Editor’s note: Ahead of next week’s election, Voice of OC is publishing a series of candidate surveys for the various races. Click here to see all of the surveys that have been published so far.

To help voters compare candidates in the June primary election, Voice of OC put questions to the candidates vying for some of Orange County’s most powerful positions: OC Superior Court judges.

Voice of OC reached out to all 24 candidates running for the 9 open seats this year, as well as a reader question about what each candidate sees as the biggest challenge facing local justice, as well as their biggest professional mistakes and how they reacted.

18 of the candidates responded.

To keep the total length reasonable, each candidate was allowed a maximum 50 words per answer.

Here are their answers:

Superior Court Judge, Office No. 5

1. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing administration of justice at OC Superior Court, and what would you do to address it?

Kimberly La Salle: “Covid-19 resulted in justice delays for victims, the accused, families seeking court assistance, and many touched by mental health, homelessness, and addiction. With 27 years’ experience as a Deputy DA and Deputy PD, when elected, I’ll hit the ground running, reduce the court’s backlog, and provide timely access to justice.”

Claudia Alvarez: “One of the biggest challenges facing our courts today is the ability to adequately address criminal activity by homeless individuals suffering from mental health illnesses and/or drug addictions. I would seek to protect victims’ rights ensuring public safety and accountability, while also tackling the roots of the problem with rehabilitation.”

Daniel (Dan) Espinosa: “Wait times and delays are problematic in court.  I would prioritize and move uncontested matters first and contested matters thereafter. Lack of Independence among Judges hinders true administration of justice. By making decisions independently on each case justice is best administered as opposed to a one size fits all method.”

2. What are the biggest mistakes you’ve made in your professional career and what did you do to address them?

La Salle: “As a new attorney, I did not have the experience necessary to understand the interconnectedness of issues facing our community that made their way before the court. Now with over 27 years experience, I understand that to effectively serve as legal professionals, we must understand the societal issues impacting individuals.”

Alvarez: “I believe learning to be a life-long process.  While to err is human, learning from one’s mistakes is key. I’ve sought to correct my mistakes by acknowledging them, taking the necessary measures to  repair any damage and,learning from those mistakes to avoid their repetition.”

Espinosa: “While happy with my career choices I should have narrowed my focus to one area of the law but I enjoyed several areas.  I have now limited my areas of practice, and eliminated family law.”

Superior Court Judge, Office No. 9

1. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing administration of justice at OC Superior Court, and what would you do to address it?

Christopher Duff: “A recognition that the courts are the front lines of access to justice for millions, and an awareness of the independence of the judiciary are crucial to its success.  Judges should dedicate themselves to making sure each person who appears in their courtrooms feels heard, and that justice is done.”

Joe Dane: “The entire country and our county are continuing to recover from the effects of the COVID pandemic. Ensuring equal access to justice is crucial. I have been a judicial sponsor to implement legislation ensuring the elimination of bias and transparency to our court system.”

2. What are the biggest mistakes you’ve made in your professional career and what did you do to address them?

Duff: “I have made a lot of mistakes in my career and they have provided excellent learning opportunities. What matters more than the mistake is your response afterward.”

Dane: “After high school, I worked in the medical field, but switched to the law after joining the Sheriff’s Department and working on patrol. That led me to the DA’s office, to serve as Temporary Judge and to be selected as Commissioner. I don’t regret any life experiences I gained, I wish my path to the law came sooner.”

Superior Court Judge, Office No. 11

1. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing administration of justice at OC Superior Court, and what would you do to address it?

Marc A. Gibbons: (Did not respond.)

Shawn Nelson: (Did not respond.)

2. What are the biggest mistakes you’ve made in your professional career and what did you do to address them?

Gibbons: (Did not respond.)

Nelson: (Did not respond.)

Superior Court Judge, Office No. 21

1. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing administration of justice at OC Superior Court, and what would you do to address it?

