But we're glad he's around.
Superior Court, Seat 12
There aren't many former public defenders on the bench in California. For years, governors both Democratic and Republican have leaned toward prosecutors and civil lawyers from big downtown firms when they've made judicial appointments. So the San Francisco judiciary isn't, generally speaking, as progressive or diverse as the city.
Sup. Gerardo Sandoval, who will be termed out this year, is looking to become a judge and there's no way this governor would ever appoint him. So he's doing something that's fairly rare, even in this town: he's running for election against an incumbent.
We're happy to see that. It's heartening to see an actual judicial election. Judges are technically elected officials, but most incumbents retire in the middle of their terms, allowing the governor to appoint their replacements, and unless someone files to run against a sitting judge, his or her name doesn't even appear on the ballot.
Sandoval is challenging Judge Thomas Mellon, a Republican who was appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1994. He's not known as a star on the bench: according to California Courts and Judges, a legal journal that profiles judges and includes interviews with lawyers who have appeared before them, Mellon has a reputation for being unreasonable and cantankerous. In 2000, the San Francisco Public Defenders Office sought to have him removed from all criminal cases because of what the defense lawyers saw as a bias against them and their clients.
Sandoval hasn't been a perfect supervisor, and we've disagreed with him on a number of key issues. But he's promised us to work for more openness in the courts (including open meetings on court administration), and we'll give him our endorsement.
State races and propositions
State Senate, District 3
It doesn't get any tougher than this two strong candidates, each with tremendous appeal and a few serious weaknesses. Two San Francisco progressives with distinguished records fighting for a powerful seat that could possibly be lost to a third candidate, a moderate from Marin County who would be terrible in the job. Two people we genuinely like, for very different reasons. It's fair to say that this is one of the hardest decisions we've had to make in the 42-year history of the Guardian.
In the end, we've decided with much enthusiasm and some reservations to endorse Assemblymember Mark Leno.
We will start with the obvious: this race is the result of term limits. Leno, who has served in the state Assembly for six years, argues, convincingly, that he is challenging incumbent state Sen. Carole Migden because he feels she hasn't been doing the job. But Leno also loves politics, has no desire to return to life outside the spotlight, and if he could have stayed in the Assembly, the odds that he would have taken on this ugly and difficult race are slim. And if Leno hadn't opened the door and exposed Migden's vulnerability, there's no way former Assemblymember Joe Nation of Marin would have thrown his hat into the ring. We've always opposed term limits; we still do.
That said, we'll hold a few truths to be self-evident: In a one-party town, the only way any incumbent is ever held accountable is through a primary challenge. Those challenges can be unpleasant, and some including Migden and many of her allies argue that they're a waste of precious resources. If Migden wasn't scrambling to hold onto her seat, she'd be spending her money and political capital trying to elect more Democrats to the state Legislature.