So much for neutrality. Ignoring an unofficial code of etiquette, seven Santa Clara County Superior Court judges so far have taken sides in a rare political battle involving one of their own. The June 3 race in question -- pitting Judge Diane Ritchie against two challengers -- is the first time in 16 years an incumbent has faced opposition.

Normally, judges would be reluctant to take sides; running into each other in the halls could be awkward if the incumbent wins.

But now, five sitting judges have come out in support of one of Ritchie's two challengers, Deputy District Attorney Matthew Harris.

Judges Paul Colin and Michelle McKay McCoy, both former prosecutors, are siding with Harris.

So are Judge Vanessa A. Zecher, a former family law attorney, Judge Susan Bernadini, a former public defender, and Judge Griffin Bonini.

Three others have sided with Ritchie: Judges Socrates Manoukian, Kenneth Barnum and Franklin E. Bondonno.

And in another atypical development, District Attorney Jeff Rosen and former DAs Dolores Carr and George Kennedy all support Harris rather than the incumbent judge.

Odds still favor Ritchie, but the splitting of the ranks is a sign that she may have to work a tad harder than expected to keep her seat. Then again, Ritchie, a former labor and employment lawyer, was elected to her first term after winning the 2008 runoff race against veteran prosecutor Lane Liroff, even though Liroff had the support of more than 60 sitting judges.


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Unlike Ritchie, the other 26 judges up for re-election in the county haven't drawn a challenger. The last time a sitting judge had to fend off opponents was in the 1998 race between then-Judge Gregory Ward and prosecutor Richard Titus. Ward won in a landslide. Also running for Ritchie's seat is defense attorney Annrae Angel, but she hasn't garnered any judicial endorsements yet.

Despite an unusual amount of training and mentoring, Ritchie's first term has been marked by a string of odd incidents. In one case, Ritchie asked a landlord to serve as a translator for a tenant who was complaining about substandard conditions. In another, she publicly asked a former client appearing before her on petty theft charges for his phone number so they could meet socially.

Honda holds commanding lead in congressional race

Rep. Mike Honda holds a lead of at least 19 percentage points over Democratic challenger Ro Khanna, if you believe a new poll released Thursday morning by a national liberal group that's backing Honda.

The poll of 17th Congressional District voters conducted by Public Policy Polling on behalf of Democracy for America found Honda, D-San Jose, leading Khanna by that margin when they and a third candidate, Republican Vanila Singh, are identified by their party affiliations. In fact, Singh finished ahead of Khanna, though within the poll's 6 percentage-point margin of error.

Without being told the candidates' party affiliations, voters preferred Honda over Khanna by 35 percentage points with Singh a distant third. In one-on-one matches, Honda led Khanna by 22 points and Singh by 38 points. And the poll found 61 percent of respondents approve of Honda's job performance.

"Mike Honda has earned the support of Silicon Valley voters and he continues to have their support today, no matter how many max-out contributions millionaire and billionaire CEOs and executives pour into Vanilla Singh and Ro Khanna's campaigns," said Charles Chamberlain, Democracy for America's executive director.

Honda and Khanna have been taking shots at each other for months. Honda accuses Khanna of being in the pocket of Silicon Valley technology millionaires. Khanna counters that at least his backers are in the Bay Area, while Honda is bankrolled by out-of-state interest groups.

Without taking the poll as gospel, Khanna's campaign still sees progress.

"It is encouraging to know that, in a matter of months, Ro has increased his support from 5 percent to 26 percent while Rep. Honda's lead has plummeted from 52 to 19 points and he's now well under 50 percent -- a danger sign for any incumbent," Khanna spokesman Tyler Law said. "The trends are very much in favor of change this November."

Poll numbers released in election for San Jose mayor

That wasn't last week's only polling news. Another survey, by EMC Research, paid for by public employee unions that back San Jose mayoral candidate Dave Cortese, a Santa Clara County supervisor, found that -- wouldn't you know -- Cortese is ahead! Given the source, you have to take the results with a mound of salt. But for what it's worth, they showed 19 percent for Cortese, 15 percent for San Jose Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen, 10 percent for San Jose Councilman Sam Liccardo, 8 percent for San Jose Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio, 6 percent for San Jose Councilwoman Rose Herrera and 3 percent for Pat Waite, a conservative who hasn't declared plans to run. The margin of error was 4.9 percentage points.

The remaining 39 percent were undecided, showing lots of folks just haven't paid attention yet. That's a lot of eligible voters for the candidates to court as they head toward the June 3 primary, when the top two candidates are expected to advance to the November election. The current mayor, Chuck Reed, is termed out at the end of this year.

Fireworks over proposal for July Fourth celebration

If you want to be San Jose's mayor, it helps to be agile enough to jump to the head of the parade. That seemed to be the case this week when Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese sent out a news release announcing the board had approved his request to support the return of the July 4 fireworks to downtown San Jose. Cortese got a little airplay on radio for his proposal, which would commit $50,000 to the event and another $20,000 for education about illegal fireworks.

The problem with this version was that it skipped the background. The seeds of the project were sown nearly a year and a half ago in an informal breakfast discussion between Carl Salas, the current Downtown Rotary president, and Teresa Alvarado, the Santa Clara Valley Water District manager who lost a race for supervisor last year to Cindy Chavez.

Salas got excited about the idea and approached Councilman Sam Liccardo, a Cortese rival for mayor, and Chavez, one of his downtown neighbors. "We saw this as Rotary's gift to the community," said Salas, who describes himself as apolitical. "Cindy said, 'We can get behind that.' She's been really helpful." Salas says he expects $50,000 from both the county and the city, as well as corporate donations for the $200,000 event.

By email, Cortese responded this way: "I did acknowledge Rotary in my introduction of the item and in the subsequent radio interview. I think Rotary should do its own release and declare victory!"

Internal Affairs is an offbeat look at state and local politics. This week's items were written by Tracey Kaplan, Josh Richman, Mike Rosenberg, Scott Herhold and Paul Rogers. Send tips to internalaffairs@mercurynews.com, or call 408-920-5782.

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