PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA

Opinion

Hoffman the best judge

By From page A4 | October 31, 2012

“Stracener clearly is not among the El Dorado County insiders,” so said the Sacramento Bee in an editorial. Appointed judge, Warren Stracener, added that theme to his mailer, calling his challenger, Joseph Hoffman, “the hand-picked candidate of political insiders and the good old boy network.”

But the Bee’s “insider’ insinuation was made right after a comment about an “unexplained rift or personality conflict” with Judge Douglas Phimister.

Let’s be clear about two things: 1. Why the Mountain Democrat endorses Joseph Hoffman for judge, 2. Why Judge Phimister endorses Hoffman.

As to the first part, we knew neither candidate until our editorial board interviewed both, though Hoffman was apparently widely known in El Dorado Hills at least among those involved in youth sports. What we found during the interviews was that Stracener during the two days a week he works on juvenile cases works until 11 p.m. That struck us as showing a lack of efficiency. Certainly some people can get by on less sleep, but this kind of schedule leads to burnout and poor decision-making.

Judge Phimister, before he was elected to the bench, was, like Hoffman, a hardworking and productive judge pro tem. Since becoming a Superior Court judge he has built a reputation as a top-tier judge, who handled the Phillip and Nancy Garrido kidnappers case and the national media coverage with the utmost care and professionalism. Beyond that, he has a reputation for being the most efficient criminal arraignment judge in the county, while at the same time being ever alert to the rights of defendants.

Phimister came to us in the early spring because Stracener was exaggerating his juvenile caseload to a Tea Party meeting and to a Village Life reporter. Instead of thousands, as he asserted, there were 169 dependency cases and 45 amendments in 2011; and 272 juvenile delinquent cases and 498 amendments, but half of those were handled by Judge James Wagoner.

We understand why two local judges are reluctant to see a sitting judge replaced and have therefore endorsed the appointed judge. But we look to judges who are seasoned local veterans. They are endorsing Hoffman. Starting with Phimister, this group includes Judge Daniel Proud, and recently retired Judges Eddie Keller and Tom Smith, both of whom still hear cases. We also note that District Attorney Vern Pierson endorses Hoffman for judge. Pierson, by the way, saved the taxpayers a lot of money by getting the Garridos, who kidnapped Jaycee Lee Dugard and held hercaptive for 18 years, to agree to a plea deal of several hundred years in prison.

Stracener told the Taxpayers Association of El Dorado County that appointments are made to avoid “parochialism.” Parochialism, apparently, is all the juvenile bar —  both defense attorneys and prosecutors — endorsing Hoffman. And that includes Stracener’s clerk.

Judicial inefficiency is not the only reason for us to not support a judge appointed in the final several months of the Schwazenegger administration. In the June primary his ballot statement said he had appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet, he told the Democrat editorial board clearly that he had mailed in a petition. That statement is not appearing on the November ballot statement because a concerned citizen threatened to sue to have it removed.

And in sleazy mailers he continues to draw some connection between Hoffman, a client he is defending and that client’s trust account. Never having been in private practice, perhaps Stracener doesn’t know how trust accounts work. No. 1, they are registered with the State Bar. No. 2, they belong to the client. The attorney cannot even pay his fee or legal expenses from the account without the client’s permission.

And finally, there is the matter of Stracener exceeding the limitation on hours of unused personal time off, collecting it upon retirement from the state Department of Personnel. We’ll grant him the benefit of the doubt on this, since he was defending Schwarzenegger’s furloughs of state workers. Though going 20 years without a vacation is unhealthy. But we regard the collection of “arduous pay” of $1,200 monthly by Stracener and his legal cohorts at the state Personnel Department as just a sneaky lawyer gimic. Arduous pay was intended for firefighters and law enforcement personnel when responding to disaster situations. Making up for furlough cuts for a state lawyer being paid $138,000 is nowhere near the definition of “arduous.”

Chuck Holland, the person who got Stracener to stop writing that he appeared before the Supreme Court, summarized it best back in May: “Judges need to be above reproach. They make decisions on your life, your family, your property. There needs to be no doubt they are qualified, competent and honest.”

That describes Joseph Hoffman, our choice for Superior Court Judge — beyond reproach, qualified, competent, honest and experienced as a pro tem judge and also as a private judge. His fellow attorneys choose him to privately judge their cases and now they choose him as Superior Court Judge and so do we.

Mountain Democrat

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