Two county judge seats will have contested races in June while other bench spots up for re-election are already set by virtue of nobody running against the incumbents.
Judges Joseph Bergeron, Richard DuBois, Don Franchi, Jonathan Karesh, Steven Dylina and Elizabeth Hill have no opposition.
On the other hand, two people are hoping to fill the position vacated by the U.S. Senate confirmation Tuesday of Judge Beth Labson Freeman to a federal judgeship. Defense attorney Jeffrey Hayden is joined in the race by Commissioner Susan L. Greenberg. Deputy County Counsel Kathryn E. Meola pulled papers but is withdrawing them because of a work promotion.
In a separate race, former commissioner and current prosecutor Stephanie Garratt is running along with defense attorney and Daly City Mayor Ray Buenaventura and Christiana State.
For Greenberg, a move to the bench would expand the work she’s done as a commissioner for 14 years by offering other assignments like juvenile court and the chance to be a presiding judge. Greenberg, 54, previously worked in the District Attorney’s Office and said she’d love to do more criminal work as a judge.
However, her diverse experience over the last 30 years is what Greenberg hopes voters consider when choosing their next judge.
“I don’t need to be trained,” she said.
Greenberg’s law degree is from Hastings College of the University of California.
Challenging Greenberg is Hayden who received his legal training at the University of Southern California and specializes in criminal law. Hayden also points to his experience which includes being a public defender, working in private practice and clerking in the district court.
“I have a very different background than anyone else in the race,” Hayden said.
Hayden, 55, said serving as a judge is a way to give back to the community beyond his current advocacy for individual clients.
In California, judges serve six-year terms and are elected in nonpartisan races. Vacancies between elections are filled by gubernatorial appointments.
Judge positions are not part of the county government and candidates are not limited to what office they seek by where they live and need not even reside in San Mateo County. Each bench hopeful must select which office he or she is seeking which, in this race, are the two open — one by Freeman’s ascension and the other by the retirement of Judge Craig Parsons.
Hayden opted for Freeman’s seat on the assumption she would be confirmed.
“It’s really hard to walk away from an open seat,” he said.
While Hayden said he would not run against Freeman if she remained in the race, not having any other candidates ready would have left her seat empty after the election and left to a gubernatorial appointment.
Buenaventura, 49, said a judge is the “ultimate public servant” and that joining the bench is the “ideal marriage” of legal work and public service. Buenaventura is currently a Daly City councilman along with a criminal defense attorney and said Parsons’ retirement provided a good opportunity because he needn’t challenge an incumbent. If elected, Buenaventura said he will bring the right character, disposition and fairness — along with a good sense of humor.
“I see what works in the courtroom and what doesn’t. I want to make sure there is access to justice and make the courtroom a place where people feel comfortable,” Buenaventura said.
Buenaventura has a law degree from Whittier College.
Buenaventura is joined in the campaign with Garratt and State. Neither could be reached for comment. State is a temporary judge in small claims for Santa Clara County Superior Court and the director of intellectual property for a private unnamed company, according to her online resume.
Garratt previously worked as a private defender in San Mateo County and served as a Superior Court commissioner for nearly nine years before returning last July to the District Attorney’s Office.
Both Garratt and State have law degrees from Santa Clara University.
Competitive elections for judges in San Mateo County are not that common. Judge Don Franchi was in the last contested race in 2008, beating out civil attorney Jerry Nastari who had the endorsement of every sitting judge at the time. Many judges first join the bench through appointment, like Hill, who was named by Gov. Jerry Brown in January.
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