By Joanne Williams
Time of judgment: Candidates for Marin County Superior Court
The nine attorneys vying for one seat in the Marin Superior Court this June 7 are uber-cordial and uber-qualified. So how does a conscientious voter select the best person for the job with a starting salary of about $263,302 a year and a cumulative six-year benefit of something like $1.5 million? The candidates made the rounds to pitch their qualifications; seven of them spoke at The Redwoods Retirement Community in Mill Valley, and guess what? They all seem qualified. All are attorneys with many years of varied experience before the bench and now hoping to wear the robe and wield the gavel that has been held by retiring Judge Faye D’Opal.
In front of the uber-active Seniors for Peace, the candidates told of their scholarship, their ties and loyalty to Marin, their seasons coaching sports teams, reaching out to help the disadvantaged and years serving the county as either deputy district attorney, county counsel, prosecutor or litigation attorney. They are all top-tier people in our community; four men, five women. Of the nine, five are county employees.
The single African-American, Otis Bruce, was born in Mississippi, where he worked on his grandfather’s farm, gravitated West for college and has lived and worked in Marin for 25 years. He has been president of the Marin County Bar Association and served many nonprofits. His main interests are child and spousal abuse programs, alternative justice and mental health court cases.
The single woman of color, Sheila Lichtblau, brought along her father—a man originally from India. Lichtblau’s mother is Puerto Rican. She has endorsements galore, including Supervisor Kathrin Sears, former Supervisor Gary Giacomini and outgoing Judge D’Opal, among many other judges, active and retired. She states 23 years of “broad-based practice in the nonprofit, private and public sectors … ” She is fluent in Spanish and an articulate public speaker.
Both Lichtblau, a deputy county counsel, and Tom McCallister, a deputy district attorney, emphasized the need for restorative justice, especially for first-time youthful offenders. McCallister also emphasized his work to curtail elder abuse fraud and his volunteer work with at-risk kids.
Mike Coffino, a public defender, believes in constitutional rights and due process and thinks there is an unconscious bias against minorities. He would like to see improvements in jury selection.
All candidates touted the need for treatment programs, diversion and restorative justice programs. All except McCallister declared themselves Democrats; he declined to state. The judgeship is non-partisan.
Nicole Pantaleo, a second-generation Italian-American and Marin native, is a county prosecutor who believes in fighting for social justice. “My parents escaped the Nazis,” she said, and she has a great belief in protecting constituents and doing community outreach to prevent crime.
One Senior for Peace asked the group, “Are you satisfied with the level of justice in Marin?”
Pantaleo responded that Marin is lucky not to have too many serious crime cases, but there could be more courts for misdemeanors, alcohol and drug abuse. Otis Bruce thinks there should be more diversity represented in Marin’s courts.
Attorney Nancy McCarthy, known for her work keeping Marin General Hospital under Marin leadership and away from corporate control, has worked toward restorative justice through the Social Justice Center and other groups. Critics have taken her to task for putting the word “Judge” and “Nancy” close together on her campaign literature, inferring that she is an incumbent. She is not.
Renee Marguerite Marcelle, with a range of experience from corporate attorney to family law and public defender, is particularly sensitive to the needs of biracial children as the mother of three biracial kids.
David Shane, a civil litigation attorney, and family law specialist Beth Jordan, were unable to attend the event at The Redwoods.
Nine candidates, one vote. There’s likely to be a runoff in the fall.
Judges are elected countywide. There are 10 Superior Court judges in Marin, and voters will elect one judge for Div. 2 on June 7, and possibly face a runoff later. What does the Superior Court do, actually? It covers all kinds of legal services including how the court works, referrals and general info too detailed to explain here. For more info, see courtinfo.ca.gov/selfhelp.
When justice calls for help: Spotlight on Jessica Sloan
Sometimes calls for justice move from the streets to the internet—and with luck, to Capitol Hill.
The criminal justice reform organization #cut50 is proof of that. When Mill Valley Vice Mayor Jessica Sloan met Democratic activist Van Jones at a Marin Democrats dinner, they merged ideas and energy to co-found #cut50 (cut50.org), a nationwide effort to reduce the prison population.
