Koresh, on federal firearms charges. Four agents and six Davidians were killed and a 51-day standoff followed.
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