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Four Challengers Seek To Unseat Judge Gary Kreep After Judicial Reprimand

Gary Kreep was elected to the San Diego Superior Court bench in the June 2012...

Credit: KPBS

Above: Gary Kreep was elected to the San Diego Superior Court bench in the June 2012 primary election.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Gary Kreep next month faces his first test at the polls since his narrow election in 2012. Judicial races rarely attract much media attention, but Kreep is no ordinary candidate.

Kreep made a name for himself in the "birther" movement, which spread the conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. More than a year after the state of Hawaii released Obama's long-form birth certificate, Kreep continued to claim falsely that the president's citizenship was in question.

"All I'm asking is Mr. Obama to do what every other president has ever been required to do, which is prove that he was indeed a natural born citizen," Kreep said in an interview with KPBS shortly after his election in June 2012. "Every other president has done it. Mr. Obama is the first one to refuse to prove it. And that's his decision. He's the one that's made the issue."

Kreep used the issue of President Obama's citizenship in fundraising emails for his conservative legal foundation. That opposition to the president's re-election while Kreep was also campaigning for judge was just one of 29 acts of misconduct cited in a "severe public censure" issued by the state Commission on Judicial Performance last year. The reprimand is the commission's most severe punishment short of removal from the bench.

RELATED: Superior Court Judge Gary Kreep Disciplined By State Panel

Kreep was also found to have misrepresented his resume on his campaign website and in campaign finance disclosure forms. And he made inappropriate comments from the bench, such as commenting on the attractiveness of attorneys in his courtroom, implying a deputy city attorney was a prostitute, and asking a woman charged with prostitution, "Is it you like the money? Or you just like the action?"

The commission's censure found Kreep showed a "lack of sensitivity" to how his behavior undermined public trust in the courts. But it also acknowledged Kreep's behavior had modified after his first year on the bench.

Still, the San Diego County Bar Association in its judicial evaluation process found Kreep is "lacking qualifications." He was the only candidate to receive that rating.

Kristin Rizzo, president of the bar association, said the evaluation takes into account a candidate's judicial temperament, knowledge of the law, integrity and lack of bias. She said all the candidates for Superior Court judge participated in their evaluation process, but that she could not comment on the specifics of how each candidate received his evaluation.

"What's most important is that Judge Kreep, like all of the other candidates, were evaluated under the same set of criteria," she said. "The process is meant to be as objective as possible."

RELATED: Gary Kreep Says His 'Birther' Positions Do Not Relate To Being A Judge

There are four attorneys seeking to unseat Kreep. Matt Brower is a deputy district attorney who has the backing of law enforcement unions, the San Diego County Democratic Party and a number of Republican and Democratic elected officials. The bar association rated him "qualified."

Steve Miller is a retired federal prosecutor endorsed by Garland Peed, the attorney who lost the election to Kreep in 2012. The bar association rated him "qualified" as well.

Tim Nader is a deputy in the state Attorney General's Office. He also has the backing of several elected officials and a handful of lawyers' clubs. The bar association rated him as "well qualified."

And Victor Torres is a civil rights attorney with support from several lawyers associations and both liberal and conservative groups. He's the only candidate in the race that got the bar association's highest evaluation: "exceptionally qualified." He has also out-raised all other candidates in the race.

Kreep, who has been endorsed by the San Diego County Republican Party, does not appear to have a campaign website. Campaign finance disclosures show he is spending heavily on "slate mailers," where candidates can pay for their names to appear on endorsement cards.

Kreep's candidate's statement in the sample ballot has an indirect rebuttal to his own censure: "All parties to all cases deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. I insist upon that in my courtroom."

San Diego Superior Court Judge Gary Kreep faces his first test at the polls since his narrow election in 2012. Four other attorneys are challenging his seat on the bench after Kreep was severely reprimanded by a state commission.

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