Sullivan has local roots and Judicial Ethics - Opinion
Dylan Sullivan’s roots in Northern California span five generations, going back to the 1850s when people got a reputation for honesty and fair dealing the old-fashioned way: They earned it. And so has Sullivan. You had to have those values here in the early days; everybody knew everybody. With a life of hard work, broad legal experience and the only candidate who has had exercised actual judicial authority, along with those small-town principles deep in her DNA, Dylan Sullivan would be an exceptional credit to our bench. But judicial elections these days are different.
Her only opponent, the looser in last year’s extremely ugly campaign against an incumbent judge, is Joseph Hoffman who is backed by a deeply entrenched political machine, while Sullivan, a paid judicial officer, has no political party affiliation. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a competent judge who is actually independent and will not raise the specter of impropriety by having close ties with the local political establishment?
The judicial seat they both seek has responsibility for criminal cases, district 5, but Hoffman has acknowledged under questioning at candidate meetings that he has no criminal law experience. Nada, zero, none. “I have no experience in criminal law,” Hoffman admitted at candidate forums, acknowledging that he would have a steep learning curve if elected. Do we need to sacrifice competence and experience for on the job training?
As for integrity, the issue sadly is not even close. More than a month ago I personally heard of six legal ethics complaints filed against Joe Hoffman, I know, mine was one of them. In his proposed ballot statement Hoffman included “Judge pro tem” as his “occupation” and yet his role with that title is a non-paid voluntary position he does only occasionally, certainly not an occupation. Misleading? No, it’s dishonest. He was forced in a largely unpublicized lawsuit change it. No newspaper has published the contents of that case, difficult to find since it was heard in Placer County, but I read the whole file, several times.
California Code of Judicial Ethics, Canon 6D.(9)(a)+(b) makes it clear that lawyers serving as temporary judges are not to use the term Judge Pro Tem in political campaign material precisely because it is deceptive, prompting the public to believe that they are actually judges when that is not true. I personally heard Hoffman say at candidate meetings in his efforts last year to be a judge that service as a judge pro tem gave him experience deciding cases and making tough choices but it was not until during this election I learned that those volunteering in our county’s judge pro tem program have absolutely no judicial authority and do not decide cases. They serve only as mediators who sit down with parties in matters like divorces cases, and talk with them about being able to come up with voluntary agreements, a far cry from deciding cases or making tough choices.
There have been other judicial candidates around who have mentioned their role in the temporary judge program in campaigns but none have ever made it a central part of their political campaign as Hoffman has. He has saturated one local cable station with ads declaring that he has been “a judge pro tem in El Dorado County for 13 years” but nobody, including Hoffman, has been able to show proof that even that claim is true, with official records show that this part-time voluntary duties have been far shorter in this county.
It is more than ironic that his opponent, Dylan Sullivan, a paid hearing examiner for judges in this county, is the only candidate for a judgeship [the second spot is between Ashworth, Combellack, and Weinberg] that has judicial authority and has actually decided cases. No choice about who to vote for could be more dramatically clear than this one.
Kirk Callan Smith