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Judging San Diego's Judicial Candidates

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September 17, 2012 12:45 p.m.


Robert Amador is a deputy district attorney in the San Diego County District Attorney's Office.

Jim Miller Jr. Is a private practice attorney in El Cajon.

Related Story: Judging San Diego's Judicial Candidates (Video)


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Among the candidates and issues on the ballot those running for judgeships don't often receive much attention. We found that out last June when Kerry creep and openly disputes president Obama citizenship nearly one election of her curling. A long time and highly regarded prosecutor in San Diego. That outcome generated a lot of public discussion about how we choose our judges and address asking why candidates running for the very important of Superior Court Judge don't get more attention. So today we bring you to mention running for judge specifically see 25, Samuel County Superior Court. Robert Amador is a deputy district attorney was more than 29 years of experience as a prosecutor in the San Diego County District Attorney's Office. He has are present the prosecution more than 230 trials on charges including murder, arson, insurance fraud and being crimes. He has been rated well-qualified by the San Diego Bar Association. Robert Amador welcome to the show.

ROBERT AMADOR: Thank you very much. It's good to be here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Jim Miller Junior is a private practice attorney in El Cajon. He is supported by the San Diego County Republican Party. His bias that he is experienced in civil as well as criminal cases. He served as judge pro tem, that is a temporary judgeship and he has been rated in lacking qualifications by the San Diego County Bar Association, Jim Miller welcome to the program.

JIM MILLER JR: Thank you for having me

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now let's go right to the elephant in the room after that was introductions Robert Amador you are rated as well qualified Jim Miller generated for as lacking qualifications by the Santa Barbara Association, Jim, why should people vote for you of the Bar Association says you are not qualified?

JIM MILLER JR: Well, let's be frank, the Bar Association is a volunteer association. It is not a government entity. They have their own political agenda. No place in history of the Bar Association's ratings have we been able to find and I challenged my challengers in the primary entity find the time for the Bar Association has created a private attorney who is endorsed by the Republican Party well qualified. It doesn't exist. There's clearly a Republican, a political agenda for at least two decades the downtown establishment the Bar Association the district attorneys and the life have been the judge makers in San Diego County an outsider I'm the guy that ran in 2010 I lost another deputy district attorney by 1.8% which was the closest election in history of the county until the most recent primary where Mr. creep as he made mention be Mr. Pete. There's not a lot of people that don't want me to come in as a private attorney. Now, the strange thing

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me give Mr. Amador a chance to respond to some of the things that you said.

ROBERT AMADOR: Well, the Bar Association has an extensive vetting process. You fill out a questionnaire, and you put in there the information as to the judges you've appeared in, in front of, the attorneys you've appeared against and that they send questionnaires out, and you have an interview where if there is any negatives, you can in fact tell them what the negatives are. When I got there there was not a single negative that someone had put in and I had an interview with two top ranked civil attorneys and a formal former US attorney as well as a criminal defense attorney. That is not the most friendly group to a prosecutor, however I was able to explain to them my experience, my background and how I would be qualified to be a judge. And they agreed.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you a question, Mr. Amador. Do you think people should consider candidates for judgeships despite the rating of the Bar Association?

ROBERT AMADOR: I think every person should be evaluated on their own and the County bar evaluation should be a piece of the puzzle. I think when you're talking about this evaluation when you're talking about this process it should be so politicized. There's a lot of people who endorse me. There's a lot of people who endorsed Mr. Miller, but 85 Superior Court judges endorse me. They are the people who know the most qualified, the people who have had myself in front of them trying cases and they know my reputation and they say that I am the person that should be the next Superior Court judge.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have a clip from Marvin Maisel president of the San Diego County Bar Association. Let's see here that and let me go back to you Mr. Miller. This is the president of the San Diego County Bar Association.

MARVIN MAISEL: There is no bias in terms of political bias in terms of what we do now, again in terms of civil practitioners versus government practitioners as I said at the beginning, one, we don't control who runs. There are a lot of government attorneys who run for judge. That's just affect. But we don't have a bias toward them. If the bias existed we wouldn't have so many civil attorneys on our judicial election evaluation committee.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So, Jim Miller why is it that you believe that the Bar Association is biased against you and in favor of government attorneys?

JIM MILLER JR: First of all you forgot to put the caveat that the president of the Bar Association is a prosecutor in our past president is a prosecutor. And Mr. Maisel apparently doesn't know the makeup of our own committee, the subcommittee that interviewed me was made up of an active city attorney who worked with the gentleman who lost in the primary who is no longer in a series. It was comprised of an active district attorney who was previously an attorney general so he's double dipping the pension system must a program now a county program. You have another deputy district attorney on my panel and you have retired deputy district attorney on my panel. Then we finally had one large firm's civil attorney

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You did appeal to the volunteer panel and that was made up of 21 attorneys 15 of which were civil attorneys?