Erin Beltran Rowe: “The biggest challenge is diversity.  The strength of our community lies with our different cultures and experiences.  Although the bench is evolving, there are few female judges of color.  As a Latina, I would provide equal access to justice and reflect the diversity of Orange County.”

Ray Brown: “Ensuring equal access to justice. To address that problem, I would be attentive to litigants, respond directly to their issues and arguments, and act with humility and judicial decorum in the hopes that ultimately they leave the court feeling like they were heard, were treated fairly, and understood the outcome.”

2. What are the biggest mistakes you’ve made in your professional career and what did you do to address them?

Rowe: “When working with victims, it can be difficult not to become emotionally invested.  As a prosecutor, you apply the facts to the law, and I have learned to balance objectivity with compassion.  As a judge, I would apply those same principles to ensure fairness, integrity, and due process for all.”

Brown: “Over the last 29 years, there were cases I accepted that I probably shouldn’t have taken in retrospect or jobs I took that ultimately were not a good fit, but I don’t regret them because the clients needed a zealous advocate and the jobs helped me develop as an attorney.”

Superior Court Judge, Office No. 22

1. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing administration of justice at OC Superior Court, and what would you do to address it?

Fred Fascenelli: “Our Justice system, Civil, Criminal, Probate and Family Law, requires public participation. Understanding our society of individuals, who serve the court in its endeavors, are obligated to loved ones who likewise depend on their service. Judges need to practice flexibility with their demands on those who serve the court’s call.”

Craig E. Kleffman: (Did not respond.)

Brahim Baytieh: “The continued implementation of substantive and effective measures to guarantee true access to justice for all members of our society, especially those from underrepresented and marginalized communities.  If given the opportunity, I will advocate for expanding mediation programs and collaborative courts where the rights of victims are respected and upheld.”

2. What are the biggest mistakes you’ve made in your professional career and what did you do to address them?

Fascenelli: “Professionally, I should have begun my public service earlier in my career. One I became an attorney I have made a point to listen to those who need legal assistance.”

Kleffman: (Did not respond.)

Baytieh: “Underestimating the importance of keeping up with technological changes on the presentation of evidence in the courtroom.  Underestimating the long-term positive impact of collaborative courts on reducing the recidivism rate and creating tangible rehabilitation incentives.  I addressed these mistakes by seeking additional technology training and continuing to learn about collaborative courts.”

Superior Court Judge, Office No. 28

1. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing administration of justice at OC Superior Court, and what would you do to address it?

Eric Scarbrough: “The biggest challenge for bench officers in the current climate is ensuring a complete separation of political influence from any judicial rulings.  To help encourage the public’s trust in our legal system, I will work hard to ensure my judicial rulings are based on the law and not politics.”

Jessica Cha: “The biggest challenge facing our Court is staffing. Our courts have been short staffed since Covid and I have tremendous appreciation for everyone working to keep our courts running smoothly and efficiently. As Judge, I will do whatever I can to support the staff and supervising judges as necessary.”

2. What are the biggest mistakes you’ve made in your professional career and what did you do to address them?

Scarbrough: “Prosecuting sex crimes and homicides is an emotionally and mentally demanding job.  The biggest mistake I’ve made in my career was when I’ve been so absorbed in certain cases that I took precious time away from my family.  I realized I needed to prioritize my family as much as work.”

Cha: “Before Covid, I took for granted the efficiency of our Courts and everyone involved who played a part in that. I no longer take that for granted and I make sure to express my appreciation regardless of whether it is a remote or in-person hearing.”

Superior Court Judge, Office No. 30

1. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing administration of justice at OC Superior Court, and what would you do to address it?

Benjamin Stauffer: (Did not respond.)

Peggy Huang: “The most serious challenge facing our Orange County courts is remedying the concerns of our communities about homelessness. As a Deputy California Attorney General, I support the use of mental health courts to get addicts and mentally ill homeless persons off our streets and into effective treatment programs.”

