Preview of the June 5th Judicial Races in the Bay Area

May 24, 2018

Preview of the June 5th Judicial Races in the Bay Area

Usually California superior court judges face no competition for their seats.  That changed in a big way this year as several newcomers are now challenging appointed incumbents. On June 5th, their names will all appear on the ballot for voters to choose.  Below is more information about those races.   

 

1.         San Francisco County Superior Court Race

Four public defenders and one private attorney have chosen to take on four incumbent judges. The public defenders have publicly announced that they are challenging the four judges because they were appointed by Republican governors. Though the judges’ individual case rulings have not received criticism, the public defenders have generally criticized “conservative” judges and expressed the need for new perspectives on the bench. 

 

The Incumbents

Andrew Y.S. Cheng

Judge Andrew Cheng currently oversees Department 606, Civil Trials, in the Civil Division. He was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009, following six years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and six years as a San Francisco Deputy City Attorney. The cases he has overseen as judge include one involving a record jury verdict for tenants who faced a pattern of harassment and wrongful eviction by their landlord.

Judge Cheng currently chairs the Foreign Judges Committee, working with international judges to spread the rule of law throughout the world, and also works with veterans. He has expressed the view that his role is to bring impartiality and fairness to court  proceedings in order to minimize any impression that one party has an advantage over the other.

Curtis E. A. Karnow

Judge Curtis Karnow currently oversees Department 304, Complex Litigation, in the Civil Division. He was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005. Born in Munich to parents who were diplomats, he grew up in numerous locations around the world, including Vietnam, France, and Hong Kong, before coming to the United States at age 14. Before serving as a judge, he worked for private law firms and as an assistant United States Attorney.

Judge Karnow may be best known for the 2015 City College of San Francisco case, where he ruled that a private commission had violated the law by revoking City College’s accreditation without giving it a fair hearing. He has also authored the book Litigation in Practice, which contains practical tips for new lawyers and gives insights into the way judges think.

Cynthia M. Lee

Judge Cynthia Lee currently oversees Department 503, Asbestos Case Management and CEQA in the Civil Division. Appointed in 1998 by Governor Pete Wilson, she was the first Asian American woman to serve as presiding judge in San Francisco history.

As presiding judge, she created a Veterans’ Justice Court within the Community Justice Center, and also reopened the Dependency Court to serve dependent youth, and hired a Probate Examiner to reduce the Probate Court backlog and serve the elderly. In addition, she created the Truancy Action Partnership in collaboration with the San Francisco Unified School District and child welfare agencies. The Partnership involves going into elementary schools in the southeast part of the City to address issues of homelessness among elementary school children.

Prior to her appointment, Judge Lee was a veteran prosecutor in the San Francisco District Attorney’s office from 1977 to 1998.

Jeffrey S. Ross

Judge Jeffrey Ross currently serves as Presiding Judge in the Appellate Division. Appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009, he had previously worked for Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman since 1999, where he co-led the Corporate Investigations and White Collar Defense and Health Care practice groups. 

He has a long history with the Bar Association of San Francisco, including serving as president. Judge Ross founded the San Francisco Law Academy, a partnership between the Bar Association and the San Francisco Unified School District that allowed high school students to be paired with mentors and serve legal internships. He has also presided over the Veterans Justice Court, which involves helping veterans accused of crimes receive the housing and treatment they need. In his current role, he has overseen a wide variety of cases, including criminal. Judge Ross’ goal is to be fair and thoughtful, and to treat parties with respect.

 

The Challengers

Maria Elena Lopez Evangelista

Ms. Lopez Evangelista is challenging Judge Curtis Karnow for his seat. She currently works at the San Francisco Public Defender’s office as a felony litigation and trial attorney. Born and raised in San Francisco, her parents came to the United States as migrant farm workers. She was one of the first Mexican American women to graduate from Vanderbilt. She now seeks to reform the “broken” criminal justice system, where she believes judges make blanket decisions without viewing defendants as individuals.

Kwixuan Hart Maloof

Mr. Maloof is also a public defender, seeking to unseat Judge Cynthia Lee. Raised in Diamond Heights, he attended San Jose State University and New College of California School of Law. His entire legal career has been working at the Public Defender’s office, and now serves as lead attorney in the homicide unit. Mr. Maloof hopes to become a judge in order to correct what he perceives as an imbalance in the system with regard to the courts’ treatment of people of color. He has seen judges treat defendants with more leniency when they were white. He also believes that as an African American, he would bring needed diversity to the bench.    