JIM MILLER JR: That percentage even if it was accurate would be a little bit off. Think about it this way---

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: They also rated you as not qualified, the full panel.

JIM MILLER JR: Keep in mind it is a majority vote up or down there is no compromise. Keep in mind that there's about eight or 9% of all lawyers in San Diego County are affiliated with the government, that is taking the district attorneys office the public defender's office, the attorney general's office etc. about eight or 9% on my independent panel I had 80% government lawyers. On the overall panel even if you want to break it down, and there are five or six government lawyers out of the 21, you do the math, math is still skewed matter how you turn it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me ask Mr. Amador, you are a Republican. The Republican party is backing Miller. Can you tell us why you think that is?

ROBERT AMADOR: Well politics is something sometimes about relationships. What happens is that I have never really been involved in politics. All I've done is be a good prosecutor for the last 30 years keeping our communities safe. Mr. Miller has talked about wanting to run for judge for several years and he's been very active in the Republican Party. I think those relationship show that in my throat.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: In addition to the Republican Party Jim Miller you are also backed by tea party organizations in San Diego. What does the tea party want you to bring to the bench?

JIM MILLER JR: Let me just say one comment, keep in mind Mr. Amador did seek the endorsement of both the Republican Party and for a contested Republican race you need to receive over two thirds of the central committee's vote. The only two candidates and contested Republican races that pulled that were Carl DeMaio and myself. Then, all of my lawyers and a retired judge did a vetting process for the Lincoln club. Both lawyers and the judge said I was more qualified than Mr. Amador and produced me to the Lincoln club for their endorsement. Judge voter card which is in independent organization run by Craig Heward average County that's all the judges rates is more qualified. Republican lawyers have their own form gave their endorsement and endorsement of his Republican parties endorsement so I may come down and talk about lawyers and I have the future president of Florida Bar Association and a past president of the foothills Bar Association which is the East County bar lawyers can have differences of opinion as to who may be qualified or not so let's just keep that in check in regard to the tea party question specifically the nice thing that I like when it comes down to the tea party organizations, they are comprised of independence Republicans Conservatives Democrats Libertarians, the most important factor for the judgeship is, are we going to have a judge who is going to rule on the Constitution, as an answer standing of the Constitution is not going to make up the law as they go simply because they are either do not like it or they disagree with it. And to that extent as an example I was just as clear United States Supreme Court Justice Leah spoke your two Fridays ago and I came down and listen to Justice Scalia speak and fortunately was the fourth time I've heard him speak and Internet US Supreme Court topic into something interesting is very difficult but he did it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm going to have to stop you pretty soon because I want to give Mr. Amador and you sort of made a face when Mr. Miller made reference to the judge voter guide. What is the judge voter guide?

ROBERT AMADOR: That is something that Mr. (Hewey) and it reads how conservative they judges. That is the basis for what it is and when you take a look at the judge voter guide he says that he talks to the candidates, he that's the candidates I've sent Mr. Hewey e-mails and I tried to contact him. He's never contacted me and not only that but you can get a rating of 1 to 10. When I took a look at the questions that he posed it is my opinion that two of those questions cannot be answered by a judicial candidate because it would violate the canons of judicial conduct by answering those questions. So that is essentially how Republican are you. Mr. Miller says the most important thing about being a judges will you follow the Constitution, well that's obviously extremely important. But you also need to be fair, you need to be unbiased and you need to be, have an appropriate demeanor and maturity to be a Superior Court judge.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One of the issues I believe that has been brought up in this particular election is whether or not someone was mainly criminal experience in law is going to be able to address himself to the civil, family, probate and juvenile aspects of being a San Diego Superior Court Judge and that is directed at you Mr. Amador. The bulk of your experience being at criminal law. How would you therefore be familiar with these other aspects of the law and how would you be able to rule on them?

ROBERT AMADOR: I don't think you should be a jack of all trades and a master of none. Good lawyers what they do is specialize. And so essentially I'm being accused of, I'm punished because I've been a good prosecutor for 30 years. But as a prosecutor I also worked extensively in juvenile court. I tried my first murder case in 1986 which was a juvenile court case. I have extensive amount of experience in juvenile court and the criminal courts are 40% and juvenile courts 10%. According to Mike Roddy, the administrative head of the courts. And so I have extensive experience in at least 50%. What happens is the County bar asked me those exact same questions and a much longer version of this answer was that the law of evidence and rose over into those other areas. When you're going to try a case you need to have experience and I have that experience. I have the trial experience that Mr. Miller simply does not.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me ask a question about that Mr. Miller you mention your experience in five areas of law; criminal, civil, family, probate, juvenile. How extensive however is your experience in those, for instance, how many trials would you say you've been involved in?

