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This week The Recorder and Cal Law are publishing excerpts from interviews with the three candidates in the June 3 election for San Francisco Superior Court. The newspaper’s editorial board interviewed Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval on April 4. We will publish our interviews with Judge Thomas Mellon and attorney Mary Mallen later this week. THE RECORDER: Why should the voters elect you judge? GERARDO SANDOVAL: I think I’m the best candidate. Elections come down to comparisons. And when you compare my record, my background and my demeanor with that of my opponent, Judge Mellon, I think I’m far and away the better qualified candidate. . . . I have a 20-year commitment and interest in public policy that has mixed the law and policy. It goes all the way back to my years at Columbia Law School. One of my professors, Professor [Andrzej] Rapaczynski was writing the constitution for Poland, and another one of my professors had written the briefs for Brown v. Board of Education. And from that time really forward, I have tried to do the same thing � to mix the law and policy.
CalLawVideo.comWatch video clips of this interview at www.callawvideo.com.

I have plenty of trial experience. I have experience both in civil and criminal law. And I understand many of the issues that are important to San Francisco, not only because the issues in front of the board of supervisors � universal health care, same-sex marriage � often end up in front of the courts, but also because I’ve spent the last 20 years talking to San Franciscans in a way that, really, most people don’t get an opportunity to do. I’m at community meetings virtually every day, and I think I can represent San Franciscans in a very good way. RECORDER: Talk to us about your legal background. I’m not sure if you’ve been practicing law while you were a supervisor, and then tell us a little about the workload and cases you had. SANDOVAL: Like the mayor who operates hotels and restaurants, many supervisors do have outside interests. I’ve maintained a small practice, not for economic reasons, but to continue to hone my skills and also to continue to represent people that I [represent] on the board of supervisors. Particularly communities of color � most of my clients have been Hispanic or African-American, people who I don’t think would otherwise have much access to the courts. And I have represented them in a variety of cases � probate, conservatorships, family law. I have done class actions, unfair business practices � 17200 cases, I have done personal injury cases. I tried a case last year in front of Judge [A. James] Robertson, it was a six-week trial. And I continue to stay active. That’s for essentially the last seven, 7 1/2 years. In addition, I have to say that on the board of supervisors, you are practicing law, because we hear quasi-judicial appeals of land use projects. And so I’ve probably heard between 2(00) and 300 appeals. These are matters in which both sides are represented by counsel. Testimony is given. There is a measure of cross-examination. Experts also testify. There’s hundreds of millions of dollars involved, and the cases are directly appealable to the superior court. Prior to that, as a public defender, I tried approximately 15 cases to a jury. Of course, you know that many judges who are very fine judges had many fewer cases. And so I think I have ample courtroom experience. I’ve been a transactional lawyer at Skadden, Arps. RECORDER: How long were you at Skadden, how many years? SANDOVAL: I was at Skadden between 1995 and 1996. And I think that pretty much covers the gamut of my direct legal experience. . . . RECORDER: When you were in the public defender’s office and you said you tried about 15 cases, were those mostly misdemeanors, or felonies? SANDOVAL: They were mostly misdemeanors, yes. RECORDER: You’ve been in front of a number of judges, then, over your career. Can you name a judge for us on the San Francisco bench, or someone who’s retired, that you’d most like to emulate � a judge that you think personifies the kind of judge you’d be, and why? SANDOVAL: No. I � people often ask you if you have heroes. And I think, along the same lines, the judges all make good decisions and bad decisions. They can be good on some days and not as good on other days. I’d like to take the best qualities of what I’ve seen from all the many judges I’ve appeared in front of and bring them together to be the best judge that I can. But I can’t sit and say that there’s one that stands out as kind of � not a hero, excuse me � then someone I particularly want to emulate. RECORDER: What would be the top three [qualities] on your list that you feel the bench needs more of, or that any judge should bring? SANDOVAL: A judge should be very well prepared. A judge should do anything possible to avoid injuring the credibility of an attorney, particularly in front of a jury, or their clients. I think judges should, for the most part, try to settle cases aggressively and early. I think judges should probably in most cases limit their fact finding, let the attorneys do the cross-examination, and let the attorneys ask the questions. I think not only do attorneys not appreciate it, but I think juries give undo importance to questions judges give. I think judges need to be fair, but they need to move cases along. There are too many cases in the system that are too important, and I think judges cannot give adequate time to the important cases if they don’t really move things along. It’s something that in the last 7 1/2 years on the board of supervisors that I think I’ve actually learned to do quite well. But even when I’ve been in court . . . you see cases where you’re waiting, are taking forever . . . I’ve seen clients that had to take days and