Those who want to pass judgment on others too often need the power, and those who need the power ought not to be trusted with it.
— Gerry Spence
When somebody runs for judge around here it’s nothing but a popularity contest for the voters. Unless you happen to know the candidate personally — and therefore can reasonably expect some kind of access or even leniency for your family and friends in future legal cases — there is no way to find out what kind of person you are voting for or against. That’s because candidates for judge do not have to — they’re even forbidden to — say how they’d rule in any given case, real or hypothetical. No other candidate for public office enjoys this kind of pig-in-a-poke protection.
It is therefore a waste of time to interview candidates for judge.
I learned this the hard way back in 2010 when Judge Ann Moorman was running. I met her at a reception at Lauren’s Restaurant in Boonville. Even the soft pitch questions I lobbed at her were blithely evaded by Ms. Moorman who simply replied, “It’s against the rules of ethics for me to answer that.” (She's turned out to be a truly excellent judge, by the way.)
The interviewer of would-be judges is resigned to a burble-gush session like the one Valerie Kim recently held with judge candidates Keith Faulder and Patrick Pekin on KZYX. Which is really all Ms. Kim could do, given the “ethical” wall around the candidates.
Then we have the endorsements, those little testimonials from friends and associates of the candidate telling us how nice this or that candidate is. Again, this is useless information, because, for example, in our report last week on Deputy DA Tim Stoen — arguably the nicest guy you will encounter person-to-person, is also capable of the most appalling abuse of power we’ve seen in recent years.
So all we have in a judicial race is a vapid popularity contest for Mr. Nice Guy, Legal Type. Nothing more.
Now, you and I, dear reader, as registered voters, are sometimes summoned to the courthouse to serve as judges ourselves in our role as jurors. (I’ve been called three times in seven years but never made the cut. My editor, not a great respecter of the justice system, was permanently removed from jury duty years ago because he got tired of driving over the hill simply to be denied the right to serve and said he would no longer respond to summons.)
We jurors, however, do not enjoy the kind of blanket disclaimer called “ethics” with which we can dodge intrusive questions. In fact, quite the contrary, we must submit to the most prying and detailed examination of our personal lives that the lawyers and judges choose to ask us. And we are most certainly not going to be able to submit endorsements from our friends and associates, vouching for how “nice” we are.
The AVA Editorial Board therefore deemed it a useful project for me to evaluate the candidates, based on my several years of observing them both in action.
When I first took the assignment, I felt that while I was leaning toward Faulder — I do not as a rule contradict the editorial position of my paper even when I worked for a conservative daily in Southern Utah, or a regional monthly for the rich people of Rancho Santa Fe in San Diego County — and the AVA had endorsed Faulder, I felt personally that I could cheer as wildly as anyone if Mr. Pekin were to win. But the writing process, by it’s nature, focuses a person’s thinking and feelings, however, and as a result, I am now overwhelmingly in favor of Faulder.
Sorry, Patrick Pekin.
First off, I went to Pekin’s web page and looked at his testimonials. The very first one was from the most appalling little monster that has ever entered a courtroom, Daniel “Mad Dog” Maddow, the former prosecutor who, when he realized he was going to lose a conviction against an innocent man, tried to get the poor guy killed by presenting in open court an agreement (signed under duress) to snitch on some big-time Mexican dope dealers. This was easily the most reprehensible thing I’ve ever seen in a courtroom. Making this document public had only one purpose, to get an innocent man murdered. Pekin could not have worked with this prosecutor and not known what kind of person he was. To accept a testimonial from such an unscrupulous individual demonstrates more ambition than judgment.
There were other Pekin testimonials by people I did not know, quite a few. But then there was also Paul Tichinin, consensus illiterate and former Superintendent of Mendocino County's schools. None of us, of course, choose our parents; similarly, a candidate has little control over who backs him. These two testimonials, it may be safely inferred, say very little about Mr. Pekin’s suitability for a judgeship. We haven't seen Faulder's roster of endorsers but we're confident it contains people most of us would flee.
Former County School Superintendent Tichinin (an alleged “educator” who thinks “niggardly” is a racial slur) probably recalls the wrongful termination suit Faulder brought against one of Tichinin’s pals, former Point Arena School Superintendent Mark Iacuaniello, like Tichinin, a remedial reader and ethical idiot. Hence both their endorsements of Pekin.
