Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Judging Alameda County Superior Court candidates on their rhetoric

Judicial candidate Barbara Thomas
When San Mateo Deputy Mayor David Lim played a recording last week of a sobbing renter, landlords at the council meeting mocked her dire predicament. Lim, who is also an Alameda County deputy attorney running this June for a seat on the Alameda County Superior Court, was heckled by some landlords for playing the voice mail perceived as political grandstanding.

"It makes me wonder if the renters are right when they say some of these landlords have no heart," said Lim, according to the Mercury News.

The scene is a stark contrast to the public stance taken by one of Lim’s opponents for the Superior Court seat being vacated by the retiring Judge Lawrence Appel.

Attorney Barbara Thomas has registered support for the other end of the Bay Area crisis. Starting last fall, Thomas, a former Alameda council member, has often spoken strongly in favor of landlords’ rights in Alameda, a city where tenants have successfully formed a unified voice in enacting stronger rent stabilization protections.

Thomas, has gone as far as threatened the Alameda City Council on several occasions with lawsuits alleging the rent-related legislation was illegal. Her criticisms have all occurred during public meetings.

The declaration has raised questions of whether Thomas’s positions may form the basis for arguing bias related to any landlord and tenant disputes she may preside over, if elected to the bench.

Unlike typical political campaigns, judicial candidates theoretically operate under a unique honor system. For instance, attacking your opponents is frowned upon and voicing specific opinions on issues is forbidden.

Thomas’s clear opposition to an highly politicized issue in the county and the courts, however, may violate the State Bar of California’s Judicial Code of Ethics pertaining to candidates.

Canon Five of the code reads, “A judge or candidate for judicial office shall not engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary.”

While an argument came be made for Thomas’s rhetoric crossing over into the political sphere, stating a case for election without offering some indication of your viewpoint is often like walking a tightrope between not enough information and too much.

Earlier this month, Scott Jackson told an Democratic endorsement caucus that he clearly opposed any legislation that discriminates against the LGBT community. Jackson said he “whole-heartedly disagreed” with a recent law requiring residents in North Carolina to use the public restrooms that correspond with the sex on their identification card. Lim expressed the same sentiment but without a declaration.