Incumbent Superior Court Judge Warren Stracener called accusations that he’s exaggerated his experience “quibbling and nonsense … a manufactured issue,” after a recent candidate forum.
He also had some sharp comments on the judicial vetting process in El Dorado County, suggesting that judge candidates who solicit endorsements and campaign contributions from local lawyers and judges jeopardize their judicial independence.
None of that came up during a sparsely attended League of Women Voters candidate forum between Stracener and challengers Joseph Hoffman and Stephen Valentine in El Dorado Hills on May 17. But the incumbent was eager to set the record straight with Village Life afterward.
Stracener was appointed to the Superior Court bench in 2010 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to fill a newly created superior court seat.
The appointment bypassed a long-standing local vetting process for judicial candidates, a fact that he claims puts him at odds with the local legal establishment, despite the real-world vetting he experienced while litigating high-profile cases for the Schwarzenegger administration.
“They had seven years with me and took a long look before they appointed me, but I didn’t pass through the locals up here,” he said. “It’s a local process and they want their guy on the bench.”
Stracener insists he hasn’t solicited any endorsements or money locally. “I don’t owe anything to anyone up here,” he said. “If you have a case in litigation and you learned that the opposing attorney gave the judge $1,000, how would you feel?
“It’s a matter of judicial independence,” he said.
Greg Jones, who is Hoffman’s publicist, countered, “What about all those Sacramento attorneys that have endorsed him? They’re up here all the time.”
Stracener took the bench in January 2011 and has spent the last 17 months in delinquency, dependency and traffic court.
He’s been criticized by local attorneys for exaggerating the total number of cases he’s handled in that time. Fellow Superior Court Judge Douglas Phimister, who has endorsed Hoffman, joined the chorus in a May 9 letter to the Mountain Democrat editor, alleging that court records don’t back up Stracener’s claims.
Village Life reported Stracener telling a local Tea Party group in March that he’d heard more than 2,000 “matters” in dependency and delinquency court.
Stracener explained last week that he arrived at 2,000 by extrapolation. He hears between 25 and 35 “matters” per week, he said. “Multiply that times the 17 months I’ve been on the job.”
His opponents have pointed out that many of those “matters” are the same cases.
“They don’t understand how dependency works,” countered Stracener. “It’s not like a civil case where they come back for separate motions.” Each stage of the process has separate orders, proceedings, and legal issues, he said. “That’s why I use the term ‘matter.’”
Supreme Court appearance
Stracener said semantics are also to blame for recent questions about his claim that he’s appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court in “Cummings vs. Connell,” a highlight of his legal resume.
He represented state Director of Personnel Administration Marty Morgenstern, one of three defendants in the case, and “won it on papers,” he said.
“People assume ‘appearance’ means oral argument,” he said, but the vast majority of non-criminal cases are “decided on papers” in an “appearance by written brief.”
“You don’t have to go in and argue,” he added. “I argued and won it at trial, then won it on papers in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and, eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court.”
District Attorney Vern Pierson, a Hoffman supporter, isn’t buying it. Reached by phone, he called Stracener’s definition of appearance “very misleading — It’s like buying a horse and saying you are a cowboy.”
Stracener was displeased with the tenor of the current campaign, which suffered another image blow when the recent “judge shoot out” was canceled shortly after it was announced. During the forum Stracener first said he never agreed to the charity event, then said he thought he was simply signing at the Republican Women’s meeting where the challenge was made.
“Since when does a Republican Women’s sign-in sheet ask for the caliber of your weapon?” asked Valentine.
Stracener called the actions of his opponents’ supporters “unconscionable in terms of a judge’s race,” he said. “The real issue is that I’ve made thousands of decisions and not one has been overturned.”
In his letter to the editor, Phimister took Stracener to task on that claim as well: “The Court of Appeal directed him to correct his conclusion regarding a case he had decided or they would do it for him.”
Phimister also states: “… from the beginning he was obsessed with the possibility of being reversed.” He concludes “Even the Court of Appeal and the State Supreme Court get reversed. The secret to never being reversed is to never make a decision.”