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San Diego Judicial Candidate’s Campaign Signs Called Misleading

A Ken Gosselin campaign sign on Del Mar Heights Road, May 21, 2014.

Photo by Amita Sharma / KPBS

Above: A Ken Gosselin campaign sign on Del Mar Heights Road, May 21, 2014.

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False ads in political campaigns hardly shock cynical voters these days, but the campaign signs of a San Diego judicial candidate are triggering consternation in the local legal community.

False ads in political campaigns hardly shock cynical voters these days, but the campaign signs of a San Diego judicial candidate are triggering consternation in the local legal community.

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The signs belong to Ken Gosselin, a lawyer who sometimes fills in as a judge pro tem in small claims and traffic cases.

Gosselin is not an incumbent Superior Court judge. And by law, he cannot advertise that he is a judge. But when you pass by one of his campaign signs in Del Mar, it looks like it states "Judge Gosselin, Law Enforcement’s Choice."

On closer inspection, however, the tiny, italicized word "for" precedes the word "judge."

Gosselin’s signs have left retired Judge Michael Orfield fuming.

"He and his campaign staff knew exactly what they were doing when they were representing him as a judge," Orfield said. "And they have one purpose in mind—to get votes using that misrepresentation."

Gosselin did not respond to requests for comment. But his campaign adviser John Franklin wrote in an email that Gosselin’s signs are not unusual.

"As a rule, I suggest to all candidates to limit the words on their signs to their name—often excluding even their first name—and the name of their office, and sometimes excluding the full name of the office,” Franklin wrote. “Good signage conveys only the most critical concepts with the absolute minimum of words."

Franklin sent examples from other current campaigns. But unlike Gosselin’s signs, those signs do not list the elected office before the name of the candidate suggesting incumbency.

But Orfield said Gosselin is honor-bound to admit the signs are misleading, remove them and apologize. He believes Gosselin, however, has irrevocably harmed his own reputation.

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"To have somebody running for this office which is one of the highest, most ethically balanced offices in the land—to have someone before they’re even elected exhibit this kind of lack of integrity is extremely damaging and should take him out of the running," Orfield said.

California election law bars a candidate from assuming, pretending or implying he is an incumbent. But the California Secretary of State’s office does not have the authority to prosecute election law cases.

"We do have an Elections Fraud Investigation Unit and any voter may submit a complaint or allegation of election fraud with that unit," said secretary of state spokeswoman Shannan Velayas. "All complaints are thoroughly vetted and if they are substantiated, a case would be opened to further investigate."

But San Diego Superior Court Judge Fred Link said investigations of election law violations take too long.

"The truth doesn't come out until after the election," Link said. "There's no way to correct the fact that somebody got picked by voters through wrongful advertising."

A judge ordered Gosselin last month to change his ballot statement after one of his opponents complained that he had misrepresented his experience, the kind of law he practices and his education on his ballot statement.

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