Superior Court Judge Tom Anderson — up for re-election after his first term — has come under fire for allegedly “light” sentences in some highly publicized court cases.
And challenger George Smyrnos, who has been a deputy DA in several counties, is putting on a full-court press against him.
Smyrnos is being endorsed by the local Republican Central Committee, helping to make a supposedly nonpartisan race politically charged. Anderson is being endorsed by a slew of Judicial officers and many community members.
For political insiders, Anderson’s camp includes campaign managing veterans such as Joey Jordan — who worked for Anderson in 2007, when he beat attorney Ray Shine. On the other side, hard-right supporter Barry Pruett — who danced into local politics with the election of Tom McClintock —has vocally supported Smyrnos. (Pruett’s spouse works for McClintock).
Anderson v. Smyrnos is shaping up to be another ugly nonpartisan political contest in our community — redolent of the clerk-recorder race between Greg Diaz and Pruett two years ago.
The judicial race already is polarizing our small, rural community — and it will get worse before it’s over.
Retired Judge Al Dover — whom both sides respect — is trying to weigh in with some reasonable discussions. But it’s been countered by internal courthouse drama (pitting judges against some DAs and law enforcement groups, among other issues), as well as some inflammatory columns in The Union (that Dover addressed).
Most of the discussions are emotional, ignoring the sentencing guidelines that all judges face, including Anderson.
Though “tough on crime” sentencing sounds like a cure-all — and often is a populist view — our changing court system requires voters to “dig deeper.”
PUBLIC SAFETY REALIGNMENT
Here’s one example: On the surface sending a sex offender straight to prison sounds like a “no brainer.” Trouble is, that under “public safety realignment” — a new California law — there is reduced supervision of specified sex offenders once they’re released back into the community.
“Realignment permits offenders convicted of certain sex offenses to be released without state parole,” as California Crime Watch explains. “These offenses include sexual battery, lewd and lascivious conduct with a child 14 or older, and production of child pornography. As a consequence such offenders would not be subject to GPS monitoring, which is a condition of state parole under Jessica’s Law.”
This creates a dilemma for judges. In some cases, sentencing a sex offender to long-term supervised probation — including no contact with previous sexual victims — might be a more prudent course.
In short, “the battle to keep our kids safe is becoming more difficult with a new law that lets criminals — including high-risk sex offenders — serve less time behind bars,” as KGO-TV explains.
I predict Anderson will prevail in the race. But it will once again tear our community apart — needlessly if voters would dig a little deeper into the nuances of our judicial system.
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