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Political Notebook: Out Alameda Judge, Education Official Receive Support

by Matthew S. Bajko

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Tara M. Flanagan speaks to members of the East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club and the Lambda Democratic Club of Contra Costa County during a joint meeting in Berkeley February 21
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Tara M. Flanagan speaks to members of the East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club and the Lambda Democratic Club of Contra Costa County during a joint meeting in Berkeley February 21  (Source:Jane Philomen Cleland)

A lesbian judge on the Alameda County Superior Court and a gay man on the county's board of education have the backing of an East Bay LGBT political group for their re-election bids this year.

The East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club last week voted to early-endorse Judge Tara M. Flanagan and education board member Joaquin J. Rivera in their respective races on the June 5 primary ballot. As the Bay Area Reporter noted last month, retired Alameda County deputy public defender Karen Katz filed to run against Flanagan for her #11 seat on the East Bay bench.

Flanagan is the only sitting judge in Alameda County to draw an electoral challenge this year. Meeting with the Stonewall club members Wednesday, February 21, Flanagan said she has no idea why she is being challenged for her judicial seat. A former prosecutor and legal aid attorney who lives in Alameda, Flanagan was elected in June 2012 to an open seat on the East Bay bench and joined the court in January 2013.

She told the B.A.R. last week that having Stonewall's endorsement is important, as it is "a stamp of approval" from the local LGBT community. Flanagan added that it is important for LGBT individuals to see themselves reflected on the court bench.

Michael Colbruno, who chairs Stonewall's political action committee, characterized Katz's campaign as "an attack on one of our judges who has done nothing wrong on the bench." Flanagan, 54, is one of four out judges on the Alameda County court.

Katz, 60, who is bisexual, told the Bay Area Reporter this week that she chose to challenge Flanagan due to her being fined $4,500 by the California Fair Political Practices Commission in 2015 for misreporting $25,000 in loans from her friend and campaign treasurer Carol Pranka toward her 2012 judicial bid.

Flanagan took responsibility for the mistakes and said they were "inadvertent." But Katz told the B.A.R. the errors weren't "a technicality" and shouldn't have occurred.

"The fact she didn't know this is wrong is troubling to say the least. She went on to claim she never bothered to look up the law on the FPPC website, that is unacceptable," said Katz. "Judges have to make tough decisions every day. They have to know the law or look it up. They are charged with upholding basic principles, and given her record, I think the people of Alameda County deserve better."

Katz and her husband live in Oakland and have twin sons in their early 20s. The New York City native moved to San Francisco in 1982 and earned her law degree from UC Hastings College of the Law.

Since leaving the public defender's office Katz has volunteered her time as a reading tutor to children in East Oakland and coached mock trial at the high school level. She has thought about running to be a judge for several years and became serious about doing so last month.

"Why do I want to be a judge? Because I still want to serve," said Katz. "It is something I am uniquely suited to do."

With only two candidates in the race, whoever wins the most votes come June will be declared the victor. Flanagan said she is taking having a challenger seriously.

"No one should take anything for granted and I don't. I am in it to win it," said Flanagan.


County School Board Race

Rivera, who so far is running unopposed for a third four-year term, is one of the highest-ranking non-judicial LGBT elected officials in the East Bay. He first ran in 2010 for the education board's Area 1 seat, which includes the cities of Albany, Berkeley, and Emeryville, as well as the Oakland neighborhoods of North Oakland, Temescal, Rockridge, and the northern portion of West Oakland.

Rivera was the first, and so far only, out LGBT person to serve on the oversight body. He was unopposed four years ago, and if no one files to run against him this year by the March 9 deadline to do so, then Rivera will be automatically re-elected.

"I want to continue to bring fiscal transparency and accountability for the central office," Rivera, 52, told the B.A.R. when asked why he is seeking a third term. "I also want to keep charter schools in check, especially in Oakland as they have more than their fair share."

A chemistry professor since 1990 at Skyline College, located south of San Francisco in the hills of San Bruno and part of the San Mateo County Community College District, Rivera lives in Berkeley with his husband, Joel Cohen. The couple do not have children.

He is one of three out Alameda County residents serving on countywide boards who are up for re-election this year. The four-year terms of East Bay Municipal Utility District board members Andy Katz , who is bisexual, and Marguerite Young , a lesbian single mom, both expire December 31.

The election for their EBMUD seats will be on the November ballot. Katz is currently vying for the open Assembly District 15 seat, and if he doesn't survive the June primary could opt to seek re-election to his Ward 4 seat overseeing the public utility. Young told the B.A.R. this week that she plans to seek re-election to her Ward 3 seat.


Out Candidate Seeks South Bay School Board Seat

A gay married father is seeking a South Bay school board seat on the November ballot following years of complaints about how current board members are overseeing the district. Should he win, Raymond Mueller would not only be one of a handful of out elected leaders in San Jose but also only the third known person living with HIV to win elective office in the Bay Area.

Mueller, 52, is running for one of the three seats on the five-person Alum Rock Union Elementary School District Board of Trustees that will be on the fall ballot. The district oversees 24 schools educating roughly 10,000 students in kindergarten through eighth grade in several of San Jose's poorer neighborhoods.

Two of the trustees up for re-election this year, board President Esau Herrera and Trustee Khanh Tran, are part of a trio of board members who have ignored calls to resign from parents, teachers, and former trustees upset with their oversight of the district. The other trustee up for re-election is Andres Quintero, who was recently removed as board president by the three-person majority on the education board.

Mueller is one of two parents to formally file papers to run - the filing deadline is in August - and he plans to remain in the race even if all three of the incumbents seek re-election.

"The community frequently stands at the board meetings and asks for them to hear what we are saying," said Mueller, who chairs the district's citizen bond oversight committee.

But the three trustees who account for a majority on the board "frequently vote against the will of the community in ways that don't always reflect what's best for the children," Mueller told the B.A.R. in a phone interview about his candidacy.

Mueller is the office coordinator at Centext Legal Services, LLC. He and his husband, Jeff Leech, who works at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, have been together 24 years and have a 12-year-old son, Tim, who is in the seventh grade at a school in the district. They live in San Jose's Alum Rock neighborhood not far from the school district headquarters.

"Part of the reasons why I think I could help is the Alum Rock way needs a disruption," said Mueller, who had been approached about running for a school board seat several years ago but decided the timing wasn't right.

But after a state audit released last year called into question the board's oversight, Mueller decided it was time for him to run and serve as an advocate for the needs of students.

"Every board meeting about this situation they have not talked about the students and their needs," said Mueller. "I am running because there are so many things that could be so much better."

Among his early endorsers are gay officials Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager, Campbell Vice Mayor Rich Waterman, and Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell). Mueller will officially kick off his campaign at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 4.

The address will be sent to those who RSVP online at http://bit.ly/2EYbv4j.


Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on the LGBT statehouse candidates endorsed by the CA Democratic Party.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes.

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail m.bajko@ebar.com

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