The lessons of the jungle aren't far from this week's race to don the black robes at Ventura County Superior Court.
I love watching National Geographic's television program "Wild"
because the animal kingdom sometimes seems to be one up on the human race.
As long as I've been watching the program, I've never seen a lion
take down a bull elephant, even if the four-legged beast is up in years. I am
sure there are rare examples when this happens, especially if the elephant is
limping or mortally wounded.
This is why I and others were baffled when Attorney Bradley Bjelke
who is a bright judicial candidate and constitutional scholar who works at a
Westlake law firm, decided to challenge veteran Judge Harry Walsh -- "Papa Bull with a Bowtie," who is a
There were seven judicial candidates up for reelection, including Walsh. None
of the other six drew an opponent.
So, there were other candidates who had little or some courtroom
experience, no name recognition and who would have a hard time raising campaign
(In Nat Geo "Wild," the lion usually goes after the weakest prey
like the antelope. And it's usually the one who appears to be daydreaming
standing near a waterhole and is the last one to finally figure out that the
herd's collective bolt means "ruuuuun!")
There was speculation that Mr. Bjelke believed that Judge Walsh
would decide that he didn't want to go through the ardous task of running
for reelection and simply decide to hang up the robe and retire.
Mr. Bjelke denied it, saying age had nothing to do with his
Adding that it didn't matter who his opponent was.
"I bring new life and a new vision. It's really all that I am
running on. It's not about picking apart another person," he said.
It's hard to find
weaknesses in an opponent who has more than 10 years on the bench, who
seems to have a law library in his head, is as sharp as a razor, and doesn't seem
play favorites in his court.
(Yeah, sometimes he can be cranky on the bench. As I wrote
before, the judge looks like he could be type cast to play in the role of the
school teacher in the novel, "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" by James Hilton. And, when lawyers irritate and frustrate him,
he leans forward toward the bench, lowers his head and peers above the eyeglasses
and bowtie and stares at them. Stares hard like they forgot to turn in an
By his own admission, the judge said he has to work on his
deportment on the bench. The Ventura Bar Association gave him a score of less
than perfect score on that.
Judge Walsh said judges aren't "political animals" so they have to
figure out what to say and what not to say to get reelected. Their campaign
people probably tell them how to stand and pal around a bit.
I saw a glimmer of hope.
In a rare glimpse of Judge Walsh on the main floor of Hall of
Justice just days before the election, I saw a bounce in his step and a very
spirited mood while talking to a couple of lawyers.
I thought, wow. What a transformation. I said to myself, thanks
The judge said he took Mr. Bjelke as a serious challenger.
When Judge Walsh won the judicial race not too many people at the
courthouse were surprised. But when he got the lion's share of the votes -- 80 percent
of the vote - it made more than a few jaws drop.
In an email sent Wednesday, Mr. Bjelke stated: "As anyone involved in politics knows, it
is difficult to win when you are outspent more than 10 to 1."
(Oh yeah, that's another thing I learned from Nat Geo. When the
bull elephant charges the lion, it brings its massive body and big
Bjelke tried to put a "Happy Face"
on very lopsided defeat.
"We received nearly 17,000 votes (20% of the vote) which is a huge
accomplishment and a testament to our hard work and dedication over the past 3
months," he stated in the email
The final tally was that Mr. Bjelke raised nearly $9,000 in
contributions. He had nearly $8,000 in expenditures.
Judge Walsh raised $144,910 in contributions and spent nearly
$98,000 in his campaign.
Walsh's top contributors were Ventura Attorneys Diane and Peter
Goldenring who each contributed $1,499. Bjelke's biggest contributions were $100 donations.
The list of the judge's contributors included a Who's Who in the
legal community along with many of the judicial brethren. In addition, Judge Walsh and Co. were able to get the endorsement
of more than 500 lawyers.
Running for a judgeship in Ventura County takes a lot of money and
time to persuade voters to oust the incumbent judge.
The judicial races simply come down to who has the most experience
and the thickest and most impressive resume.
A judge or judicial candidate is limited to what he or she can say
about such things as crime, abortion, gun control or the death penalty or the
judge can later be recused by lawyers who end up in his or her courtroom.
Unless a sitting judge moonwalks on top of the bench during trial
or if the judge catches some serious attention from the state's Commission
on Judicial Performance's disciplinary unit or gets continuously reversed by
the appellate court, they're hard to take down.
It was interesting. There were rumblings at the courthouse when
the race began picking up steam: "Who is this Bjelke guy?" and "Who does he
think he is."
Truth to the matter is that it takes a bit of courage and a thick skin to
run against a judge in Ventura County or almost anywhere else. And, when it
happens, it is good.
It keeps everyone at the Hall of Justice on their toes and
contributes to a healthy judicial process, and so, the residents of Ventura
Mr. Bjelke said his passion is law and his dream is to become a
He told me that he isn't sure when or if he'll run for judicial
post, again. If he does and wins, I get to write the story about the "Come
For now, Brad, go click on the National Geographic Channel.