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Christian Right Targets San Diego Judges

America's culture wars over gay marriage and abortion rights are playing out in San Diego County's judicial elections. A conservative movement has sprung up on the internet. It endorses a slate of candidates who are challenging four incumbent San Diego judges in the June primary.

Craig Candelore - Candidate for San Diego County Superior Court Judge

Above: Craig Candelore - Candidate for San Diego County Superior Court Judge

Bill Trask - Candidate for San Diego County Superior Court Judge

Above: Bill Trask - Candidate for San Diego County Superior Court Judge

Larry Kinkaid - Candidate for San Diego County Superior Court Judge

Above: Larry Kinkaid - Candidate for San Diego County Superior Court Judge


Better Courts Now

Before the choir sang at Pastor Chris Clark's East Clairemont Southern Baptist Church on a Sunday morning, he told me about his frustration -- not with the economy, not with his congregation's personal problems -- but with the anonymity of San Diego's judicial elections.

"You have this whole list of judges and we know nothing about them," said Clark. "There is no information as to who they are, what decisions they have made. Is this a good judge or a bad judge? And more often than not, these judges are running unopposed. So what do you do with them?"

Clark hopes the answer lies with It's the brainchild of Pastor Don Hamer of Spring Valley's Zion Community Church. Before his sudden death in March, Hamer assembled a group of lawyers and law professors to vet the voting records of San Diego Superior Court judges running for re-election. The legal experts concluded that judges Robert Longstreth, Lantz Lewis, De Ann Salcido and Joel Wohlfeil were not following the law in the legal decisions they handed down and should be challenged.

"They were creating new law or they were ignoring evidence and making very irrational decisions," said Clark.

Clark couldn't offer any specific examples of how the four incumbents were deficient. Nor did the Better Courts Now website. But the website includes among its backers religious and conservative activists like Ron Prentice of the California Family Council. That group campaigned for Proposition 8 which banned gay marriage in California and is being challenged in court.

"Courts have made numerous decrees in California and the nation that threaten our religious freedoms, our rights of conscience and preborn life," said Clark,

Better Courts Now's team of legal experts interviewed candidates who could challenge the four incumbent judges. They endorsed four local lawyers whose statements we obtained from the website.

There's Craig Candelore. "Many of our courts don't reflect our values anymore. The people have lost trust and confidence in our courts. We need to restore the trust and confidence in our courts," said Candelore.

Bill Trask. "This is a broken system I am challenging. I want to return the decision of who will sit in our county's courts to whom it belongs… to you."

Larry Kinkaid. "I believe American can be what it once was. You just need to put the right people in office. You the people need to vote and let your voice be heard."

And Harold Coleman whose statement was not recorded on Better Courts' website.

None of the judicial challengers would give KPBS an interview. Nor did the incumbent judges Longstreth, Lewis, Salcido and Wohlfeil. But they have a staunch advocate in District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.

"In looking at these judges, they have a background and record that one should be proud of."

So why are the incumbents the target of this organized effort by Better Courts Now? Two of the four judges sit on family court.

"It is extremely difficult to keep and retain good judges in family court because of the stress of the job, the emotion that goes on," said Bill Howatt, a retired family court judge. He endorses the judicial electoral process.

"But it is not there for to challenge a judge for political or religious purposes. We have a separation of church and state in our constitution."

Howatt says Craig Candelore's candidacy is particularly problematic if he wins, because Candelore runs the Men's Legal Center.

"What will happen is if a lady is in a divorce case and the issues are child custody, child visitation, child support, those people who have professed to support father's rights are going to be challenged on a regular basis," said Howatt.

But Pastor Chris Clark says judges every day interpret the law based on their values.

"As a voter, I have a responsibility to elect judges that are not going to make decisions and look at the law in ways that I don't believe they should be looking at the law."

Editor's note: We mistakenly identified the Men's Legal Center as the Father's Rights Legal Center, and Harold Coleman as Harry Coleman. We regret the error, and have corrected the text.

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Avatar for user 'randolphslinky'

randolphslinky | April 30, 2010 at 11:39 a.m. ― 6 years, 11 months ago

"Clark couldn't offer any specific examples of how the four incumbents were deficient."

It's obvious why Clark's disapproval of the incumbents exist - they don't base their rulings on his personal interpretations of a delusional belief system.

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Avatar for user 'anonymous'

anonymous | May 1, 2010 at 8:28 p.m. ― 6 years, 11 months ago

As a Legal Advocate I have to comment on this issue. I give counsel to female victims of domestic violence in my current work - sadly, many of their perpetrators are defended at the Mens Legal Center. On top of that, the Mens Legal Center was listed on the Domestic Violence Resource Sheet for San Diego County. Every organization on the sheet is a Non-Profit organization focused on the public interest to help people in need of services. Mens Legal Center is a For-Profit company that used their political branch - California Men's Center - a non-profit, as a front for "community service" to get onto this list. Dishonest.

