2 San Francisco Superior Court judges being challenged by moderate candidates

Lyanne Melendez Image
Friday, December 1, 2023
2 SF judges being challenged by moderate candidates
Ahead of the March election, two San Francisco judges are being challenged by what some call are more moderate candidates.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The California ballot is not always easy to understand and many times, we know very little about some of the issues or people running. Take for example, judges who are seeking re-election. San Francisco's district attorney has blamed some of them for being too lenient. Now, two judges are being challenged by what some call are more moderate candidates.

Concerns over homelessness, crime and public drug use are forcing voters to reconsider who gets to sit in court and dictate the law.

The data analytics company, EMC Research found that three in four voters say Superior Court judges are among those responsible for current crime levels in San Francisco.

At least two Superior Court judges are now being challenged.

The two judges, Michael Begert and Patrick Thompson have been criticized by a group called Stop Crime SF because they claim these two judges have had "revolving door" policies when it comes to releasing criminals.

We'll start with Thompson who in Aug. 2022 denied a motion to retain a man for allegedly selling drugs despite two prior convictions in 2013 and 2018.

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Lyanne Melendez: You released a drug dealer - Jefferson Arrechaga. Police had arrested him with enough fentanyl to kill 85,000 people. That's what they are alleging that you had released this person despite his record.

"One of the things that gets missing in all this discussion is that there are checks on me if I get it wrong. He's appeared before at least four other judges since I made that determination and he has not re-offended and he is still awaiting trial. He keeps coming back to court. That's not the revolving door situation that they're trying to depict," explained Judge Thompson.

Thompson is running against Jean Myungjin Roland, a San Francisco prosecutor who has worked for the DA's office for more than 22 years.

"I have reviewed and looked at thousands of cases and a lot of what I do is weighing the evidence and looking at the law and then I make tough decisions every single day," maintained Roland.

Albert "Chip" Zecher is running against the incumbent Judge Michael Begert who has been on the bench for 12 years. Begert was appointed by then Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Begert now presides over Care Court, a new judicial approach to get people with mental health and substance use disorders into treatment.

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Before that, Begert was already a judge in drug court where he, according to the Stop Crime SF report, released a convicted sex offender who had multiple arrests for robbery, assault and battery.

"And yes, this individual failed to appear and was arrested not on new crimes but because she didn't show up. It's entirely possible that a person who is really struggling, living on the sidewalk, struggling with drug addiction, mental health, being abused on the streets - they may not show up for court," said Judge Begert.

Melendez: But when do you say enough is enough?

"For someone who's being arrested only because they fail to show up for court, I say enough is enough when the clinical people say we don't think we can help this person," added Begert.

Judge Begert clarified that the person he's talking about did eventually re-offend and was then sent to criminal court.

His challenger, "Chip" Zecher has been practicing law for nearly 33 years and is on the board of directors at UC College of the Law in San Francisco. He says people tell him, they are fed up.

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"The message they are telling me is that San Franciscans are tired, they are tired of the conditions on our streets, they're tired of the fact that people are not being held accountable for the conditions of our streets and that's why I'm running," said Zecher.

Both Begert and Thompson say running to keep their seats on the bench is a new experience.

"Someone has decided that they want to run against me, I'm actually enjoying the process of meeting people and finding out what their concerns are," expressed Judge Begert.

We then asked Judge Thompson why should people vote for him in March.

"I know civil law, I know administrative law and criminal law and I'm actually passionate about doing the right thing," he said.

The two opponents, Zecher and Roland have the support of Stop Crime SF.

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Supervisor Aaron Peskin calls it a political attack on the judicial system.

"San Franciscans need to analyze this carefully and I think reject this right-wing attack on San Francisco's judiciary," said Peskin.

But Stop Crime SF says they have every right to present the facts gathered by a few volunteers called "court-watchers." Their role is to observe and then record any rulings made by judges.

"Beyond that, nobody in San Francisco knows what's going on. We're attempting to shine light on what's happening in our courtrooms and they make crucial decisions everyday," expressed Frank Noto, President of Stop Crime SF.

Unseating a judge in San Francisco has been attempted before. In 2018 four progressive public defenders tried to unseat four incumbents, all of which had been appointed by Republican governors. None of the judges were defeated.

But only once has a candidate been successful. That happened in 2008 when Judge Thomas Mellon was defeated by the San Francisco Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval.

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