Allow me to call attention to the two men listed on your Kern County sample ballot as running for Superior Court judge. Specifically, the two vying for the open District 10 seat.
One, Chad Louie, lists himself as a deputy district attorney. The other, Brandon Martin, lists himself as an attorney and law professor. His Kern County Elections Division-produced campaign statement also lists him as a judge pro tem.
It's that last description, which appears in various forms in Martin's campaign literature, that has much of the Kern County legal community convulsing in spasms of outrage. Seems Martin's use of the title "judge pro tem" — most commonly an attorney who serves as a temporary, often voluntary judge in lesser court cases to lighten regular judges' loads — would be in direct, indisputable violation of guidelines set forth in the Code of Judicial Ethics, a set of standards adopted by the California Supreme Court.
Generally speaking, Martin is not supposed to be using that title as a job description in political campaigns.
"As far as attorneys running for judicial office, the Code of Judicial Ethics states that candidates cannot use the term 'judge' or 'temporary judge' or 'judge pro tem' in their titles. In other words, Mr. Martin can’t call himself 'Judge Pro Tem Brandon Martin,'" Blaine Corren, spokesman for the Judicial Council of California, told me Friday.
Whether Martin intentionally or innocently portrayed himself in a manner inconsistent with judicial protocol is open to debate. He told me Friday that he was aware of rules and confident he had hewed within them.
Few in the legal community who are complaining about the "judge pro tem" reference in Martin's campaign literature and elsewhere will go public — not very public, anyway — because of widespread general distaste for the business of politicized judicial posts. Judges, more so than "regular" politicians, are supposed to be above this nasty fray, but campaigns invariably drag them down into the pit with the rest of them.
Martin was pulled in a little deeper after a Louie supporter, Deputy District Attorney Michael Caves, posted a commentary on the social media site LinkedIn about Martin's candidacy.
It included this reference to Martin's experience as a judge pro tem:
"The deadline for Brandon to file his (official candidate's) statement and his occupation was March 9, 2018. Perhaps not surprisingly, that was the first day he ever served as a pro tem. Guess how long he served as a volunteer pro tem when he started claiming that was his occupation? Exactly one hour and 18 minutes."
Teri Goldner, the former federal magistrate and county counsel who, like Martin, is also a part-time professor at the Kern County College of Law, posted a link to Caves' commentary on her Facebook account. When Martin interrupted the subsequent stream of negative comments to defend himself, Goldner engaged him.
"Let’s set the record straight ... . How ... many hours, or minutes, had you spent as a volunteer pro tem on the day you filed your candidate statement and included it as your occupation? Was it really only 78 minutes as the LinkedIn article states?"
I asked Martin that same question. "I don't know," he said. "That sounds correct." But he had been trained and cleared to serve as a pro tem for a good month at that point, he said, and he already had future pro tem commitments on the calendar.
The fear of many is that voters will be misled and people will vote for Martin thinking he is already some kind of judge.
Or that he is a Democrat, another slam we've been hearing. Louie, his opponent, is a client of Western Pacific Research, which is known for running the campaigns of only deep-red Republicans. Perhaps Martin ends up looking blue by default. And in error.
Brandon Martin's well-heeled father, George Martin, is the founder and longtime host of the now-defunct Bakersfield Business Conference, a massive undertaking that has been described as the Republican Disneyland. The Martins are not Democrats. But Brandon has been abandoned by the Republican Party and just about everyone — defense, prosecution, judges — in the judicial community. Even his three teaching colleagues at the law school.
That one candidate could bring about such unity — almost all against him — is nothing short of remarkable.
The only question is whether voters will care one way or the other. Two careers hang in the balance here, but this is a down-ballot race in an off-year primary whose biggest non-local lure is a gubernatorial race that until recently has starred only Democrats.