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Avatar for user 'kacerf'

kacerf | May 3, 2010 at 12:06 p.m. ― 6 years, 11 months ago

I appreciate the way this article presents the issues surrounding the judicial endorsements for this June's Primary. I'm disappointed, however, in the negative slant this report gives those that endorses - as if they were somehow biased or representing some hidden political or religious agenda, and hence unqualified. Every judge brings their own background, experiences, beliefs, and understanding of the law to cases that they must rule on. Good judges will judge based upon the law itself, and the merits of the case itself, and not let other factors drive decisions. It's been obvious for far too long that judges from the local level to the US Supreme Court have chosen to further their personal beliefs by embedding them into their decisions, allowing midguided societal engineering and "rights" creation to occur without accountability. Even the statement by retired Judge Howitt referring to the fictional consitutional "separation of church and state" illustrates how far things have drifted, and how predisposed many can be to reject foundational principles that our nation and its laws were built upon for the common good. The bottom line is that judges, as well as legislative and executive positions, should not be beyond the reach of the electorate, particularly when they have inserted their personal value system into their decisions. The fact that the vast majority of sitting judges were appointed (and previously vetted) by politicians with political agendas, and then virtually "in office" without challenge for the rest of their career, shows how quickly these positions can become out of touch and unaccountable. I think is a serious step to restore judicial decisions to its proper place - decisions based upon law and not personal social beliefs.

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Avatar for user 'MekhongKurt'

MekhongKurt | May 3, 2010 at 2:58 p.m. ― 6 years, 11 months ago

kacerf, I watched one candidate's video, but he didn't give a single example of his opponent not following the law. He spoke in vague terms -- subject to personal belief and interpretation. "Follow the law" usually means "do it MY way," not reach a conclusion based on a close analysis.

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Avatar for user 'AllanCan'

AllanCan | May 4, 2010 at 7:46 p.m. ― 6 years, 11 months ago


Because of the Cannon 5 of Judicial Ethics, judicial candidates are not allowed to talk directly about other judges or candidates.

Please do your research on the incumbent judges and see for your self that:
Larry Kincaid: />Harold Coleman: />Bill Trask: />and Craig Candelore:

are very qualified and would be a great asset to the judicial bench. They are all running against appointed judges. Important and disturbing facts to know: 77% of San Diego County judges are appointed to the bench and never elected and 91% of our judges are ex-prosecutors. Better Courts Now wants to bring awareness to the fact that our Constitutional rights are being undermined because we are not electing our judges. Judges should be elected by the people they serve and accountable to us!

Please help by spreading the word! Vote on June 8th for Better Courts Now!

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Avatar for user 'AllanCan'

AllanCan | May 4, 2010 at 7:47 p.m. ― 6 years, 11 months ago

Please visit and see first hand that Craig Candelore and the Men's Legal Center represents everyone in family law court.

The Men's Legal Center has helped hundreds and thousands of men, women and homosexuals through the courts and we have always been supporters of the fair and equal access of both parents in a child's life!!

"Our goal is to provide you with quality representation. We vow to handle your legal matter competently and diligently, in accordance with the highest standards of the profession".

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Avatar for user 'profpeter'

profpeter | May 5, 2010 at 11:30 p.m. ― 6 years, 11 months ago

Those who would rail against so-called "activist judges" are not campaigning for "activist judges." I offer as evidence Pastor Chris Clark's own statement: ""As a voter, I have a responsibility to elect judges that [sic] are not going to make decisions and look at the law in ways that I don't believe they should be looking at the law." So he wants "activist judges" who see things his way.

Judges exist to adjudicate, to apply the law -- not someone's version or view of the law, but The Law as it exists and is explicated in the federal, state, county, or municipal codes. And all those codes are available to anyone at any time on the Internet.

Please Pastor Clark, do not commit the logical fallacy that the way you think is the way the code is written.

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Avatar for user 'profpeter'

profpeter | May 5, 2010 at 11:32 p.m. ― 6 years, 11 months ago

Oops... a typo. In my previous post I meant to say "are NOW campaigning," not "are NOT campaigning."

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Avatar for user 'anonymous'

anonymous | May 9, 2010 at 7:21 p.m. ― 6 years, 10 months ago

interestingly Mens Legal Center's site (as of 5/9/10) only has 5 testimonies from women out of 30 total - the rest are men. Don't be fooled, Men's Legal is a firm dedicated to men that represents men. Why would Candelore choose "MEN'S" Legal Center if he intended to represent both men and women fairly? A biased firm makes for a biased judge.

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Avatar for user 'provokechange'

provokechange | May 14, 2010 at 7:16 p.m. ― 6 years, 10 months ago

Mr. Craig Candelore/Men's Legal Center is the epitome of "Biased."

I would urge all serious supporters of Candelore/Men's Legal Center to research its history. This election would be disastrous for San Diego county courts and for anyone involved.

Mr. Candelore would do well to take care of his failing law firm rather than shift to an arena of increased responsibility and power. The investigation by the CA bar into his recent lack of professional conduct should be the topic of discussion here, not "whether he is biased." He assuredly is that.

Candelore is the Men's Legal Center and would he never sever ties with it. He is neither a specialist in his field, nor an expert in leadership. Please do visit their website or speak with them. One minute in Candelore/Men’s Legal Center’s company is long enough to get the real picture.

Accountability: The only person Craig Candelore/Men's Legal Center listens to his himself. Ask the clients or staff.

Boundaries: Simply put: he doesn't have them.

Common sense: would be to pick anyone but this group. You are who you spend time with.

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Avatar for user 'smith88'

smith88 | May 17, 2010 at 8:14 a.m. ― 6 years, 10 months ago

Speaking of bias, the "allancan" is Craig Candelore's son. He has been busy positng all over the place. Also why did Craig this past week, delete on his campaign website "Men's Legal Center" and instead try to fool voters by listing no name for his firm and change it now to read "a family law firm" Voters don't be fooled.

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