An unprecedented election challenge by San Francisco public defenders to four Superior Court judges, all appointed by Republican governors, fell short Tuesday.
With 602 of 604 precincts counted, the incumbents held insurmountable leads. Jeffrey Ross had 61 percent of the vote, Cynthia Ming-mei Lee had 63 percent, Andrew Cheng had 65 percent, and Curtis Karnow had 55 percent.
Karnow’s challenger, Maria Evangelista, had 44 percent of the vote. Ross’ opponent, Niki Solis, had 38 percent. Kwixuan Maloof, running against Lee, had 26 percent, while Elizabeth Zareh, a private attorney also seeking Lee’s office, had 11 percent. Phoenix Streets, running against Cheng, had 35 percent.
Takeaway: The four incumbents will begin new terms in January on a court that has 50 judges.
Background: Evangelista, Maloof, Solis and Streets are all veterans of the public defender’s office, representing criminal defendants who can’t afford private lawyers. In their campaigns, they contended they would represent San Francisco values better than judges chosen by Republican Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appointed Karnow, Ross and Cheng, and Pete Wilson, who appointed Lee.
The challengers, for the most part, did not criticize the individual judges they sought to unseat but instead described them as part of a system that has failed to recognize its own biases and has afflicted poor and minority defendants with disproportionately harsh sentences.
As Evangelista put it during the campaign, “If you believe our current system is working fine for all San Franciscans, then vote for the status quo and the Republican-appointed judges.”
But the incumbents are all registered Democrats, and they and their supporters accused the public defenders of trying to politicize the nonpartisan elections.
Judges are appointed for six-year terms and are usually re-elected automatically, without having to appear on the ballot. Incumbents are occasionally challenged for re-election, but this may have been the state’s first judicial campaign by multiple candidates from the same government office.