Conservative Christians have launched a movement in an effort to replace four California judges with their own in a judicial election next week.
Better Courts Now (BCN), founded by the late Pastor Don Hamer of Zion Christian Fellowship in San Diego, is throwing its support behind four conservative Christian candidates to replace the incumbent judges – all Democrats – on the San Diego Superior Court.
This is the first known conservative campaign to influence the election of judges in California. There are 33 states where citizens directly elect judges. These elections, however, usually have low voter turnout with participants mainly being from the legal community.
But Better Courts Now seeks to change that by rallying conservative voters to support judges who reflect their values.
"Those who govern are accountable to the people," states Better Courts Now on its website. "As a branch of government, judges don't get to hold themselves apart from the people – they are servants of the people."
Craig Candelore, a family law attorney who is one of the conservative candidates, pointed out in his promotional video posted on the group's website that under the California constitution judges need to face an election every six years.
"This forces judges to reconnect with the people whom they serve," Candelore said. "Judges are not supposed to make the law they are supposed to uphold the law passed by legislators in Sacramento."
"When judges do not follow the law they do not follow our value," he said. "Laws are passed by the legislators who are elected by the people. Judges should uphold the law, not make the law."
BCN notes that incumbent judges are rarely challenged in elections, but they should be held more accountable by the people.
Opponents of BCN, however, say the conservative campaign will undermine impartiality in the court system. Normally, judges do not talk about their personal position on issues but the group's candidates are open about where they stand.
The BCN candidates are supported by opponents of abortion and same-sex marriage as well as by El Cajon Gun Exchange.
Three of the four BCN candidates – Bill Trask, Larry Kincaid, and Craig Candelore – were given low ratings by the San Diego County's Bar Association. The bar rated them as "lacking some or all of the qualities of professional ability, experience, competence, integrity and temperament indicative of fitness to perform the judicial function in a satisfactory mode."
The bar association said there was not enough information to rate the fourth candidate, Harold Coleman Jr.
In response to the low ratings, BCN accused the association of being partial to the incumbent judges and engaging in a "flurry of campaign activity" to support the sitting judges. The conservative movement said the bar's chair of the Certified Family Law Specialists Committee, Stanwood Johnson, solicited donations for the incumbent judges.
"Better Courts Now is astonished that members of the San Diego Bar Association would tolerate such blatantly biased political activity in an organization purporting to be a neutral arbiter in the process," it said in a statement.
The election race for the seats on the San Diego Superior Court will take place June 8.