Analysis: Judge Race Sees Strange Bedfellows for Endorsements

Judical Candidates from left to right: Janene Beronio, Rick Cohen, John Brennan, and Larenda Delaini discuss their candidacy Sunday Night at the Vanguard Candidates Forum
Judicial Candidates from left to right: Janene Beronio, Rick Cohen, John Brennan, and Larenda Delaini discuss their candidacy March 23 at the Vanguard Candidates Forum

In 2008 and 2012, there were contested judge elections in Yolo County, and emerging with sizable wins were Judge Timothy Fall and Judge Dan Maguire.  In both of those races, the winners had garnered the support of all sitting judges, but both of those races saw incumbent judges squared off against Deputy District Attorneys.

Nevertheless, when Commissioner Janene Beronio announced, with the support of all current (and now retired) Yolo County judges, political observers took notice.  It represents a formidable challenge that must be overcome by three challengers.  Ms. Beronio has largely won the endorsement battle, but does that make her the favorite to win?

There are two opposing views on that.  First, we believe that if someone is going to win in June, it will be Janene Beronio (in other words, only Janene Beronio is capable of getting more than 50% of the vote at this stage).  Second, we believe that if this race goes to November (because no one gets 50% of the vote), Janene Beronio will be one of the two.

However, that said, in 2006, Jeff Reisig received endorsements from the entire law enforcement community and many of the elected officials, yet it took an incredibly dirty turn at the end of the campaign for him to eke out a 53-47 victory over his then-colleague Pat Lenzi.

Two years later, the smart money was on Christopher Cabaldon, Mayor of West Sacramento, defeating then-Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada in a race for the State Assembly.  Mr. Cabaldon had amassed most of the public officials and yet, in a brutally dirty last two months of the campaign, Ms. Yamada with help from union foot soldiers blew by him, stunning many political observers.

Bottom line: endorsements do not necessarily translate into votes.

Nevertheless, in the absence of polling, endorsements might be suggestive of which constituents are likely to support the varying candidates.  In this case, we look at the endorsements and it only adds to the confusion.

Our tentative conclusion here is that, while most would consider Janene Beronio to  be the front-runner, there are two months of action still to be played out and to overlook any of the four candidates here is a mistake.

Janene Beronio, aside from all of the judges in Yolo County –active and retired – also boasts a formidable line up of elected officials.  Two of the supervisors: Duane Chamberlain and Oscar Villegas, have endorsed her, as have County officials like Ed Prieto, Jeff Reisig and Cass Sylvia.  Among Davis elected officials are Rochelle Swanson of the city council as well as Sheila Allen, Susan Lovenburg and Tim Taylor of the school board.

While the DA has endorsed, a number of notable defense attorneys, including some from the public defender’s office, have endorsed as well.

She also boasts a number of law enforcement groups, including the Police Officers’ Associations from Davis, West Sacramento, and Winters, as well as the Deputy Sheriff’s Association.

Two endorsements, however, could make things interesting.  One that we have already mentioned is Jeff Reisig, the District Attorney.  It is probably true that Mr. Reisig is more popular than not in Yolo County, especially considering this is the second consecutive reelection in which he has garnered no opposition.  On the other hand, Mr. Reisig is polarizing and, while people who tend to support Mr. Reisig may not automatically flock to Ms. Beronio, many who are opposed to Mr. Reisig will automatically oppose her due to his endorsement.

Already, we have seen a few Facebook posts to that effect.  However, more interesting may be the professional firefighters of Davis supporting Ms. Beronio.  In recent years, they have become a lightning rod of criticism locally for their role in the city’s fiscal disaster. The last year saw a protracted battle between the firefighters’ union and the city of Davis.

It is also not clear why the firefighters would get involved in a judge’s race, though we note that in efforts to obtain public documents from the city of Davis, both Judge Mock and Judge Maguire hammered the firefighters with huge attorney fees after the cases went against them.

John Brennan has worked as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney.  He was one of the defense attorneys on the recent Operation Red Sash gang trial that resulted in the acquittal of the defendants on all gang charges.

While Ms. Beronio has the support of all Yolo County judges, Mr. Brennan can claim the support of nine current Sacramento County Superior Court judges.  He will have to make the case as to whether that is the equivalent of Yolo County judges, but it does make things more interesting.  If Ms. Beronio argues that support from her colleagues demonstrates that those who know here best are most supportive of her, Mr. Brennan can make a similar claim with regard to the people he has spent the most time working in front of.

While Ms. Beronio probably has the trump card in that she has the support of the judges in Yolo County where she is running, Mr. Brennan can at least make an interesting counter-argument.

While Ms. Beronio has the support of two County Supervisors, two others have endorsed Larenda Delaini.  That would be Matt Rexroad and Don Saylor (Jim Provenza has not taken a position).

In addition to the county supervisors, Ms. Delaini has another noteworthy endorsement, former Yolo County Public Defender Barry Melton.

In the meantime, Rick Cohen has his own formidable team of endorsements, including several judges, but his most impressive list of endorsements are legislators including Darrell Steinberg, State Senator Mark Leno and Assemblymember Roger Dickinson.

He also boasts support from Councilmember Brett Lee of Davis, West Sacramento Vice Mayor Mark Johannessen, West Sacramento City Councilmember William Kristoff, and Winters City Councilmember Woody Fridae.

As we stated at the outset of this analysis, based on the endorsements, we tend to believe that right now this is a race to drag the election toward November and to be the candidate who opposes Janene Beronio when it gets to November.  Bottom line is that the Beronio campaign should be pleased that everything right now appears to go through Beronio, but that also may make her the target of the other three campaigns.

Things can change and, as we noted, sometimes endorsements do not mean as much as we think they should.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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6 thoughts on “Analysis: Judge Race Sees Strange Bedfellows for Endorsements”

  1. Fremontia

    I have a different take on this election. Anyone who has gotten a traffic ticket in Yolo County in the last 25 years may have been before Ms. Beronio. That could add up to a lot of people who have first hand experience dealing with her. While most people have little or no first hand experience dealing with judges many people end up in traffic court at one time or another. In conversations about what to do with votes for judge many people in this county who have experience with her are going to talk. If others have had experiences similar to my own that will add up. My two experiences with her in over 25 years were not that good.

  2. Davis Progressive

    i think you should ask beronio why the endorsement from the firefighters? i don’t like reisig, but that’s kind of an obvious endorsement.

  3. hpierce

    As attorneys would say “you opened up the topic”. If you want to limit the responses to “endorsements”, please just say so in the article. Otherwise, it would appear to be [in this case] an invitation to talk about all matters related to the election of a judge. Just a suggestion…

  4. Hannibal

    The Judicial endorsements of Beronio carry no weight with me. They all made the conscious decision to endorse Beronio before any of the other candidates declared their intention to run against Beronio and the cynic in me thinks they did that to dissuade people from running against Beronio. The judges owe it to the public, if they are going to put the reputation of the bench behind one candidate, to at least look at the qualifications of the other candidates BEFORE endorsing anyone. Their endorsement was an “ends” driven act to see that their colleague got elected when they should have carefully analyzed the field and then made a decision to support Beronio AFTER looking into everyone else’s qualifications. It just seems like a sham to me.

  5. Rich RifkinWDE 73

    DV: “It took an incredibly dirty turn at the end of the campaign for him to eke out a 53-47 victory over his then-colleague Pat Lenzi.”

    David, can remind me what this dirty move was? And am I wrong to recall that you were a strong Lenzi supporter and thus you had a bias in that race?

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