Another week, another round of allegations about Brandon Martin's fitness-slash-eligibility for the Kern County Superior Court bench.
When we last checked on this down-ballot race, which of late seems to be using up all the oxygen this election season, he was defending his use of "judge pro tem" in campaign literature and his candidate's statement.
The Judicial Council of California says candidates for judgeships may not use the title "judge pro tem;" Martin says he simply listed the job among his qualifications for the office — even if, as it turns out, Martin had served as a pro tem (a temporary, fill-in judge) for a grand total of an hour and 18 minutes at the time he filed his candidate's papers. Martin points out that Superior Court Presiding Judge Charles Brehmer, ruling on a complaint from a supporter of his opponent, said he could "find no evidence of judicial misconduct on the part of Mr. Brandon Martin" for citing his pro tem experience.
That little controversy hadn't yet blown over when opponents introduced a new, potentially more serious allegation: That a 21-day lapse in Martin's eligibility to practice law almost eight years ago means he has not fulfilled perhaps the single most important qualification to seek the bench: That he has been "a member of the State Bar for 10 years ... immediately preceding the election."
If Martin's failure to pay his licensee fees in a timely fashion even temporarily severed his State Bar membership, legally speaking, he might be in trouble.
Martin says the charge is bunk.
"I was ineligible to practice for 21 days as a result of my missed payment," he said. "They sent the notices to the wrong address and when I found out about it later I immediately paid.
"I never lost my membership," Martin told me. "You're still on the roster of attorneys. In order to be removed (from the roster) you have to be disbarred and then reinstated. In my case it's ticky-tack beyond what I would have expected from anyone" working in support of his opponent, Deputy District Attorney Chad Louie.
"There's no merit to any of this," Martin said.
Teri Goldner, the former county counsel, federal magistrate and, awkwardly, one of Martin's fellow instructors at the tiny Kern County College of Law, disagrees. She looked at the candidacy papers Martin filed with the county elections divisions and came away "genuinely concerned and troubled."
"It’s all there, in black and white, and it leads me to the opinion that Brandon Martin is not eligible to be a Kern County Superior Court Judge, and if he had simply told the whole truth and disclosed his State Bar membership history to the Elections Office, the public would not be misled into assuming that his name is properly on the ballot," she wrote in an email.
And in a social media post, Clayton Campbell, a partner at Campbell Whitten PC, piled on, casting doubt on Martin's excuse for having failed to pay his State Bar dues.
"When you have a license to practice law in California, the bar doesn't let you forget about your dues," he wrote. "You get emails and actual letters about it, and you get these well in advance of the due date. You get a generous grace period during which you get even more reminders. Only people who don't really care about their bar status ignore these notices. And the only people who don't care about their bar status are people who don't practice law."
Which leads to another charge that opponents have made against Martin: That precious little of his 14 years as a member of the State Bar has been spent actually practicing law. He has been working full-time in an administrative capacity for County Supervisor David Couch.
Who's right? Both sides make reasonable cases based on their interpretation of the legal impact of Martin's 21-day suspension relative to his candidacy.
State Bar spokesman Jonah Lamb confirmed that Martin had been suspended but couldn't say what that meant for his eligibility for office. Blaine Corren, a spokesman for the Judicial Council of California, confirmed the 10-year standard but couldn't say what it means here, either.
The only party that can apparently say with final, ultimate authority is the Commission on Judicial Performance, and it's not talking. Yet.