Four Bay Area elected officials, all Democrats, are speaking out against a campaign by San Francisco public defenders to unseat Republican-appointed judges in this year’s elections.
“I was surprised at this unprecedented move,” Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, said Tuesday about last week's announcement of the campaign by four deputy public defenders. Expressing concern about the “politicization of the bench,” Chiu said the four Superior Court judges — Curtis Karnow, Cynthia Ming-mei Lee, Andrew Cheng and Jeffrey Ross — are models of “integrity, competence and compassion.”
State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, said Cheng was his mentor in the city attorney’s office before being appointed to the bench in 2009 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“This whole notion that these are ‘Republican appointees’ is absurd,” Wiener said, noting that all four judges are registered Democrats. He said the public defenders “have every right in the world to run,” but added, “It concerns me that one public defender’s office is trying to take out four judges in one fell swoop.”
They were joined by Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, and State Board of Equalization member Fiona Ma, a former Democratic assemblywoman who is running for state treasurer in June.
The challengers are Nicole Solis, who is running against Ross; Maria Evangelista, opposing Karnow; Kwixuan Maloof, who is running against Lee; and Phoenix Street, who is seeking Cheng’s seat. All are veterans of the public defender’s office. Also running against Lee is Elizabeth Zareh, an attorney and San Francisco property assessment commissioner who is not part of the defense lawyers’ campaign.
Incumbent judges are rarely challenged, and instead are usually re-elected automatically to six-year terms without having to appear on the ballot. Of the 13 Superior Court judges in San Francisco, only Karnow, Lee, Cheng and Ross have opponents in June.
All four have drawn support from the current presiding judge, Teri Jackson, an appointee of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, and the assistant presiding judge, Garrett Wong, a Schwarzenegger appointee. They issued a statement saying the four judges were “extremely well respected by their peers” and “have presided over every case with fairness, impartiality and consideration of every person that comes before them.”