1/4 of our judiciary living in the same house? | Lost Coast Outpost | Humboldt County

Voter asks Ben McLaughlin

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1/4 of our judiciary living in the same house?

Do you agree that it is important to have a judiciary that has a diversity of thoughts and ideas free from family or other conflicts? as you stated previously you are in a long term relationship with and share a child with a current Humboldt County Judge. I can’t find another example of this happening, especially in a small town where we only have 7 judges. If you were to win, 1/4 of our judges would be living under the same roof. Any attorney could disqualify a quarter of our judiciary. How could you avoid the obvious conflicts, backlog of cases and appearance of impropriety that your election would create? Doesn’t our court system have enough problems?

— Voter


Ben McLaughlin

This is a good question, because I understand your concern and the optics to someone who may not work in the courthouse.  And yes, our court system has a number of problems, but electing me wouldn’t create another.  If anything, I would—I think—have more trial experience than any current judge, which means I could ease the backlog, not add to it.

What I can tell you is that Kelly and I have worked together for many, many years.  I can also tell you that we have diversity of thought (a lot!).   As prosecutors, we often disagreed on how/if a complaint should issue, severity of sentencing, etc.  When we worked together at the Public Defender’s Office, Kelly and I would frequently disagree on how to resolve cases, how a case should be worked-up, what triable issues were or weren’t present, etc. 

Kelly is a unique, smart person, who has unique points of view on various issues, as I do.  That would not change.  I want to develop my own judicial philosophy.  I want to develop my own ideas and approaches to cases and issues confronting the courts.  

I’ve spent much of the last several months as a candidate speaking with citizens, Tribes, and law enforcement about how courts could better and more efficiently serve them.   All of the things I’ve learned from these interactions illuminated me—everything from ways to approach cultural sensitivity to expanding rural access

.to helping develop collaborative courts—and will inform my approach to the issues of the day.

My guess is the only thing that Kelly and I would have in common as judges is that we both worked as Prosecutors and Public Defenders.  We have that perspective on cases, which I think is an asset in a judge and why Kelly is so well-respected.  I hope that I would be as well-regarded as Kelly is among her judge peers and the attorneys who appear in front of her every day.

Regarding a conflict or appearance of impropriety, I honestly don’t see it; nor do any of the law enforcement, court staff and attorneys—civil lawyers, prosecutors, and defense counsel—who chose to endorse my candidacy.  Neither have any of the current judges expressed any concern, either to Kelly or me, about my candidacy.  The current lot of judges all take ethics very seriously.  

I am not sure how an attorney could disqualify 25% of the judiciary.  A litigant can exercise a disqualification pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 170.6.  If someone disqualified Kelly, it wouldn’t apply to me.  Judges can also self-disqualify under CCP 170.1.  For instance, Kelly recuses per CCP 170.1 on all my criminal cases. 

Are you asking whether I’d take it personally if someone disqualified Kelly, and that I’d somehow lose my ability to be fair and impartial toward that litigant? Prosecutors who disqualify Kelly now do so for various reasons.  It doesn’t bother me in the least.  I have great relationships with most of the Deputy District Attorneys.  What happens in court is business, not personal.  It’s never personal.

I hope that answered your question.  If I had any concerns about ethical conflicts, I would not run for election, and Kelly would not have signed off on the campaign if she had concerns.  Being a judge isn’t something I’d risk getting disbarred over!


Please check out the campaign website or visit us on Facebook, where you can email questions directly and see our list of endorsers and supporters.  Proud to announce recent endorsements from the Hoopa Valley Tribe and Del Norte District Attorney.