JIM MILLER JR: You have to keep in mind that Mr. Amador, somewhat to his lack of understanding of what we do in family and civil is a lot of cases don't go to trial in civil and family we don't have juries. You have to also understand that in family two years ago the Elkins commission changed how family law and how the courtrooms are run. It used to be called an order to show cause. Now it's called request for order. The specific types of hearings are now evidentiary in nature meaning live testimony decisions by a judge and an order being made. They are in effect a trial on a snapshot portion of any particular case. And when you do a family law case which is the bulk of my practice, I know you have multiple areas area of law or multiple facets they could be days long and we've had the lease loan so when it comes to experience I disagree with Mr. Amador. There's plenty of very very good lawyers who are not just a jack of all trades but very broad-based. They are community lawyers. That's what I believe our community needs. We take cases in, we are solo practitioners, we are small firm people, a case comes in, we learn it. We practice law learning the law from the ground up which is different from the judge.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you have an estimate of the number of trials you've participated in?

JIM MILLER JR: If we are talking about trials entire trials nonjury inclusive, well over 100. But that is the vast majority of those our non-jury because that's the nature of my practice and it's important to understand the difference.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I have to ask you another thing that's comment Mr. Miller one of your supporters says Russell Pearce, a sponsor of Arizona's SB 1070 the controversial Arizona immigration bill, you recently called La Raza organization here in San Diego a race-based group does this bring into question your objectivity when dealing with issues involving Latinos in the court room?

JIM MILLER JR: I would say clearly not. As a practice attorney I have put together, represented more minorities in court than I can count. Understand that also I run a sports agency practice and have been NFL agent for 17 seasons. I've represented more young men and their families of color that Mr. Amador will ever shake a stick at because Mr. Amador has been a prosecutor, he's been putting these people behind bars. La Raza is a membership organization now to El Grupo which if you ask somebody out in North County what El Grupo was that is the big to do that is going on with the ICE agent insider with the Sheriff's Department for (inaudible) former undersheriff is a member of the group was decided to try to use his influence with Sheriff Gore to have those ICE agents removed. I understand that that has happened I'm not going to say I'm an expert in that particular topic but that is what I gleaned from some of the newspaper reports. So when it comes down to it the nice thing I have is that I have experience as a neutral and you have to learn to be neutral. I started in 2001 as an arbitrator with the Better Business Bureau and the same people who, and of course that says I'm unqualified though I'm more than qualified to hear their arbitration since 2006.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to get reaction from Mr. Amador.

ROBERT AMADOR: I just don't believe what Mr. is saying is true regarding the La Raza lawyers and his treatment of them. It was very clear in the debate that he knew what La Raza lawyers of San Diego which is the Latino Bar Association and in that particular meeting he made the statement that was when Mr. Amador did not get the Republican Party endorsement he went to La Raza, got their endorsement and is undermining the values of the Republican Party.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you something Robert Amador. You have the support of really most of the legal community in San Diego. You have Bonnie Dumanis, Sheriff Gore, several judges, Mayor Jerry Sanders, assemblyman Nathan Fletcher but you are in the runoff and apparently it is a rather close race. Why do you think that is?

ROBERT AMADOR: Well there were three people in my race. Mr. Miller sort of his stump speech is that we shouldn't have all these government lawyers. And the two government lawyers in the race received 62% of the vote. So that is a complete repudiation.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: (Inaudible) him in the primary

ROBERT AMADOR: That is a complete repudiation of what Mr. Miller has to say.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay, I have 30 seconds left. Jim Miller.

JIM MILLER JR: I appreciate that Mr. Amador tries to play games with math as a prosecutor which is a nonbusiness litigation attorney he probably doesn't play with math very often but the reality of it is this. Gary Garland, that is a repudiation of cookie-cutter DAs going to the bench. I beat Mr. Amador and our other gentlemen soundly. We need to put more private lawyers with broad-based experience on the bench, simple as that. Our bench needs more.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with the candidates for city the Superior Court seat 25. Robert Amador and Jim Miller Junior. Thank you very much.

ROBERT AMADOR: Thank you for having me.

JIM MILLER JR: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.