So Tichinin’s endorsement seems more about opposing Faulder than supporting Pekin. And Mad Dog Maddow had boasted around the Courthouse that he could easily whip Faulder in a marijuana case, so he was given one (Anderson Valley’s Anthony and Jacqueline Witt), to put his money where his mouth was, so to speak. Faulder beat Mad Dog like a drum, and the Witt's, guilty every which way, skated on out the Courthouse door.
I could find only one testimonial on Faulder’s website, and it was from Sheriff Tom Allman. He’s also been endorsed by DA David Eyster, even though Faulder has gone toe to toe with Eyster on several big cases. Considering how many cases Faulder has won defending people who are obviously guilty speaks mighty eloquently for not only the Sheriff’s equanimity but also to his confidence in Faulder as somebody who can be trusted to leave behind his criminal defense advocacy as he ascends the bench.
We also know that even though Faulder has gone up against many local police officers and deputies in court all the local law enforcement associations, including the Mendocino County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, have endorsed Faulder.
As for watching the two candidates in courtroom action, I have seen Faulder work many times, in a variety of cases, both civil and criminal; whereas I have only seen one jury trial taken on by Pekin. It was a gang case from Fort Bragg, prosecuted by Deputy DA Tim Stoen. Pekin lost and his client, a young mother, went to prison. Pekin says, in an interview with the Willits News, that Faulder’s vastly greater experience — as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney — is not all that important — at the same time boasting that he, Pekin, has a great deal of experience in “handling the toughest cases.”
“The first question is not really who has been around longer. It’s if you are qualified, do I think you would be a good fit on the bench.” I think Pekin would fit better than Judge Clayton Brennan, who has been such a failure as a judge that he is rarely suffered to leave the Ten Mile Court, and if Pekin would run against Brennan I would be glad to take a chance that he would be an improvement. But talking about such vague notions as “good fit” do not convince me that Pekin is anything more than ambitious.
And that’s another thing about Pekin that puts me on guard. He launched into this campaign early, and with such a vibrant fervor that we had to wonder what Faulder was being so timid or confident about — was he even serious? What was he waiting for?
He was waiting, it turns out, because he had more respect for Judge David Nelson than to announce his campaign before Nelson had even announced his retirement. Sure, Nelson's departure was well known in advance. But Faulder wasn’t comfortable with announcing he wanted to replace Nelson while ol' Dave was still with us. I admire Faulder all the more for it, and consider this kind of old-fashioned gentlemanly decorum to be a “better fit” for a judge’s robe than Pekin’s impatience, his rather frightening assertion that even as a kid he always wanted to be a judge.
Now, of the two, who is the nicer guy? The one who waited for the old gentleman to resign, or the one who couldn't restrain himself.
* * *
Niceness. Let’s rank the candidates according to the few things we are allowed to know about them. Let's see who is least likely to kick the puppy. (Circle your choice.)
1. Both candidates are married to their law partners; which is the nicer couple? [Pekin] [Faulder]
2. Both are pictured with their families on their website; which family is nicer? [Pekin] [Faulder]
3. Pekin’s office is in Fort Bragg above Pippy Longstockings; Faulder’s office in Ukiah near the old post office. Whose office is nicer? [Pekin] [Faulder]
4. Faulder has two daughters; Pekin has three sons; who has the nicer kids? [Pekin] [Faulder]
5. Both candidates have lists of people who endorse them. Whose endorsements are nicer? [Pekin] [Faulder]
6. Faulder drives a Mercedes Benz, Pekin drives a mini van; whose ride is nicer? [Pekin] [Faulder]
7. Faulder’s shirts have French cuffs and cufflinks; Pekin’s have buttons on the sleeves; whose shirts are nicer? [Pekin] [Faulder]
8. Pekin is a volunteer fireman, Faulder sits on the Project Sanctuary board; who has the nicer sense of civic duty? [Pekin] [Faulder]
9. In their statements for candidacy, Faulder says, “I respectfully request your vote,” whereas Pekin says, “I ask for your vote.” Which is nicer? [Pekin] [Faulder]
* * *
We hope this little exercise proves helpful in deciding who to vote for because we really don’t have any way of knowing who would be a better judge. We say Faulder because we know him better, have seen him in action for many years. We know that in a courtroom that he's meticulously prepared, very smart and he's always fair.
Pekin's a new guy, so new he doesn't know the histories of his most prominent endorsers, but if he does know and poses with them in a batshit crazy photo on his election mailer, well, stick with Faulder. Pekin's not ready yet.