North Coast Journal



What makes a good judge?

by Judy Hodgson



"The thinking is, if you are bright enough to practice law, you should be bright enough to do the research and prepare for assignments," said Gayle Guynup, Mendocino Municipal Court judge (retired) and a native of Humboldt County.

"The question for voters really becomes, 'Does the person have the patience and temperament? Can they set aside their own biases and prejudices to make a fair decision?'

"A person who makes a good attorney is often a very different person from one who makes a good judge. An attorney is an advocate, a judge must be detached.

"It is like the difference between being a national football player and a referee," Guynup said in a telephone interview last month.

Voters will be asked to apply that criteria next month in choosing one of three North Coast attorneys to be the next judge for the North Humboldt Municipal Court. It is a hotly contested race between attorney Joyce Hinrichs, wife of attorney Steve Watson and sister-in-law to seated Judge Bruce Watson; Deputy District Attorney Rob Wade; and teacher-turned-attorney Marilyn Miles. (Victor Schaub and Timothy Gray dropped out of the race following the cancelled primary.)

In separate interviews last month, the candidates all said they are ready to put aside their advocacy roles.

"Patience, impartiality, these are all qualities a judge must have," said Marilyn Miles.

A native of Arcata, Miles earned a master's degree in psychology, taught school and worked as a probation officer prior to law school. She has been directing attorney for the California Indian Legal Services since 1982 and has experience in private practice.

Miles said her strengths include a thorough knowledge of due process, the ability to handle constitutional questions and the ability to "apply the law properly."

Miles began her legal career as an attorney on the controversial G-O Road case involving Native American burial grounds. That case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"In the courtroom you try to work things out amicably, to reach agreement," she said. "Short of that, you have to pick one side over the other and rationally and dispassionately explain your decision ... in a way that engenders respect."

Rob Wade said his strongest suit is courtroom experience.

"I'm in court almost every day doing criminal work, sentencing."

Wade began his legal career in private practice in San Rafael before moving to Humboldt County to become an assistant district attorney in 1986. He has handled murder cases, drug cases and other serious felonies. He headed a special unit to prosecute child molesters and is lead prosecutor in narcotics dealing cases.

"People could have a concern that as a prosecutor I would just be going out on the bench to carry out a pre-agenda. That wouldn't be the case. ... The reason I have been so successful (as a prosecutor) is that I am able to see both sides and evaluate a case....

"A judge has a different role. A judge needs to be a referee and to see that the two sides do a capable job in court," Wade said.

"There is a fair amount of discretion a judge has. You have to apply the law in a way that does not demean the parties," he added.

Joyce Hinrichs said she considered two professions when she was growing up in Fortuna: She wanted to be either a teacher or a lawyer.

"I chose law, but even as a lawyer you have to be able to be detached," she said. "I am my own devil's advocate because you need to know what to expect and to be prepared."

Hinrichs spent three years with the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office before going into private practice. And she already has some experience on the bench.

"I see this (race) as an extension of the kinds of things I have done all along. I've served as judge pro tem in Small Claims court. It's a volunteer position, but I've gotten good feedback.... I've served as a Teen Court judge.

"In juvenile court, representing children, part of the mandate is to do some transcending ... to do the right thing, not just be an advocate."


In the last race for a municipal court judgeship two years ago, the victor outspent his opponent $70,000 to $40,000. Will money also be a factor in this race?

"I thought if I raised $20,000, that might be enough," Miles said. "I was wrong."

"We took out a second mortgage on our home," said Hinrichs. "It's unfortunate it's so expensive to run for office."

"It's costing more than I hoped," said Wade. "I think I'm being outspent, but I'm not sure."


Editor's note: When Dale Reinholtzen was appointed in May by Gov. Pete Wilson to fill a vacancy on the Eureka Municipal Court created by the retirement of Judge John Morrison, some voters wrongly assumed there would be no election next month. The three candidates are seeking voters' approval to the Northern Humboldt Municipal Court, a vacancy created by the medical retirement of Judge Ron Rowland earlier this year.

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