As the San Francisco Superior Court judicial runoff enters its final month, one campaign has continued to raise and campaign big while the other seems content to let incumbency speak for itself.
County Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval, a former deputy public defender, said his campaign had received roughly $110,000 in new donations between July and September, the latest reporting period. His official campaign finance disclosure, which was due on Monday, had not been published by the county as of Tuesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Judge Thomas Mellon Jr. pulled in $25,600 over the same period, according to his filing.
Sandoval appears to be putting his funds to good use: The termed-out supervisor, a Democrat, released a mailer in September and produced a television advertisement that has aired in the city in recent weeks.
He also has continued to hammer home the partisan political theme that has shaped this year’s race. Sandoval’s mailer, laid out in separate green and red sections and featuring a stop sign, called on voters to halt Republican influence over the courts.
While Mellon’s campaign has decried such partisanship, and some judges are saying it has no place in a race for a nonpolitical seat, Sandoval’s campaign strategy seems geared to appeal to consistently Democratic San Francisco.
In an interview Tuesday, Sandoval defended his emphasis on party politics. He said a person’s political affiliation reflects his or her values and that the route whereby lawyers come to the bench is already fraught with political implications.
“People who say that the race has become too politicized are conveniently ignoring the fact that the appointment process is extremely political, and only those with an inordinate amount of influence in Sacramento have a strong chance of getting appointed judge,” he said.
Mellon was appointed in 1994 by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson. He did not return a phone call seeking comment. His campaign hasn’t sent any mailers since before the June primary election, but campaign manager Jim Ross said some are planned for the next two weeks.
Sandoval said he couldn’t think of any specific instance in which Mellon had made a ruling that was influenced by politics, but said “judges are not a blank slate, they do bring their perspective and their life experiences to the bench.”
Mellon’s view of a good judge “seems to be limited to what you do between 9 and 5,” Sandoval said. “You have to show leadership outside the courtroom … whether in asking for more bilingual staff in the self-help center, whether it means going to Sacramento and explaining why we need alternative[s] to incarceration.”
Ross said Sandoval was trying to make an ideological argument while bypassing a discussion of his qualifications. In May, the Bar Association of San Francisco rated Mellon “qualified” — below “well qualified” and “exceptionally well qualified” — and said Sandoval was “not qualified.”
Ross said he has heard concerns from voters during the campaign about Sandoval’s qualifications, and “whether or not we want somebody from the board of supervisors … serving on the bench and whether or not he has the ability to be an effective judge.”
As the two head to their runoff, set to coincide with the general presidential election, many of Mellon’s colleagues on the San Francisco Superior Court bench have thrown their support behind him. Five judges — A. James Robertson II, Diane Wick, John Stewart, Richard Kramer and John Munter — have donated at least $1,000, according to Mellon’s latest filing.
Fellow Judge James McBride said politics shouldn’t play a role in the election.
“The political beliefs of any judge, lawyer or litigant in any case I can think of are irrelevant,” said McBride, who has given $750 to Mellon’s campaign. “Politics play no role in the application of law to facts.”
Local pollster David Latterman said it’s unclear whether Sandoval’s Democrat-good, Republican-bad strategy is working.
“Sandoval is running solely on the fact that he is a Democrat and he is thinking that because Mellon is a Republican … [it's] like saying he’s a child molester,” said Latterman, who described himself as a moderate Democrat and does not work for either campaign. “The question is, do the voters buy it?”
That won’t be known for certain until Nov. 4, but Sandoval did manage to squeeze out a first-place win among three candidates in the June 3 primary election, finishing less than 1,000 votes ahead of Mellon with 43.5 percent of the total.
Latterman said Mellon should, and probably will, counter Sandoval’s arguments soon through direct mail or newspaper advertisements.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of outreach for Mellon,” Latterman said. “I realize Mellon’s a sitting judge, but it’s crunch time.”