Nelson Enters Judicial Race, Could Mean He Resigns Supervisor Post Early

County Supervisor Shawn Nelson at a supervisors meeting.

Nick Gerda/Voice of OC

County Supervisor Shawn Nelson at a supervisors meeting.

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Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson jumped into the race for an open judicial seat this week, setting the stage for a potentially intense campaign between himself, a senior prosecutor, and a defense attorney.

The move also raised the prospect that Nelson, should he win the judgeship in June or November, would resign his supervisor post more than two years before his term is up and thus trigger an election to replace him on the county Board of Supervisors.

Nelson publicly announced his desire to seek a judgeship during an interview with Voice of OC last spring. But at the time, he said he would likely run for judge at the end of his term.

Nelson didn’t return a call seeking comment.

He filed paperwork Monday declaring his intent to run for judicial seat 40 on the Orange County Superior Court, which is being vacated by retiring Judge Steve Perk. The website OC Political was the first to report that Nelson had filed for Perk’s seat.

Nelson’s entry apparently took the other candidates by surprise, with Senior Deputy District Attorney Larry Yellin saying he’s ready to go head-to-head.

“I’m not afraid of any type of battle in a political race. I’ve always battled in the courtroom. What I hope the race is about is people picking between a career prosecutor and a career politician,” said Yellin, who until last year was also president of the Orange County Attorneys Association, which represents many of the county’s prosecutors.

The other declared candidate so far in the race, defense attorney Frederick Fascenelli, said Nelson’s move was surprising, given that he was elected to serve as supervisor through the end of 2018.

“I’m just running on my experience and my impartiality,” Fascenelli said. “I don’t owe anything to any particular group of people.”

Nelson’s campaign fundraising has been at issue recently, with insiders speculating that the termed-out supervisor was raising money for a judicial run through an account named “Shawn Nelson for Supervisor 2018.”

Late last year, staff at the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) ruled that Nelson couldn’t continue to have his account named for an election he couldn’t run in, because of term limits. Nelson later changed the name back to 2014.

However, the FPPC did allow him to keep the roughly $100,000 he raised through the 2018 account, which he could use in his judicial race.

Separately from the state law questions, there are claims that Nelson’s fundraising violated the county’s campaign finance law, known as TINCUP.

Campaign finance watchdog Shirley Grindle, who wrote TINCUP, and a prominent local elections attorney, Fred Woocher, both say Nelson’s fundraising into his supervisor account after the last election is illegal under the county law, because a person must be a candidate in a future supervisor election to raise funds into a supervisor account.

However, the District Attorney’s office has cleared Nelson, citing a secret County Counsel memo from 2008. There’s still a possibility of the question being put before a judge, if a civil suit is brought by any county resident, which is allowed under TINCUP.

The seat is up for election in the June primary. If a candidate wins a majority of the votes, he or she wins outright. If that doesn’t happen, a runoff would take place in November.

Because the incumbent judge isn’t running, the Wednesday deadline to apply for the seat was extended to next Tuesday at 5 p.m. The deadline was also extended for judicial offices 3 and 49, for the same reason.

In addition to his campaign war chest, which had a balance of $162,000 at the beginning of the year, Nelson’s strength will likely be his name recognition among voters.

On the other hand, candidates’ titles on the ballot are considered highly important in judicial races, and Yellin will likely have his senior prosecutor position as the title.

Endorsements also matter, with the biggest-name endorsement in a race like this probably coming from District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. The DA hasn’t announced who, if anyone, he will endorse in the race, though Rackauckas and Nelson are considered political allies.

Correction (Feb. 12, 12:11 p.m.): A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Larry Yellin as the current president of the prosecutors’ union. He left the post last year. We regret the error.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at

  • Debby Bodkin

    I am not a fan of Supervisor Nelson but based on the timing of OIR Director Connolly’s resignation and Nelson’s early move for a judicial spot, I say bravo to both and run like heck to escape being held responsible for OC’s recent DA, Sheriff and OIR scandals. The Board of Supes with the assistance of the County Counsel will sell out anyone they need to save themselves… DA Rackauckas and Hutchens love blaming OIR for their corruption crimes and the Supes did nothing …. IMO Nelson has developed some clairvoyance sitting as an OC Supervisor.

