Sitting SF judges are winning in race that became safety referendum

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday March 6, 2024
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San Francisco Superior Court Judge Michael Isaku Begert spoke to supporters at an election night party Tuesday. Behind him is Judge Patrick Thompson. Photo: John Ferrannini
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Michael Isaku Begert spoke to supporters at an election night party Tuesday. Behind him is Judge Patrick Thompson. Photo: John Ferrannini

Two attorneys challenging sitting San Francisco judges are falling short in their bid against the current gavel-holders who they argued are soft on crime.

According to preliminary election returns from the San Francisco Department of Elections, Judge Patrick Thompson is leading San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Jean Myungjin Roland, 53.3%-46.6%. Judge Michael Isaku Begert is ahead of attorney Chip Zecher, a gay man, 59.5%-40.9%.

At an election night party in the Mission, Begert said the race gave him the opportunity to see if he'd stay true to his values.

"We can talk about the values we have but we don't always have the ability to test them for ourselves, and this has allowed me that opportunity," Begert said.

Begert said the race also allowed him the chance to test how hard he'd work.

"The answer is pretty fucking hard," he said.

Speaking at the same event, Thompson thanked former mayor Willie Brown for a piece of advice given over a coffee meeting between the two of them and Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin.

"'You are a judge. Remain a judge, don't become a politician,'" Thompson recalled Brown saying. "He affirmed the value we hold for our courts."

Thompson also thanked Peskin, who criticized the challenges last fall during a news conference on the steps of City Hall. At that time Peskin said of the challengers that "it is misplaced, it is dangerous, and we cannot allow it to happen in San Francisco."

Peskin told the Bay Area Reporter on election night that he was "heartened that San Francisco voters roundly repudiated the right-wing billionaire funded efforts to compromise the independence of our judiciary and politicize our courts."

Thompson told the B.A.R. on the morning of March 6 that he's proud of the "by-the-book" campaign he ran.

"During my race, I campaigned as a by-the-book judge who respects the law and everyone who comes to court," he stated. "I am overwhelmed by the support I have received from the LGBTQ+ community for a message rooted in impartial and fair courts guided by law, not politics. I hope the preliminary results in my favor carry the win so I can continue to serve this beautiful community."

Roland and Zecher did not return requests for comment.

Thompson was appointed to the bench two years ago by Governor Gavin Newsom (D) and Begert was appointed by Republican former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Begert is supervising judge of the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment, or CARE, courts established by Newsom. The goal of the program is to get people in crisis off the streets. According to a fact sheet from Newsom's office, CARE court connects a person struggling with untreated mental illness — and often also substance use challenges — with a court-ordered Care Plan for up to 24 months.

Zecher was appointed by Newsom to the board of directors of UC Law San Francisco (formerly Hastings) in 2019 and is its vice chair. Roland has been with the DA's office for decades, and was involved in a moment of controversy during the campaign because she did not report the drug use of her husband, who was also her co-worker at the office, to her superiors back in 2002, as the San Francisco Standard reported in January.

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