days of vacation to handle matters that could have been done in a couple of days. RECORDER: The state Administrative Office of the Courts has identified a big problem for the S.F. Superior Court, which is the backlog of misdemeanor cases and the difficulty the court’s having in resolving those cases. Do you have any opinion about what needs to be done to reduce that backlog and, as you say, move those cases more quickly? SANDOVAL: Yes. I think it starts with the district attorney and the kinds of cases that are being charged. I don’t think any single judge can do this, but the judges as a body need to come up with what they think is appropriate public policy and sit down with the district attorney to talk about how we’re going to handle cases. I personally do not think we should be spending as much time as we do on small drug cases where you see police officers sitting around earning a great amount of overtime, and district attorneys taking a lot of their time for a preliminary hearing involving, you know, one rock of cocaine or a small amount of marijuana. Particularly when there are cases, for example, involving fraud in the mortgage industry right now. Homeowners who are not English-speaking who are being defrauded by the hundreds, and they’re not being investigated and they’re not being prosecuted. We need to decide as a city what our priorities are going to be. And the best way to reduce the backlog is to figure out what cases we’re going to prioritize, and what kinds of cases we can put into other dispute resolution systems. RECORDER: So the idea is that judges could lean on the DA a little bit and say, “You need to push these cases into diversion,” or something like that? I’m just trying to get a sense from you what judges can really do about the DA’s charging policies. SANDOVAL: Well, I would never use the word “lean” [laughter], of course, on the DA. But I think the DA has to understand that the court has limited resources, is going to devote the majority of them to the kind of violent felonies that concern most citizens. And other kinds of cases are going to be handled in a very efficient manner. There are not going to be continuances granted in the way you might have in a more serious case. . . . Generally speaking, the misdemeanor calendars have not been administered in the afternoons, and so having a court where all these cases go, and having a calendar that goes from 8 a.m. straight to 5 � you don’t want to put, for example, one judge in there and leave them in there forever. But you can rotate judges where you have a court that hears nothing but these cases and very quickly expedites their adjudication. I don’t know exactly how it could be done but, obviously, intelligent people can get together and figure out how to settle these cases in a couple of days. RECORDER: Isn’t Kamala Harris pretty progressive as district attorneys go? You’re feeling like she’s focusing a little too much on these small drug possession cases? SANDOVAL: I think when you say the word “progressive” that implies a set of values that I don’t think is really my point. We’re talking about administration, and everyone can become a better administrator. She has not only a very large bureaucracy that can always be administered better, no matter how much I support her. Also she does not have control over the police department, which is an entire other kind of bureaucracy that I think needs much, much better administration when it comes to small drug cases. And so what I am telling you is not I’m not going to take the bench and focus on how we better administrate, let’s say something like the juvenile court. I’ve not had any juvenile cases. But I do have very definite ideas about how we can speed up the process in the criminal court, without infringing on anybody’s procedural rights, so that we can focus more on the cases you hear a lot of complaints about � you know, all the, for example, the robberies that don’t get investigated. . . . RECORDER: Should DAs be worried that you’ll be partial to the public defender side? SANDOVAL: No. You know, the public defender will tell you that most of the ex-public defenders who became judges were not particularly partial toward the public defenders. RECORDER: They say that a lot. [laughter] SANDOVAL: They say that a lot. But I’ve had to wear different hats since being a public defender. Most notably . . . it’s obvious they do not have a very close relationship, a very affectionate relationship, if you will, with the police department. But since I became a member of the board of supervisors, I have been consistent in fighting for more police in my district. And I often find my ex-colleagues questioning me about that. I have been a very strong advocate for police foot patrols, which finally did pass as a law at City Hall. I want more police, and that’s not a view that’s a typical one for a public defender. . . . I realize that violence holds communities like mine pretty much hostage. RECORDER: Is there something about Judge Mellon in particular that caused you to challenge him? SANDOVAL: I chose to run against Judge Mellon to give the voters a choice, and to highlight the fact that I do not think he is a particularly good jurist, and that these facts are already well documented. There was a San Francisco Examiner survey of 4,700 trial attorneys that was done ,,, and it asked trial attorneys to rate the judges in six different categories, and I believe that Judge Mellon was rated in the lowest terms, in the poorest terms, in each one of these categories. RECORDER: That’s a pretty old survey, right? Wasn’t that back in the late ’90s? SANDOVAL: That’s right. And I have no reason to believe that that’s changed. I think if you look at the 2007-2008 edition of California Courts and Judges, the comments regarding Judge Mellon are very