Editorial: Retain SF Judges Begert, Thompson

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday February 7, 2024
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San Francisco Superior Court Judges Michael Isaku Begert, left, and Patrick Thompson. Photos: Courtesy the candidates
San Francisco Superior Court Judges Michael Isaku Begert, left, and Patrick Thompson. Photos: Courtesy the candidates

San Francisco voters should retain Superior Court Judges Michael Isaku Begert and Patrick Thompson. The only reason they are being challenged is because a group called Safer San Francisco, which in 2022 advocated for the recall of former district attorney Chesa Boudin and supported the election of Brooke Jenkins following her appointment by Mayor London Breed, has determined that these two judges — both men of color — have earned a "failing" grade due to actions they have allegedly taken in a handful of cases. We don't think cherry-picking court cases is a good way to elect judges. And there's often a lot more that goes into decisions made by judges than people sitting in a courtroom may realize.


Begert was appointed by Republican former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger 13 years ago. A straight ally, Begert currently serves as supervising judge of the Community Assistance Recovery and Empowerment, or CARE, court program established by Governor Gavin Newsom. In his Bay Area Reporter endorsement questionnaire, Begert noted that San Francisco County was one of the first seven counties to implement the CARE court program, which is a collaboration between public health, the courts, and the individuals and families impacted by serious mental illness. "I support my CARE court program because the way I run it respects the rights of people with serious mental illness while understanding the challenges of psychosis and advocating for better services and treatment," he stated.

"These treatment courts address the underlying causes of this behavior by connecting defendants to housing, drug treatment, mental and physical health care, and employment," he added. Before the CARE court program was established, Begert was assigned to drug court, community justice court, and veterans justice court. In short, he's familiar with the issues these defendants often face.

He also noted that diversion programs, which are when a defendant is offered the opportunity to complete a program and, if successful, their criminal charges can be reduced or dismissed, aren't perfect. But, he explained, they "produce long-term results which are far superior to those achieved through temporary incarceration. People in these programs access stable housing, which makes us safer. They address their substance use and mental health disorders, which make us safer. They engage with public services, which makes us safer. They obtain employment, which imparts a sense of personal worth, which makes us safer."

Begert also has lived experience concerning discrimination. His mother is an immigrant from Japan and raised five children in a rural community. "As a child, my mother would take me into town with her," he wrote. "She would drop me off at the Woolworth's so that she could shop at the J.C. Penney's next door, and I remember the sales clerk following me around the store because I was Asian. I endured racial epithets at school."

Begert has 34 years of professional experience as a lawyer, volunteer, and judge — all in San Francisco. That tells us he is well informed about the issues facing the city, and works to improve the ones he deals with in the criminal justice system. It's also significant that 47 current judges on the San Francisco bench have endorsed him, as have several retired or current LGBTQ judges.

Voters should keep Begert on the bench.


Thompson was appointed by Newsom in March 2022. He runs his courtroom "by the book," as he has often said on the campaign trail and in his endorsement questionnaire. A Black man and a straight ally, Thompson stated that he has mentored LGBTQ attorneys and served in leadership roles in the Bar Association of San Francisco, the State Bar of California, and the American Bar Association.

"I have tried to fulfill my oath by playing it by the book and affirming the dignity of everyone who appears before me," Thompson stated. He added that his first priority "is to apply the law fairly, impartially, and equitably to serve the interests of our community." He serves on several court committees that reflect his goals of identifying best practices to better serve the community. These include pretrial, where the judges assess tools to comply with applicable law on pretrial custody and develop better tools to assess alternatives to ensure public safety and that defendants return to court; probation, where the judges consider the efficacy of programs and post-conviction supervision; and information technology, where judges consider resources to improve court efficiency and public access.

Thompson stated that he was not able to answer some of our questions because, as a judge, he cannot opine on any legislative or policy matters. But he did indicate when he was a law partner he represented a defendant who was identified as a closeted gay man seeking political asylum. "I worked closely with a gay male paralegal who was drawn to work on the project even though he worked at another law firm," Thompson stated. "Through our efforts, our client was able to remain in the United States."

Thompson stated that he considers applicable law in his decisions. That's exactly what a judge is supposed to do.

Voters should retain Thompson.

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