Michael Nava for SF judge

  • Wednesday May 12, 2010
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Michael Nava for SF judge

Two years ago, an incumbent judge on the San Francisco Superior Court bench was challenged in his bid to retain his seat and was defeated. This year, a judge who was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger just 10 months ago is facing his first election and two openly gay attorneys are challenging him. One of those lawyers would make an excellent judge, and so, we recommend Michael Nava for Seat 15.

It is unusual for incumbent judges to be challenged at the ballot box. But Judge Richard Ulmer, whom the governor appointed last summer, has not been on the bench for long. A former Republican, Ulmer, who is now registered as decline-to-state, had previously worked as an attorney at several Bay Area law firms. Ulmer is affable and knows the law, however, that is not reason enough to elect him to a full six-year term.

In our meeting with Nava, he expressed confidence in his decision to challenge a sitting judge, and noted that his career has specifically prepared him to be a judge. Nava, an attorney for 28 years, has practiced criminal law as both a prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer, and civil law as an appellate lawyer. For most of his career, he has worked for two extraordinary judges: Justice Arleigh Woods, the first African American woman appointed to the California Court of Appeal, and Justice Carlos Moreno, the only Latino on the state Supreme Court and the only justice on that court who dissented from the majority's opinion last year upholding Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ban.

Nava's main campaign message is that he is more qualified than the incumbent. Both he and Daniel Dean, the other gay attorney running for the seat, have correctly pointed out that incumbency is not an entitlement. In particular, the California Constitution calls for the election of judges with the intention that judges be responsive to the communities in which they serve, that the principle of judicial independence is more a general policy encouraging judges to be above politics (a policy with which we agree) than a constitutional mandate. Additionally, the current system of gubernatorial appointments of judges can hardly be seen as anything other than highly political. Most of the governor's judicial appointees have been former prosecutors or big-firm attorneys like Ulmer. There have been only two openly gay judges appointed in the Bay Area during Schwarzenegger's tenure.

Retana for Seat 6

In addition to Seat 15, there is an open seat on the San Francisco court, Seat 6. In that contest, four attorneys are running, two of whom are openly gay. Of those, both Linda Colfax and Robert Retana are qualified, but we give the edge to Retana.

Retana has worked in the court system on both the civil and criminal sides and has served as a judge pro tem since 2001, where he hears small claims and traffic cases. Currently, he serves as a lawyer for the Administrative Office of the Courts, Office of the General Counsel, where he handles litigation and provides legal advice and support for judges, courts, and court staff.

Retana, who like Nava has applied to be appointed a judge, told us there are still barriers to LGBTs being named to the bench.

As someone who is gay and Latino, Retana, who speaks Spanish, said it hasn't always been easy being openly gay in the Latino community. But he has been involved with various Latino organizations over the years and in the process has helped to build bridges between the two communities.

Both Nava and Retana would bring much-needed diversity to the San Francisco bench. While there are approximately nine openly LGBT judges, none are Latino. In fact, there are only two Latino judges on the bench; a small number when one considers their growing influence in the region.

Kolakowski for judge in Alameda County

In Alameda County, there is also an open judicial seat and we recommend Victoria Kolakowski. Currently an administrative law judge for the California Public Utilities Commission, Kolakowski, who is a lesbian and openly transgender, has a solid understanding of complex civil litigation. Kolakowski ran two years ago, but was up against a well-connected opponent. This time, her opponents in the race are Deputy District Attorney John Creighton and defense attorney Louis Goodman, who used to be a prosecutor.

This goes back to our earlier comment about judicial appointments and the fact that most of them are former prosecutors. Kolakowski would bring a different perspective to the bench with her civil law background. Additionally, only 29 percent of the county's roughly 70 judges are women, and none are openly LGBT. The city of Oakland has one of the highest concentrations of lesbian households in the nation; the county's court system should begin to reflect that reality.

Statewide races

Some of the statewide races are competitive. For attorney general, we recommend Kamala Harris. As San Francisco's district attorney, Harris has done a remarkable job for the LGBT community. Her office is well represented with qualified LGBT employees and she has taken a leading role in responding to LGBT victims of sexual assault and hate crimes. One of the little-known jobs of the attorney general is determining ballot language and titles for statewide initiatives and Harris, who supports marriage equality, will be an asset in the office as the community moves ahead with repealing Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ban.

For lieutenant governor, we recommend Gavin Newsom. The San Francisco mayor has some great ideas for greening the economy and can use the bully pulpit of the office to advance those plans. Newsom is a champion of equal rights, not only for LGBTs but for all minority groups. Additionally, the lieutenant governor sits on many important state commissions, including the powerful State Lands Commission, the University of California Board of Regents, and the California State University Board of Trustees.

In the race for insurance commissioner, we recommend Hector De La Torre. Currently a member of the state Assembly from southern California, De La Torre has been a major ally of the LGBT community. During the Prop 8 campaign, he was deeply involved in the No on 8 campaign, speaking out often against the initiative in the Latino community.