disturbing. And although one has to expect that trial attorneys are going to have good and bad experiences in front of a judge, the comments in that bench book are, I think, for Judge Mellon, out of character for the other judges. . . . I also feel that if you talk to attorneys who practice in front of Judge Mellon, and his colleagues on the bench, that my point of view is one that is supported. . . . The other point is that when you look at Judge Mellon’s low marks, you have to give greater weight to the issue of diversity. We’re all very familiar with the governor’s lack of diversity in his judicial appointments. I believe Gov. Schwarzenegger appointed for example 28 Latinos out of his last 304 appointments that he made. Right now there are four Latinos in the appellate courts of California out of approximately 105. There was the very well-publicized case . . . of an individual in San Bernardino who was appointed to the bench who is Republican, and rated not qualified by the Bar, but was appointed nevertheless by the governor. So the point is, you as well as voters need to look at me in context. You have a judge who is not particularly well-qualified to serve on the bench because of his demeanor. On the other hand you have a candidate who is well-qualified, and there is an important and abiding issue of diversity. I believe that is the fundamental issue in the campaign. RECORDER: Could you talk a little bit about your contributor base? You’ve raised a lot more money than Judge Mellon. Can you talk about who’s giving to you? SANDOVAL: First, keep in mind that I’m running in the same boundaries that the San Francisco mayor runs in. San Francisco is 800,000 people. When, for example, Mayor Newsom ran four years ago, he raised $5 million. More than $5 million. So it’s very difficult to communicate with 800,000 people without resources. I have asked a number of my colleagues on the board, Supervisor Peskin, Supervisor Dufty, to help me raise money, and they � together working with me � have solicited contributions from a wide variety of people that we know. It was reported that I received contributions from lobbyists in San Francisco. Those contributions were less than 2 percent of the money that I raised. I think it’s very much a red herring. I think it’s very comparable to what the judges do. They have a network where they raise money essentially from each other. I noticed that Judge Mellon, my opponent, raised $5,000 from the wife of a [California] Supreme Court justice. I am sure that I did not raise that amount of money from all the lobbyists combined that gave me money. [ . . . ] I think it’s a bit of a red herring to talk about the money, because . . . the [gubernatorial] judicial selection process is about special interests and money. There’s a reason why attorneys who represent farm workers are not getting appointed in boatloads to the bench. And as your [editorial] cartoon showed . . . [business and real estate] interests and the money that is behind them has a very strong influence on how judges are selected in this state. So for us to talk about me raising a little bit of money here or my opponent raising a little bit of money there gives the voters and the legal community the impression that somehow the process has been clean up to now, and now here comes along this fellow who’s going to inject money into the process. RECORDER: Do you think we shouldn’t pay attention to that part? SANDOVAL: No, I think you should. But I think you should talk about some of the points that I’m making now. I think it would be silly, wouldn’t it, for some anonymous lawyer to come along and say, “I’m going to challenge this judge. I have absolutely no ability to raise money. I have no name recognition whatsoever. . . . No one knows who I am. But I stand for diversity and I’m going to run against this judge who is now being supported by the entire judicial establishment, including a Supreme Court justice whose wife is going to give him $5,000. It’s just naive. You can’t do it that way. RECORDER: Where do you think it’s appropriate to draw the line, from the public’s point of view, of essentially booting a judge out of a seat through the electoral process? There’s been a lot of talk in the legal community in recent years about judicial independence. SANDOVAL: . . . The prevailing attitude was, when the country was founded, that all judges should be appointed, and they be appointed for life. But as the country evolved, and particularly starting with President Andrew Jackson, there was this reform movement to actually make judges accountable. And that’s the environment we found ourselves in when California was founded as a state. So they put into the constitution . . . an accountability clause which makes the judges stand for election every six years. Now of course the judges all feel like they should not have to stand for election. And you reported quite vividly some of the depositions that were done around a case that revealed how the judges react . . . when the filing period comes and no one files against them. It was reported that all the Republican judges would get together and they would have drinks. And to me that is understandable. I would feel the same way, I’m sure. But that doesn’t mean that members of the public should be overly concerned with how the judges feel. They should be concerned with, “Did this judge do a good job? Is there a reason to challenge him.” It is not easy to challenge any incumbent, particularly a judge. I think the safeguard is very safe, if you will. You’re not going to be able to successfully challenge a judge who is doing a good job. You’re not going to be able to successfully challenge a judge who is a pillar of the court, who is well-respected. It’s just not the way it works. [ . . . ]

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