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A Sacramento County, Calif., man is getting the ball rolling in an effort to recall Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Loren McMaster, an appointee of former Gov. Gray Davis who recently upheld state laws that give registered domestic partners many of the same legal protections married couples get. Recall proponent Tony Andrade sent McMaster a notice last week informing him of his intent, the first of many steps to getting a recall question on the ballot. The plaintiffs in Knight v. Schwarzenegger, 05284, and Thomasson v. Schwarzenegger, 07035, wanted McMaster to find that legislators illegally amended Proposition 22, a voter-passed initiative that defines marriage as between a man and a woman, when they passed a law that will vastly expand rights for domestic partners in January. Andrade accuses the judge of trying to “become a political activist and legislate from the bench” with his September decision, in which he sided with the state. “When you go ahead and step outside your box, you’re going to get your fingers slapped,” Andrade said. McMaster was traveling out of state Friday and couldn’t be reached for comment Andrade’s effort has a long way to go. He estimates he’d need to raise $150,000 to collect the more than 44,000 signatures needed. If he’s successful, the self-described fiscal conservative could try to time his efforts to put the question on the March 2006 ballot — or push for a special election sooner that the county estimates would cost at least $2.4 million. But the state’s highest judge says recall campaigns can also cost judges their independence. The power to recall an elected official “is a valuable right of the people,” said Chief Justice Ronald George. But George, speaking generally, contended that recalls shouldn’t be based on a judge’s position in one case or on one issue, but reserved for times when they’ve demonstrated a lack of ability or willingness to perform their duty. “All members of the public have a real interest in having an independent judiciary � rather than having judges who are timid or who would feel coerced by the latest opinion polls or pressure from others in government or the popular will,” said George, who himself survived a challenge mounted by anti-abortion groups when he last appeared on the ballot. Randy Thomasson, director of the Sacramento-based Campaign for California Families, planned to appeal McMaster’s ruling Monday and says he’s supporting the recall. (The Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund also plans to appeal but isn’t involved in the recall effort, said Alliance Defense Fund senior counsel Glen Lavy, a lawyer for the fund.) If there were no voter initiative at issue, appealing a ruling would be enough, Thomasson said. But, “any judge that rejects the vote of the people is setting himself up to be rejected by voters.” Attorney General Bill Lockyer, whose office successfully defended the state laws before McMaster, condemned any attempts to recall the judge in a statement Friday. “Our system of government cannot function the way our nation’s founders intended if the courts are reduced to being political weathervanes.” One of the most famously successful efforts to kick a jurist off the bench came in 1986 when voters removed Chief Justice Rose Bird and two colleagues. But such efforts often fail, too. In 1996 then-Orange County, Calif., Superior Court Judge Nancy Wieben Stock became the target of an unsuccessful recall campaign after she awarded O.J. Simpson, who’d been acquitted of killing his ex-wife, custody of their children. In 1998, Chief Justice George and Justice Ming Chin were targeted because they voted to strike down a state law requiring minors to obtain parental consent for abortions, but both won their retention elections. Some Marin County, Calif., residents tried to recall three superior court judges there in 2000, but they didn’t gather enough signatures to put the question before voters. McMaster may get a brief reprieve before Andrade can start collecting the signatures necessary to get a recall on the ballot. Told Friday that an elections official said the minimum number of signatures Andrade needed on his notice of intent was 20, not 10, Andrade acknowledged he might have to add to the 18 signatures he’d collected and re-mail the notice to McMaster. “I just need two more, so that’s not going to be a problem.” To put the recall before voters, Andrade would need to get at least 44,284 registered Sacramento County voters to sign, according to Brad Buyse, campaign services manager for the county. To be safe, he should collect more than 53,000, Buyse added. Thomasson predicts recalls efforts will be on the rise. “The recall is more popular than ever today because so many people felt good when they voted yes to recall Gray Davis” in 2003, Thomasson said. Thomasson’s organization is also involved in litigation over the state’s marriage laws in San Francisco Superior Court, where gay marriage proponents are arguing that Prop 22 is unconstitutional. If the judge presiding over that litigation were to throw Prop 22 out on those grounds, a recall effort against the trial judge would have little chance, given support for gay marriage among the city’s electorate, Thomasson said. But the chances on the state level might not be so bad because support for keeping marriage defined to a man and a woman is more substantial statewide, Thomasson said. “If a state Supreme Court justice voted to allow gay marriage by another name, or create full-blown gay marriage, they could also be subjected to a recall.”

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