  • Jacki Livingston

    Nelson couldn’t logic his way out of a wet paper bag with a chain saw and a machete. Lord help us all…

  • Cynthia Ward

    Wait! An endorsement from the District Attorney is still perceived by someone as a POSITIVE? I immediately dismiss ANY candidate endorsed by T Rack. Thankfully of late this list has aligned with candidates I already dismissed from my own personal experience so it has not caused any consternation around here. I would very much think twice about a candidate i otherwise thought of in a positive way but didn’t know much about, if they used an endorsement by the current DA. What kind of ethics does this person have to draw the approval of such a clearly bad DA and worse what kind of judgement does this individual show to advertise such approval?

    • Vern Pat Nelson

      Exactly. If I were cursed with a T-Rack endorsement, I would hide it in my sock drawer underneath my OLDEST socks and not tell anyone. No. I would hide it somewhere else, I’m not saying where.

  • LFOldTimer

    Me wonders how Nelson would fare in the OC judicial family after playing a very active role in the Judge M. Marc Kelly recall proposal, especially after the recall ended up being a big flop? Judges generally don’t like outsiders going after one of their own. Remember how many came to the defense of Judge Ronald Kline? But then there might be more to politics inside the courthouse than we know about.

    • David Zenger

      There are bigger problems than that.

      • LFOldTimer

        I don’t doubt that.

        • David Zenger

          The next few months could be fun.

    • Debby Bodkin

      Thanks for reminding the public about the shocking support that most of the OC judicial bench provided to Ronald Kline, before anyone knew the full facts. As a resident of OC then, the least the OC judicial bench officers could have done at the time was BUTT OUT! IMO, Nelson loved to publicly support TRack when the individuals accused of killing Kelly Thomas were acquitted–despite the fact that the whole world watched a video of the officers beating Thomas and Rackauckas had not tried a case in a court of law for decades. Hopefully, the voting citizens of OC are paying attention…. it will be interesting to see whether TRack abandons support to one of his senior prosecutors to support Nelson’s judicial objectives.

      • LFOldTimer

        “Hopefully, the voting citizens of OC are paying attention….”
        They’ve never paid attention before. Why would they start now? The OC lemmings just vote for whoever the authorities tell them to vote for. OC has turned into the likes of TJ. The fish always rots from the head down.

  • Paul Lucas

    Just seems so unnecessary given that the competition for a Judgeship is zero causing the majority of seats to be appointed. If he waited til the end of his term and ran for an open seat which there are plenty he shouldn’t have any problem being elected. To cause a special election to fill his BOS seat is just wasteful IMHO.

  • LFOldTimer

    I want to learn more about Fascenelli. His personal history, career, character, positions on matters that confront judges, etc… It would be nice for VOC to research his information for us. Voters are giving more consideration to off-the-beaten-path candidates these days. This makes sense as general respect for our leaders has declined. The jury is out on Yellin and Nelson. My opinion on Nelson wearing a black robe has been altered to the downside. And I don’t really want a union leader on the bench. If Nelson is willing to forego 2 years left on his Supe term he must be pretty confident though. Stay tuned.

    • Plead5th

      Fascenelli ran for judge 2 years ago and failed miserably. He was given a rating of unqualified.
      Larry Yellin has been prosecuting homicides for a long time, including capital cases. Google his name and you’ll see hi fine work. The fact that he is being labeled a “union leader” is unfair. His job is homicide prosecutor. He also happened to serve as president of the orange county attorneys association, the bargaining group for DAs and public defenders. This makes him well balanced and respected by prosecutors, defense attorneys, and the judiciary.

      • LFOldTimer

        “Fascenelli ran for judge 2 years ago and failed miserably. He was given a rating of unqualified”
        And who claimed he was “unqualified”? The gatekeepers for the ruling class? If the vote were tomorrow Fascenelli would get my vote.
        Sorry. Yellin has been scratched from my list. If he was a union leader it tells me something about what motivates him. I don’t want someone like that with a seat on the bench. If you want to vote for him knock yourself out.

        • Plead5th

          Even if he was a union leader, what does that have to do with him presiding over a criminal trial and being fair to both sides? He’s not running for a partisan office or any type of legislative position.

          • LFOldTimer

            If he played politics as a union leader he’d play politics on the bench. You can’t change the spots on a bureaucrat. Imagine if the AOCDS jail lawsuit went before his judicial review. How do ya think he’d rule? ha. Out of the 3 Yellin would be my last choice for a bench job, as of today.