Given that most of us do our best to avoid seeing judges in action (except on bizarre daytime-TV programs) how is a voter to know who would make the best judge? That is the key question.
Judgeship elections for open seats are rare. Most judges appointed by the governor after an extensive background check, with a pile of documentation that voters never get to see. Sadly, too many times political affiliations weigh heavily.
In this case, outgoing Judge Ray Cunningham chose to time his retirement in such a way to preclude a gubernatorial appointment, allowing for a more democratic process than the usual secret-appointment system.
Santa Clara County voters are now faced June 3 with five candidates, all of whom look good on paper and who clearly have differing strengths and depths of experience. Alphabetically, they are:
• Jay Stephen Boyarsky, 42, who has been a prosecutor with the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office for 14 years, six of which he served as supervising deputy district attorney for North County, supervising up to 34 deputy district attorneys. He has extensive endorsements for police associations and Sheriff Laurie Smith, among others. He is a graduate of University of California, Berkeley, Law School. He has led other candidates in fundraising and in mounting an aggressive campaign for election. His Web site is http://www.boyarskyforjudge.com .
• Lane Liroff, 57, has served 29 years as a Santa Clara County prosecutor, focusing for years on complex homicide cases. He was named outstanding prosecutor by the District Attorney's Office in 2003. He worked for a time for former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, and for 18 years has been a law-school professor teaching trial procedures. He has contributed to seven books on ethics, criminal law and evidence. He has a lengthy list of endorsements, including from former District Attorney Leo Himmelsbach and current District Attorney Dolores Carr, as well as former judge and Palo Alto City Councilwoman LaDoris Cordell. His Web site is http://laneliroff4judge.com .
• Tim Pitsker, 56, has been a deputy district attorney for 24 years and notes that he has "taken more felons to jury trial than any other prosecutor" in the county, including seven years focused on "complex gang and career criminals." He is conducting a low-key, almost non-campaign and has several endorsements from other judges and others. Pitsker worked his way through San Francisco Law School. A Web site is at http://www.smartvoter.org/2006/11/07/ca/scl/vote/pitsker_t/ .
• Diane Ritchie, who describes herself as a "tough, experienced trial attorney and mediator," cites 27 years of "handling difficult cases" — including as a county prosecutor years ago and serving briefly as a temporary judge in Superior Court. She cites more than 1,000 criminal and civil cases in her career. She is a UC Berkeley graduate and obtained a doctorate in law from Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco. She has taught law part time at universities and corporations. Her Web site is http://www.dianeritchieforjudge.com .
• Jesus "Jess" Valencia, 50, a son of farmworker parents, is a San Jose-based attorney who has served as judicial commissioner handling hundreds of court cases, and has 20 years of civil and criminal experience. He is a graduate of San Jose State University and Santa Clara University Law School, and has extensive endorsements from sitting and former judges, among others. His Web site is at http://www.infobayarea.com/infocalendar/2008events/0603valenciaforjudge.html .
A November run-off of the top two vote-getters is almost assured, as it is unlikely anyone will garner 51 percent of the vote.
After individual interviews with the candidates, the Weekly believes that Lane Liroff is the best qualified and recommends his election. Liroff is the most experienced of the group and has a reputation as a careful, hard-working prosecutor who has the intellectual capacity to handle the most complex of cases. Working with the Justice Department honed his knowledge of the judicial system, and his temperament is well-suited to the bench.
We recommend Lane Liroff for Superior Court Judge.