Nicole Judith Solis

Ms. Solis is a deputy public defender seeking to unseat Judge Jeffrey Ross. If elected, she would be the first Latina on the bench in San Francisco. Ms. Solis has sat on the City’s pretrial diversion committee, and sat on former Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Criminal Justice Steering Committee when the Community Justice Center was being formulated. She was also president of the San Francisco La Raza Lawyers Association. She hopes to bring a fresh perspective and reform to the criminal justice system.

Phoenix Streets

Mr. Streets is a public defender seeking to unseat Judge Andrew Cheng. He grew up in Beebee, Arkansas, where experiences with racism motivated him to pursue his current occupation. Following four years in the Navy, Mr. Streets attended University of California at Berkeley on the G.I. Bill and obtained his law degree at University of California at Hastings. Like the other public defenders in the race, he wants to be a judge in order to change the system by focusing more on the individual with regard to solving problems.   

Elizabeth Zareh

Ms. Zareh is challenging Judge Cynthia Lee for her seat. In addition to her private practice, she has served as a Judge Pro Tem since 2016 and as a Commissioner for the City of San Francisco Assessment Appeals Board since 2017. As a Judge Pro Tem, Ms. Zareh has presided over Small Claims and Unlawful Detainer Settlements. As a Commissioner, she hears all disputes involving residential property of four units or less.  

She was born in Tehran, Iran and moved to the United States at the age of 16.  She has lived and worked in San Francisco for 23 years. Since passing the bar in 1996, she has practiced real estate, complex business litigation, and employment. Ms. Zareh also works as a real estate broker.      

 

2.         San Mateo County Superior Court Race

Initially, this race appeared to be for an open seat. Michael Wendler, a San Mateo County deputy district attorney, was set to challenge Richard Wilson, former senior counsel for the University of California system. Then the incumbent, Judge Gerald Buchwald, indicated that he would be running again, leading Mr. Wendler to withdraw.   

The Incumbent

Judge Gerald J. Buchwald

Judge Gerald Buchwald currently serves as a trial judge in Department 10. He was appointed in 2005 by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and ran unopposed in 2012.  Prior to his appointment, he worked for the firms Ropers, Majeski, Kohn, and Bentley  and Severson and Werson.

As a judge, he encountered criticism for a decision in 2013 in which he permitted a billionaire landowner to legally block public access to a beach at Half Moon Bay. The ruling was later overturned on appeal.  

The Challenger

Richard Wilson

As former counsel for the U.C. system, Richard Wilson managed claims and lawsuits against the U.C. hospitals and medical departments. He chose to challenge Judge Buchwald in part because he is among the longest-serving judges and had not been previously challenged.

3.         Alameda County Superior Court Race

Although 24 judges are up for re-election, only one judge has drawn an opponent.  Judge Tara Flanagan faces a challenge from Karen Katz, a former public defender. Ms. Katz claims that she is challenging Judge Flanagan due to the latter incurring a campaign finance violation during her first campaign. Regardless of her intent, some have expressed dismay that Ms. Katz targeted the only lesbian judge up for reelection.

The Incumbent

Judge Tara Flanagan

Judge Tara Flanagan currently serves in Department 106 at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse. She is one of only two openly lesbian judges currently serving on the bench in Alameda County. Unlike the other incumbent judges in this article, Judge Flanagan was elected to office in 2012 rather than appointed.  Prior to being a judge, she practiced law at a private firm before becoming a prosecutor in Los Angeles. She later migrated to the Bay Area to work as an attorney for a non-profit that represented domestic violence victims. She then opened her own law office geared toward family law. One interesting fact: she was once a member of the United States women’s rugby team. 

Judge Flanagan has received significant criticism for a campaign finance violation related to personal loans that she has publicly acknowledged as a mistake.

The Challenger

Karen Katz

Ms. Katz describes herself as a bisexual mother of a gay son.  After moving to San Francisco in 1982, she earned her law degree at University of California at Hastings.  She currently lives in Oakland with her husband and twin sons.  Since retiring as a public defender in 2016, she has been volunteering as a reading tutor for East Oakland children and coached high school mock trials. She criticized Judge Flanagan for being disrespectful and rude to lawyers and prospective jurors, and questioned her ability to be fair. 

Kara Wild is an associate in the Oakland/East Bay office. She can be reached at kwild@ericksenarbuthnot.com or 510.832.7770.