Alma M. Hernandez: “With nine judicial seats open it appears that the biggest challenge facing the administration of justice at OC Superior Court is having enough qualified and experienced judges.  As a prosecutor with over 15 years of trial and courtroom experience, I am prepared to get to work on day one.”

Michelle Bell: “Coming out of the pandemic, I am proud of how all of us who serve on the bench worked diligently to keep the courts operational under unprecedented challenges. It is an honor to put on the robe as a Superior Court Commissioner and rise to any challenge the day brings.”

Andrea Mader: (Did not respond.)

2. What are the biggest mistakes you’ve made in your professional career and what did you do to address them?

Stauffer: (Did not respond.)

Huang: “Early in my career, I relied on some older arguments in a legal brief. In court, I was questioned by the judge about some newer cases that were not included.  Since then, I have made sure to go the extra mile in viewing previous arguments through a more skeptical lens.”

Hernandez: “The biggest mistakes I made in my career came early on and were the result of inexperience. To correct those types of mistakes I sought experienced mentors to guide me and help me understand my shortcomings. Great mentors coupled with hard work allowed me to avoid further mistakes and succeed.”

Bell: “I am certain I made mistakes as a young lawyer, but always owned up to them and made sure to fix them right away. As any judge or lawyer will tell you, our reputations and credibility are everything.”

Mader: (Did not respond.)

Superior Court Judge, Office No. 33

1. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing administration of justice at OC Superior Court, and what would you do to address it?

Brett K. Wiseman: (Did not respond.)

Steve McGreevy: “I will partner with stakeholders to help ensure we fully fund our courts including Collaborative Courts that provide alternative pathways and treatment for veterans, homeless, and youth.   Respect for all parties, witnesses and staff is also a top priority.  The OC Bar Association rated me ‘Extremely Well Qualified’ for judge.”

Thomas E. “Tom” Martin: “Getting the public back to court after COVID.  The people need their courts open. Judges Nakamura and Larsh have done yeomans work. The remedy is more work with IT people to make remote appearances more fluid.”

2. What are the biggest mistakes you’ve made in your professional career and what did you do to address them?

Wiseman: (Did not respond.)

McGreevy: “I take my ethical responsibilities extremely seriously.  While no one is perfect, I have spent my career seeking justice, whether filing charges or deciding there wasn’t enough evidence to ethically prosecute.  A professional regret was not working in the Major Fraud Division to prosecute criminals committing economic fraud on seniors.”

Martin: “Not following the technology tsunami early enough. Taking lots of courses in IT and asking lots of questions.”

Superior Court Judge, Office No. 45

1. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing administration of justice at OC Superior Court, and what would you do to address it?

Israel Claustro: “Crime victims and civil litigants frequently complain of long delays in the adjudicatory process, which thereby results in declining confidence in the efficiency of the administration of justice.  I would encourage either the early resolution of cases or setting firm trial dates to ensure certainty for all parties involved.”

Kevin Brian Jones: “Antiquated Juror compensation/mileage reimbursement schedule, enacted in 2000. Juror attrition is exacerbated and justice threatened. Notwithstanding potential merits of Pilot Program AB1452, legislation required to increase Juror daily rates to, at minimum, federal levels of $50-60 per day, increased annually per Consumer Price Index. Mileage per IRS rates, roundtrip.”

2. What are the biggest mistakes you’ve made in your professional career and what did you do to address them?

Claustro: “Very early in my career, I didn’t fully appreciate how prosecutorial discretion affected victims and defendants because I handled large caseloads.  I quickly learned to fairly and justly exercise discretion to ensure justice and fairness to victims and defendants whose lives drastically change after being involved in our justice system.”

Jones: “The biggest mistake was an erroneous “mindset”.  During law school, I first focused only on my family and earning a better living. Thanks to WSU Adjunct Prof. Ferraro, who reminded students about the true reason for success, helping others. I learned to focus professional efforts toward providing Pro Bono services.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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