For our other candidate endorsements, see the box on page 1.

Ballot measure endorsements


Proposition A: School Facilities Tax Renewal. YES.

This renews a special tax for seismic safety and upgrades adopted by the voters in 1990 that is expiring.

Proposition B: Earthquake Safety and Emergency Response Bond. YES.

A $412 million bond to continue the city's program of seismic safety and upgrades on critical facilities such as fire stations, police stations, and the Hall of Justice.

Proposition C: Film Commission. NO.

This is another in a series of measures to weaken the role of the mayor in favor of the Board of Supervisors, which we object to in general as the buck needs to stop somewhere, and in San Francisco, with district election of supervisors, that can only be the mayor. This measure divides the appointment of Film Commissioners between the mayor and the board and eliminates the right to appeal an adverse decision of the commission. The current Film Commission works fine. There is no need to amend the Charter to change it.

Proposition D: Retirement Benefits Cost. YES.

The costs of providing retirement benefits to city employees are spiraling out of control. This proposition is significant pension reform and will result in real savings over the mid- and long-term. It recalculates the formula on which city employee pensions are based and requires increased contributions from employees. This is a compromise measure and is not objected to by city employee unions.

Proposition E: Budget Line Item for Police Security. NO.

This proposition requires the Police Department to include a line item in its annual budget for costs of security of elected officials and visiting dignitaries. It is another cheap attempt to score political points, not to make the city safer or for good government. Security costs are spread throughout the budget, not just the police department, so it doesn't increase transparency either. San Francisco is one of the most international cities in the world, receiving scores of foreign dignitaries annually. Security should not be politicized.

Proposition F: Renter's Financial Hardship Applications. NO.

San Francisco tenants are protected by rent control. The intent of this proposition is to allow tenants who are suffering particularly bad economic times to apply to the Rent Board to defer rent increases permitted under the Rent Control Ordinance until their situations improve. While the goal is admirable, the measure has the potential to create several unintended consequences, including creating unnecessary protections for higher-income tenants, the roommates of tenants who have experienced changes in income, and tenants who may voluntarily reduce their income or employment. We should be encouraging more construction of rental housing, not discouraging it.

Proposition G: Transbay Transit Center. YES.

Proposition G is a declaration of policy reinforcing the San Francisco electorate's position that the Transbay Transit Center at First and Mission streets should be the northern California terminus for California High Speed Rail. High speed rail in California is essential, voters approved bond money in 2008, and a central, convenient San Francisco terminus is part of this vision. The First and Mission streets location has been the consensus of transit officials and community groups for decades. Keep this project on track.


Proposition 13: Limits on Property Tax Assessment. Seismic Retrofitting of Existing Buildings. YES.

This proposition provides that seismic retrofitting of an existing building will not trigger an increase in property taxes on the seismic improvements. A reassessment would discourage landlords and other property owners from making necessary, safety demanded improvements.

Proposition 14: "Top Two" Primary Elections. NO.

This provides that any voter, regardless of party affiliation, may vote for any candidate on the ballot for congressional, legislative, and statewide races. The top two vote getters in the primary would face off in the general, even if both are members of the same party. Candidates are not required to disclose their party affiliation on the ballot. While there is some appeal to a real "open primary" where voters of one party may vote for candidates of another party in the primary, this proposition allows candidates to hide their true party affiliation. A real open primary would provide more information, not less, to voters.

Proposition 15: California Fair Elections Act. YES.

We have long supported publicly financed elections. While this does not go far enough, it is a beginning. It repeals the ban on public funding of political campaigns and creates a voluntary system for candidates for secretary of state to qualify for a public campaign grant if they agree to limitations on spending and private contributions. This is a pilot program limited to public financing for secretary of state candidates in the 2014 and 2018 elections. It is principally funded by voluntary donations and increased fees on lobbyists and interest groups that hire them.

Proposition 16: Imposes New Two-Thirds Voter Approval Requirement for Local Electricity Providers. NO.

This is an abuse of the initiative process by PG&E, plain and simple. It is all about PG&E maintaining its monopoly and eliminating its competition now that many communities are considering purchasing renewable energy at wholesale prices. Their cynical commercials about giving voters "choice," when they know that obtaining a two-thirds majority vote is virtually impossible, is a farce.

Proposition 17: Allows Auto Insurance Companies to Base Their Prices In Part on a Driver's History of Insurance Coverage. NO.

This is another patent abuse of the constitutional initiative process, this time by Mercury Insurance Company, which is providing 99 percent of the funding after having been caught "charging discriminatory rates to motorists who were not at fault in accidents, were members of the armed forces or worked in certain professions" (Los Angeles Times, 2/15/10). It would overturn a law passed by California voters in 1988 to make insurers compete fairly for customers. When was the last time an insurance company put something on the ballot to lower your rates? Never! For your own protection, vote NO on 17.