In Rare Move, County Prosecutor Runs Against Sitting Judge

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Orange County judicial elections are usually low-key affairs.  Incumbent judges typically get re-elected, and when there’s an open seat, prosecutors tend to have the upper hand.

But the upcoming re-election of a Superior Court judge has taken an uncommon twist, after a county prosecutor jumped into the race – and picked up a major endorsement from her colleagues.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Karen Schatzle is challenging Judge Scott Steiner for his seat next year, following revelations in 2013 that Steiner had sex in his chambers with an intern and an attorney.

The state’s Commission on Judicial Performance officially rebuked Steiner for those actions, as well as his efforts to help one of the women get a job with the DA’s office.

In a boost to her bid for the seat, Schatzle won the endorsement of the Association of Orange County Deputy District Attorneys, which represents most county prosecutors.

“Karen Schatzle has devoted her career to public service and public safety as a Deputy District Attorney and a Probation Officer. Her respect for the integrity of the justice system and the role of a judicial officer makes her the best candidate for this seat,” the union’s political action committee wrote in their announcement of the endorsement.

Asked if Steiner’s reprimand played a role in the endorsement decision, committee chairman and Senior Deputy District Attorney Robert Mestman responded that the committee evaluates every candidate on “case by case basis” and in this situation believes that Schatzle “is the best candidate.”

Steiner could not be reached Tuesday afternoon.

It’s unclear when the last time was that a prosecutor ran against a sitting judge in Orange County.

A deputy DA hasn’t challenged an incumbent Orange County Superior Court judge since at least 1986, according to the county’s top elections official, Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley.

Steiner was a deputy district attorney when he ran unopposed for judge in 2010, winning the seat outright.

You can contact Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.