Election shapes the face of county courts for years to come | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Election shapes the face of county courts for years to come


It’s hard to overstate the importance of the March 5 election to the practice of law in El Dorado County. Three longtime judges are hanging up their black robes, prompting a total of 12 candidates to seek office.

The stakes are higher than might be imagined. For one thing, the people we elect this year could end up serving for decades, since judges serve six-year terms and incumbents are rarely turned out by voters. The retiring judges are cases in point: Thomas Smith, elected in 1976; Gregory Haas, appointed in 1983; and Patrick Riley, appointed in 1989.

Also, the shape of the court itself is changing. Presiding Judge Suzanne Kingsbury wants to end the old-fashioned practice that sent civil cases to one judge and criminal cases to another, a luxury the county can no longer afford. In the state’s view, El Dorado is a bottom-feeder when it comes to court efficiency; it will take jurists with broad experience to change that.

“The judges selected by our citizens are really the people who set the tone for justice in our community,” Kingsbury said. “Having people who are even-tempered, well-rounded and cooperative can only help to shape a better court system.”

We couldn’t agree more. That’s why the Tribune considered the evolving needs of the court along with individual candidates. We tried to identify a slate of judges who would bring a collective depth to our courtrooms. We also questioned their knowledge of Tahoe, even though the judgeships are on the West Slope, because the wheels of justice commute over Echo Summit.

A final note: While we’re endorsing only one candidate per office, we’re also listing our alternate choices. Why? Our desire for a balanced bench necessarily pushed aside some outstanding candidates. There’s also the likely prospect of one or more runoff elections. Voters should ensure the best and brightest make it to the November ballot.

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