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Legal Community Rallies Around ‘Well-Qualified’ Judicial Candidate

Aired 10/19/12 on KPBS News.

About a dozen lawyers and retired judges asked voters to consider the county bar's ratings in November's judicial election. Robert Amador is the only candidate with a "well-qualified" rating.

— Lawyers and retired judges crowded the courthouse steps Thursday afternoon to rally attention to the county’s only Superior Court seat up for election on Nov. 6.

It was an unusual move. Retired judges aren't regulars at news conferences. But the event was more unusual for what wasn't said than what was.

The judges didn't directly mention voting for Robert Amador, a prosecutor running for the seat, though their news release publicizing the event encouraged people to vote for him. They also didn't mention Gary Kreep, the conservative constitutional lawyer who won a spot on the bench in June, and was likely their motivation for rallying voters.

The group talked about the importance of the judicial office and the power of judges. Superior Court judges decide child-custody cases and sentences for criminals. The assembled lawyers encouraged voters to make an informed choice. That means, they said, paying attention to the county bar ratings, because one candidate on November's ballot -- as Kreep was in June -- was rated unqualified.

The San Diego County Bar Association has been rating candidates for more than 30 years. After a confidential interview process, a 21-member committee assigns ratings to each candidate. Candidates can be rated as “well-qualified,” “qualified” or “lacking qualifications.” A “lacking qualifications” rating shows a deficiency in at least one of 19 criteria.

The bar rated Amador as “well-qualified.” His opponent, private practicing attorney Jim Miller Jr., was rated as “lacking qualifications.” Kreep’s opponent in the primary, prosecutor Garland Peed, was rated as well-qualified.

But Kreep's victory wasn’t explicitly mentioned during the lawyers’ press conference.

“My biggest concern is, I think, a simplistic one: I want people to cast an informed vote on this race,” said retired Court of Appeal Judge Howard Wiener to the crowd.

“That’s my focus,” he said later. “I’ll let others focus on history.”

Weiner said it’s not “totally accurate” to say the group supported one candidate over another. But part of an open letter distributed at the press conference read: “We will be voting for Mr. Amador, and have urged our friends, family and colleagues to do the same. This is not because of politics, but because we care about judges’ qualifications. We urge the voters of San Diego County to vote for the only candidate for judge rated qualified by the Bar Association, Bob Amador.”

The letter is signed by District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, several retired judges and past bar presidents, and two dozen attorneys.

Miller, who also received a poor rating when he unsuccessfully ran for judge in 2010, has said the committee is biased against private-practicing attorneys and Republican-backed candidates; he is both. Miller did not respond to a request for comment.

“I can personally attest to the conscientiousness and hard work of each of the 21 members of that committee,” said Wiener, a former chair of the ratings committee. “I can assure you that each of the members, both from public and private sectors and different practices of law, bring a perspective to the process that’s careful and thoughtful.”

He could not remember any other time lawyers and judges have publicly urged voters to research judicial candidates and their bar ratings.

“It was a sort of precipitating event from a core concern of having a thoughtful electorate for an important election,” he said.

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