Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Alameda County voters elect country's first transgender judge


Victoria Kolakowski
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Transgender judicial candidate Victoria Kolakowski made history Tuesday night, becoming the country's first out transgender judge.

According to unofficial returns Wednesday morning, Kolakowski had garnered 115,570 votes or 50 percent of the total, giving her a 3,329-vote lead over her opponent, Alameda County Deputy District Attorney John Creighton, for the Alameda County Superior Court's Office #9.

With an unknown number of ballots remaining to be counted, Creighton has yet to concede the race and a final count isn't expected until Friday at the earliest. But Kolakowski was cautiously optimistic that her lead would hold and she would be sworn into office in early January.

"I've got the lead and it looks really good, but it is not 100 percent. It is not in the bag yet," Kolakowski told the Bay Area Reporter early Wednesday morning. "When the final votes are counted, I think I will have won."

Yet the congratulatory calls were already coming in and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which helped Kolakowski raise money for her campaign, featured her on a call with its major donors Wednesday.

Her campaign had attracted national attention, with the mainstream media playing up the history-making potential of her campaign. But Kolakowski said voters paid little attention to her transgender status and were more focused on her resume.

"If you look at the election coverage from the San Francisco Chronicle and Oakland Tribune it makes it sound like I ran as the transgender candidate in the race. That is not why people voted for me and not why people didn't vote for me," said Kolakowski, the wife of B.A.R. news editor Cynthia Laird. "People made their decisions based on who they thought had the best experience and was the best fit for the job."

It was the second time Kolakowski had sought a seat on the local bench. An administrative law judge for the state Public Utilities Commission, Kolakowski pointed to the support she received from progressive groups such as the Sierra Club and Equality California, the statewide LGBT advocacy group, in helping her overcome the financial advantage Creighton had in the race.

EQCA, in particular, made the race a top priority this year, urging its members to not only donate but also volunteer for Kolakowski.

"Really, it's been the strong support of all these different organizations that have endorse

Judge Richard Ulmer. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
d me, in particular Equality California and the Victory Fund. Equality California was doing phone banking and robocalls. They really stepped up to the bat," said Kolakowski.

Another judicial candidate with strong backing from EQCA, openly gay attorney Michael Nava, failed to capture a seat Tuesday night on the San Francisco County Superior Court. While he had blocked sitting Judge Richard Ulmer from retaining his seat on the court in the June primary, Nava was unable to hold on to his frontrunner status Tuesday night.

According to unofficial returns Wednesday, Ulmer won the race with 60,129 votes or 52 percent of the total vote compared to Nava's 54,927 votes or 47.74 percent.

Following Ulmer's second place finish in June, his colleagues on the local bench launched a relentless campaign to see that Ulmer retain his seat. They tried to strip Nava of his endorsement from the local Democratic Party, while the court's LGBT members came out forcefully for Ulmer, arguing he was a competent and capable judge who deserved the post.

Ulmer also targeted LGBT voters during the runoff campaign, playing up his involvement in a lawsuit against the California Youth Authority on behalf of both straight and gay youth. He also received an assist from his lesbian sister and her partner, who joined him on the campaign trail.

Nava's boss, California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno, faired better Tuesday. Moreno, along with fellow Justice Ming Chin and newly appointed Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, easily retained their seats on the state's highest court.

According to unofficial returns Wednesday morning, all three justices had garnered more than 65 percent of the vote.

Although Chin joined in the court's minority ruling in 2008 against allowing same-sex couples to marry and was part of the majority decision in 2009 upholding Proposition 8, the voter-approved constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in California, a campaign to oust him off the court failed to materialize this year.

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