Sloan, a human rights attorney, is passionate about the issue for personal reasons. At 22, she saw her (now former) husband go to prison for a nonviolent crime. “He had an addiction,” says Sloan, now 34. “We had a small baby and the system ripped our family apart without making the situation any better. When I visited him I was appalled to discover that they were not providing any counseling or treatment so he could recover from his drug issues. Nor did they help prepare him to reenter society three and a half years later.” That’s when Sloan began to raise awareness of prison policy.
“Van and I founded #cut50.org, to raise the issue of mass incarceration in the public through the media and to bring together people on both sides of the aisle to find solutions to crime that not only decrease our prisons but make our communities safer.
“As a result of the 1990’s tough-on-crime attitude, too many people were sent to prison, for too long, with a disproportionate and highly destructive impact on poor communities and communities of color,” Sloan continued. There are now:
- More than 70 million people living with some type of criminal record
- 23 million people who bear the label “convicted felon”—preventing them from gaining meaningful housing, employment or education
- 5 million children have at least one incarcerated parent
- 2.2 million people in prisons and jails
- $80 billion per year spent on prisons.
When they held the first-ever Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform last year, which drew participation from The White House, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, 13 members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, then-Attorney General Eric Holder, three GOP Governors and more than 800 leading advocates and formerly incarcerated people, #cut50 gained attention. The event catalyzed new unlikely partnerships and several important criminal justice bills in Congress.
Today, Oakland-based #cut50 is running four national campaigns to humanize the issue of criminal justice reform and change existing legislation. Sloan said that one of the national campaigns has led to a bipartisan federal bill, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, to release 10,000 nonviolent prisoners. The result: 5,400 will be released immediately, and the remainder will see their sentences shortened.
“We have 1.1 million supporters on change.org, over 100 celebrity endorsers including Alicia Keys and Steph Curry, and we’ve received financial help from multiple foundations and individuals including the Ford Foundation and Google.org,” Sloan emphasized.
Through its leadership in the community, bipartisan coalition and cultural influencers, #cut50 aims to create a smart and safe reduction in the number of people behind bars by 50 percent over the next 10 years.
They envision a criminal justice system that recognizes the humanity of the 2.2 million people currently behind bars in America and moves toward compassion and treatment rather than punishment and incarceration.
“With empathy, understanding and love we can build the political will needed to rectify the damage caused by the incarceration industry on individuals, families and our society,” Sloan said. “We’ve seen how effective drug treatment courts and veterans courts are because they actually address the root of the problem—not just punish behaviors. Now we need to scale those models across the board.”
On the table: Local issues
Several local issues on the June 7 ballot deserve attention from committed voters.
First, there’s the appeal of the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority, a regional government agency created in 2008 to raise money for the restoration and protection of wetlands and wildlife habitat along the shoreline of the nine Bay Area counties, Marin included. Around $1.5 billion is needed to restore the 100,000 acres of wetlands around the Bay. Much of it has to do with climate change and the effects of sea level rise.
San Francisco Bay is the largest estuary on the West Coast and its watershed is the largest in western North America. In 1965, with the creation of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), inappropriate development of the Bay was halted. Now’s the time to undertake restoration. That’s where Measure AA comes in.
Saving the Bay—Measure AA
Measure AA (called the San Francisco Bay Clean Water, Pollution Prevention and Habitat Restoration Program) proposes a parcel tax of $12 per year to reduce trash, pollution and toxins, improve water quality and restore fish and wildlife habitat, protect communities from floods and increase public shoreline access.
The League of Women Voters and many environmental groups endorse this measure. Opponents argue that Marin County residents will contribute 5 percent of the funding but receive only 3.5 percent of the money. Opponents’ main objection is that residential property owners pay the same tax as major high-profile companies in Silicon Valley (Facebook, Google, Chevron) that ring the Bay. They argue that the big guys should pay according to their footprint on the Bay.
Modernize Marin Community College
Another ballot measure of interest to Marin is Measure B, which proposes $265 million to modernize the College of Marin. Many educators, parents and the League of Women Voters endorse Measure B.
If it passes, Prop. 50 would add rules to the state Constitution about how to suspend state lawmakers—not just expel them. Suspension would require a 2/3 vote of fellow lawmakers and the salary and benefits of suspended lawmakers would be taken away during suspension. Opponents to Prop. 50 say accused lawmakers should be expelled instead of suspended. This goes back to 2014 when three California state senators were accused of felonies and suspended. For more information visit easyvoterguide.org.