Several changes developed in the OC judicial races yesterday.
Attorney Frederick Fascenelli has dropped out of both races (Seats 3 and 40) for which he originally pulled papers. According to people close to him, he has set his sights on the 2018 judicial race, and is already talking to media mavens about putting together a game plan. If he’s smart, he’ll follow candidate Mike Murray’s lead and start active campaigning before anyone else does. Surprisingly, a judicial candidate can file with the CA Secretary of State, open an official campaign committee, and even begin fundraising without choosing a specific seat to chase.
Loud word on the street is that District Attorney Scott Zidbeck is pulling out of the race for Seat 3. This is a surprise because retiring Judge Andler specifically anointed Zidbeck for her seat. This may be the first time a candidate, handpicked by the judge, joined the race then got cold feet and stumbled out. This is the kind of slap-in-the-face to Judge Andler that may doom any future shot Zidbeck has at the bench. Having paid his non-refundable filing fee of $1800 or so, he’ll be known as the guy who threw in the towel at the first bell of the match. Doesn’t show the perseverance or resilience a winning candidate needs.
As these two drop out, two new candidates have joined the circus at the last minute. Former Huntington Beach City Attorney Jennifer McGrath jumped into race #3 that Zidbeck bolted from. McGrath lost her re-election bid for the city job, maybe in part due to her criminal driving under the influence conviction. But she faces a tough road against well-positioned Megan Wagner who seems to gather endorsements from judges and elected officials on a daily basis and claims a treasury of $100,000. And Wagner’s Deputy District Attorney ballot designation doesn’t hurt either. (All the controversy swirling around DA Rackauckas and his Office is only well-known to criminal justice insiders and readers of the OC Weekly. For the vast population of voters out there it’s just all inside baseball.)
The second newcomer is Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Thuy Dinh Pham who plunged into race for Seat 40. She will face off against OC Deputy District Attorney Larry Yellin and OC Board Supervisor Shawn Nelson. At first blush one would figure she would have an edge in the very active Vietnamese-American community in Orange County. But that community is surprisingly volatile, has a lot of internecine political infighting, and hasn’t displayed a clear history of voting for Vietnamese versus non-Vietnamese candidates. I was told once Vietnamese-American voters often distrust Vietnamese-American candidates they don’t know well. Simply put, the voters there have to actually like you before they vote for you, regardless of your ethnicity.
Question: will two Deputy District Attorneys in the same race dilute, or even cancel out, what is considered a magic ballot designation? That could certainly boost Shawn Nelson’s chances. More questions: will Judge Andler endorse one of the other candidates now? Will District Attorney endorse one of his own, Larry Yellin, or political ally Shawn Nelson. Supposedly for a Republican (Tony) to endorse a Democrat (Yellin) is political suicide in OC, however since this isn’t a partisan office, that may not be part of Rackauckas’ calculus.
Coming up soon: the judicial philosophies of the candidates in their own words.
But until then, KEEP IT ON THE QT!