Nevada County Superior Court Judge candidates face off
Two veteran prosecutors are facing off Nov. 4 for the Nevada County Superior Court judge seat being vacated by retiring Judge Sean Dowling.
Nevada County Assistant District Attorney Anna Ferguson and supervisory federal prosecutor Rob Tice-Raskin were the two top vote-getters in a field of five candidates during the June primary.
Tice-Raskin, who had outspent Ferguson in the primary campaign more than two to one, led the field with 7,907 votes or 34.64 percent to Ferguson’s 7,000 votes or 30.66 percent.
Tice-Raskin said becoming a judge has been a lifelong dream, and noted that he planned all along for the campaign to be “a marathon.”
“I discussed it with my wife,” he said. “We decided to run a professional campaign, and use a whole bunch of means with the objective to try and reach as many voters as possible. We committed to run a good campaign, to put our money where our mouth is — we wanted to show we were willing to invest in the campaign.”
Tice-Raskin said that it would have been “terrific” to win outright in June — which would have required 50 percent of the vote plus one — but that wasn’t his expectation.
“I spoke to enough people, everybody told me that with five candidates, the chance … was exceedingly low,” he said.
Both candidates have touted their substantial criminal and civil legal experience.
“I’m ready to make hard decisions,” Ferguson told those in attendance at a recent League of Women Voters forum, citing more than 100 jury trials under her belt. She told the audience her core values revolve around honesty, hard work, shopping locally, and environmental concerns.
Tice-Raskin emphasized his 25 years of experience, including the fact that he has served as a judge pro tem in Nevada County, handling civil cases, for the last seven years.
Question of character
Ferguson says, if elected, she would provide a “fresh voice” challenging a bench in politically liberal lockstep. But she refutes any suggestion of being a maverick, saying instead, “I’d say I’m independent, with fresh ideas, a new perspective.”
“Some of the best decisions the state and national supreme courts make is when there is a strong dissent,” Ferguson continued, adding that one reason Sonia Sotomayor is one of her favorite Supreme Court justices is that she stands up for divergent viewpoints.
“Most of the current (Nevada County Superior Court) bench is of exactly like mind, and it doesn’t lead to a healthy debate — most are of a liberal bent,” she said. “It’s a nonpartisan office; it’s an inappropriate venue to let (politics) color your legal opinions. … It would be healthy to have some dissent.”
Tice-Raskin disputed the notion of the current bench being homogeneous in its opinions.
“We have a diverse bench — I think people lose track of that,” he said, pointing to the fact there are two female judges. “Their political backgrounds are also quite diverse — there’s a good number of Republicans, and a nonpartisan judge as well. It’s not some monolithic good old boy network with a certain political leaning. It’s a balanced and diversified bench.”
Tice-Raskin said that he would not come onto the bench with an agenda, political or otherwise.
“I’m squarely in the middle — I call it as I see it,” he said.
Like Ferguson, Tice-Raskin says he offers “an independent voice with new ideas and ways to make the system better.” But he was quick to say that he would evaluate how the system was working before he started tinkering with it.
Tice-Raskin raised the temperament issue prior to the June primary, saying a judge’s demeanor is of vital importance.
“A judge has to be trusted and respected — they have to treat everyone with respect, with courtesy, with dignity,” he said. “You are the face of justice. If you are not seen as being … composed and impartial, people lose faith … People deserve to have a judge who is thoughtful, respectful and fair, and those are attributes I bring to the table.”
Tice-Raskin pointed to his endorsements from every sitting judge, the local bar association and the union that represents court employees, saying, “that tells you something about my ability … to work with the entire legal family.”
He also said during an election forum, and during an interview with The Union, that he would be the best choice for judge because he is a husband and a father. Ferguson is engaged to Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Tyner and has no children.
“I am better positioned to understand the dynamics of family situations, the nuances,” he said. “People want a judge who can bring that perspective.”
Ferguson noted that both women on the Nevada County bench were political appointees, stopping short of suggesting it will be more difficult for her to get elected because of her gender. But she said that although the workplace has changed substantially in the 20 years she has been in the legal field, sexism remains an issue.
“There’s still a feeling it’s a good old boys club,” she said. “Hopefully, the mentoring I do with school kids will reshape that in the future. It’s pervasive in the legal community, period, locally, statewide and nationally … There is chauvinism in the world to this day, and it’s a shame.”
Because judicial candidates are bound by a legal code of ethics, neither candidate would discuss their opinions on legal issues.
In general, though, Ferguson said, she is concerned about the rights of defendants and alleged victims — as well as the rights of citizen voters who serve as jurors.
“People should feel safe in their homes, that’s something I feel strongly about,” she added. “I often express frustration about the revolving door; that’s about the felony bail schedule.”
Tice-Raskin re-emphasized the importance of being nonpartisan on the bench.
“We expect judges to be above politics — I would not seek endorsements of backing from any parties,” he said. “When it comes to a judgeship, my view is that it should be nonpartisan through and through.
“I’ve been a prosecutor for two decades — I have a very healthy respect for our criminal laws,” he said. “We all want to enjoy living in a safe and clean community. But you’re not coming to the bench as a super-prosecutor. Your job is to become neutral, to become impartial.”
To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229.
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