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San Diego Judicial Candidate Says Rights Violated When Billboards Removed

San Diego judicial candidate Carla Keehn talks to reporters across from the S...

Photo by Susan Murphy

Above: San Diego judicial candidate Carla Keehn talks to reporters across from the San Diego Hall of Justice on May 12, 2014.

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The little-noticed contest for a San Diego Superior Court judge seat drew big attention last week when federal prosecutor Carla Keehn put up four campaign billboards in prominent places along the I-5 and in downtown accusing her opponent, Judge Lisa Schall, of being a criminal.

The little-noticed contest for a San Diego Superior Court judge seat drew big attention last week when federal prosecutor Carla Keehn put up four campaign billboards in prominent places along the I-5 and in downtown accusing her opponent, Judge Lisa Schall, of being a criminal. But the political ads were almost immediately taken down.

The billboards read: “Vote for Carla Keehn...The only candidate for this office not convicted of a crime. Because no one is above the law, not even judges.”

Photo credit: Jeff Powers

Federal prosecutor Carla Keehn, hoping to unseat Judge Lisa Schall in the June primary election, put four billboards around San Diego accusing her opponent of being a criminal, May 8, 2014.

According to court records, Schall, who has sat on the San Diego Superior Court for three decades, was charged in October 2007 with a DUI, but pleaded guilty to a lesser reckless-driving charge six months later. The plea resulted in Schall being admonished by the State Commission on Judicial Performance. She’d been admonished twice previously in two cases that did not involve criminal conduct.

Keehn said the message on the billboards, owned by Clear Channel Outdoor, was approved by the company several weeks ago. Keehn paid $14,000 to have the billboards up for 30 days through June 4. KPBS obtained emails confirming Clear Channel’s satisfaction with the ad.

Keehn said hours after the billboards were set up, Clear Channel Outdoor removed them. She said it's clear there was outside pressure.

" ...With a great amount of power that had them not just take them down," Keehn said, "but take them down immediately."

She said her free speech rights are being trampled.

"It appears that my ability to make political speeches is seriously being interfered with," said Keehn. "I think it’s now apparent about what happens to people who try to stand up and hold judges accountable — that that’s not something that’s permitted in the San Diego community.

Keehn said she's been pressured to drop out of the race from the moment she filed.

"I received phone calls from individuals, from political leaders telling me that if I did not drop out of this race that there would be serious repercussions on my career and also possibly on my family," Keehn said.

Three dozen other San Diego judicial candidates are up for reelection, but Keehn said she chose to challenge Schall to stand up for what’s right.

“I’ve done that my whole life, and I think it’s really important that if one person doesn’t stand up and hold judges to the highest standards and hold judges accountable, that it sends a really sad message," said Keehn. "I have three kids in school and the big message for 2014 is ‘no bullying.’ And you just have to say no to that.”

Calls to Schall were not returned. Clear Channel hung up when KPBS called to inquire about the billboards.

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