Anybody who’s been around this community for a while knows that I have been disturbed by our local legal system’s handling of some child abuse cases — and made my views well-known. The background from a 2006 case I aggressively wrote about while Editor of The Union is here.
I took a lot of heat for shining a light on that case — from the defendant’s lawyer, from the DA’s office, and from some judges — but it was totally transparent. Many of you remember that. My family sure does.
I’m starting to worry, however, about the drumbeat for a sudden effort to recall judges in our county: Candace Heidelberger and Julie McManus. It’s not transparent, The Union already has taken sides, and it seems like an extremist solution without knowing more information. Only time will tell if the rest of the community agrees, but here’s what’s happening so far:
“The supporters of the petition are not yet ready to go public, but said they planned to have the necessary signatures to file a notice of intention to circulate a recall petition by next week,” said a front-page article in The Union that political activist Barry Pruett is pointing to in his blog this morning.
Then the article — despite stating that the supporters “are not ready to go public” — goes on to lay out the case against the judges — complete with personal attacks that go unanswered by the judges. It is a one-sided account seemingly driven by the supporters of this effort (and leaked to a sympathetic newspaper publisher). Worst of all, it hides who is behind the recall. Was the purpose of this leak, ahead of “going public,” to drum up more support for the recall?
At the same time, earlier this week, coincidentally or not, The Union publisher wrote a scathing editorial about the child molest case involving Heidelberger as the judge (glossing over some key details). (Pruett pointed to that commentary too).
I’ve already suffered a few nasty personal attacks on Pruett’s blog merely for pointing to a letter to the editor by longtime resident George Boardman, who suggested that the blame for a recent controversial ruling in a child molest case also should rest with the DA’s office — not just a judge. One thing I’ve learned about the child abuse cases I’ve written about is the complexity of the process, involving the statutes, the DA, judges and the families.
“The most ‘unconscionable’ aspect of the DeMatteis case is the district attorney plea bargaining 10 counts down to two and then complaining about what he considers to be a light sentence,” George wrote. “Here’s an idea: Try these cases on all counts and get a conviction, thereby forcing the judge to impose a stiff sentence or do a lot of explaining. Then you’ll be performing the job the voters hired you to do. The problem here is not lenient judges; it’s prosecutors who expect the courts to do the heavy lifting for them.”
The details are here. On his blog, Pruett went so far as to call me “an idiot.” He also let an unwarranted personal attack by a guy named “John Galt” to stand that I was somehow against family values.
Politics aside, you typically don’t try to recall a judge because of a controversy over a single case, particularly without vetting the complexity of the process. Heidelberger — who is a Republican, according to press releases — was appointed to her judgeship in December 2007 after completing a rigorous selection process. Her competition included the prosecutor in this case, Katy Francis, among other lawyers in our community.
Heidelberger ran unopposed for re-election in June 2010. Nobody raised a peep about her judicial record then.
The other judge, McManus, has been on medical leave since March 3. The details of her leave have not been transparent, which has concerned me, but there are laws protecting her privacy.
Before we jump on the bandwagon to recall two of our judges, I’d like to know more about the motives behind the effort. I’d like to learn more about whether the legal system (not just a judge) are to blame for any poor decision-making.
I’d also like to know who the candidates might be (along with their qualifications), and I’d like to see another robust community debate on the value of appointing versus electing judges. There are pros and cons to both. Too often we let politics and self interest get in the way of sound judgment.
In the meantime, I hope you’ll sign another petition going around the community — the one to keep the South Yuba River and Malakoff Diggins state parks open. This has been a real bipartisan effort for a needed cause. The campaign is going very successfully.