Retiring judge: Judicial appointment best system |

Retiring judge: Judicial appointment best system

Elections are a poor system for choosing county judges, according to a retiring judge whose vacancy will call for a new appointment in Nevada County Superior Court.

Judge C. Anders Holmer will retire as of Nov. 5, though he plans to continue working as a substitute judge – including in Truckee, where he has presided since 1990. He retires nearly five years into his current six-term, triggering a state requirement that he be replaced by gubernatorial appointment.

It would be the fifth judicial appointment in the county in five years, leaving only one county judge -Thomas Anderson – who went through the electoral process.

“Judges and contested elections are a bad mix,” Holmer said.

Campaigning in a small community creates an especially uncomfortable scenario: Asking for contributions from people who later could come before the elected judge, Holmer said.

“You can’t owe anyone any favors,” Holmers said. “The realities of campaigning, paying for signs, ads, having to ask lawyers for contributions, just is very uncomfortable for a judge who really wants to focus on ethics.

“You probably need to disclose to anyone who has a case in your court the fact that this lawyer gave me $100 in my campaign,” he added.”

In the 1930s, a constitutional amendment was put on the ballot that would have changed California’s electoral system for county-level judges, turning it into a retention election, said Holmer – also one of the state’s leading experts on the history of the judiciary.

But the matter was placed on the back side of the ballot, so the story goes, and voters didn’t see it, and the measure failed, Holmer said.

California Chief Justice Ronald M. George also has voiced concerns about the effect of partisan politics on nonpartisan judicial elections, Administrative Office of the Courts spokesman Philip Carrizosa said.

Such threats “take many forms,” George said during a 2008 speech in Boston. They include “partisan considerations and special-interest groups, and … commercials aired during judicial campaigns that provide misleading information about the candidates and the judicial election process…

“In some instances, campaigns are waged against individual judges based upon a single decision, regardless of whether it comported with applicable law and the evidence presented to the court,” George said.

George does support “California’s current system of gubernatorial appointments followed by elections,” Carrizosa added.

But even that process can be largely invisible to voters, Holmer said. After the first election, which appears on the ballot, later re-elections do not go to the ballot unless they are contested, he said.

Holmer’s skeptical views of the election process did not factor into his own decision to retire four years into his current term, he said.

“I never gave it an ounce of thought,” Holmer added.

Rather, it’s the numbers.

He turns 63 this week – close enough to the age 65 retirement mark to receive benefits, though not at the full level, which is 75 percent of salary, Carrizosa said.

And Holmer would complete 20 years on the bench in December, close enough to the 20-years-of-service mark to collect retirement.

To contact City Editor Trina Kleist, e-mail or call (530) 477-4230.

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