Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Diane Ritchie boasts in her ballot statement that her settlement record is "better than any other judge on the bench."

Prosecutor Matt Harris, one of the candidates seeking to replace the first-term judge, argues that the boast is untrue and should be removed from her ballot statement before it is mailed early next month to nearly 800,000 voters for the June primary. An "assigned" judge, Thomas P. Breen of San Benito County, will attempt to sort out who's right at a hearing Friday.

Harris, a deputy district attorney with 22 years of experience, challenged three aspects of Ritchie's ballot statement. Judge Mary Arand, originally assigned to consider the complaint, recused herself.

Presiding Judge Brian C. Walsh then emailed the rest of the bench asking for a volunteer, but no one stepped up. So the matter will be heard by a retired judge from nearby jurisdiction.

As for the boast, Ritchie's assertion can't be substantiated via an official record because no such record is currently kept. Without an official record, Ritchie or Harris would have to ask the court to research it, a process that could eat up a lot of a clerk's time in an era of limited judicial resources.

Even if it's true that Ritchie settles a bigger percentage of her cases than any of the other 70 or so judges, many argue that's not central to what makes an excellent judge. Ritchie, like any new civil judge, has been handling less complex matters than peers such as Judge Patricia Lucas, who tackled the head-spinning pension reform battle over San Jose's Measure B.


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Costs to county adding up in Shirakawa case

As disgraced former Santa Clara County supervisor George Shirakawa Jr. completes a jail term for his conviction on corruption charges and awaits trial on a campaign fraud accusation, IA figured it was time to tally up what his misadventures have cost the county so far in legal fees.

The total is still being determined, but so far taxpayers have been billed $9,020.54 by Shirakawa's appointed lawyer, Jay Rorty. That's since October, not including February. The county pays panel lawyers such as Rorty $110 an hour. Not much to a private attorney, but it will mount up before the case is over.

There's also the expense to jail Shirakawa. He will have been behind bars about six months when he gets out in May. It costs about $77,000 a year to house an inmate in Santa Clara County, and although Shirakawa is serving his time in Alameda County, by our rough estimation his incarceration costs could total about $38,500.

Honda's campaign loses a key player

The political director of Rep. Mike Honda's campaign has quit, telling supporters that the 17th Congressional District's competitive nature "will require and deserve an increasingly greater commitment of time and energy."

Lamar Heystek wrote that he's choosing instead "to begin devoting more time and energy to my wife, our son and the family we look forward to growing together," as well as starting a new job as program development officer at ASIAN Inc., a San Francisco nonprofit working for Asian-Americans.

It sounds like there's no bad blood between Heystek, 35, of San Francisco, and Honda, D-San Jose. "My faith and confidence in him and his campaign have been unshakable. He is an outstanding public servant and a great friend who will continue to receive my support and assistance."

Campaign finance reports filed show that Honda's campaign has been paying Heystek $6,000 per month. Heystek, a former Davis councilman, departs as the 17th District race shifts into even higher gear for the sprint toward June 3's top-two primary. Fellow Democrat Ro Khanna's challenge has been making headlines for almost a year. Republican Vanila Singh got into the race at the start of 2014. And two other Republicans -- Joel Vanlandingham and Vinesh Singh Rathore -- entered the race just before this month's candidacy filing deadline.

Honda campaign spokesman Vivek Kembaiyan said that Heystek has been an important part of the campaign since joining it in 2011, helping to run its multilingual voter outreach and laying groundwork for Honda's Democratic Party endorsement.

Judge rules Reed didn't violate state campaign laws

San Jose unionistas crowed when California's political watchdog declared that Mayor Chuck Reed had violated state campaign law in a bid to help ally Rose Herrera keep her City Council seat in a 2012 re-election challenge from a political newcomer they were backing.

But a Sacramento judge now has exonerated Reed in his appeal, calling the section of the state campaign law union leaders had accused the mayor of violating unconstitutional.

Reed had donated $100,000 from his "fiscal reform" campaign fund, used to promote pension cuts that enraged government unions, to an independent political committee promoting Herrera's re-election.

San Jose Police Officers' Association President Sgt. Jim Unland filed an October 2012 complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission, calling the mayor's move an "illegal funneling of campaign cash by Mayor Reed and the Chamber of Commerce to help Herrera."

Herrera handily won a second term over challenger Jimmy Nguyen. Reed argued that the prohibition on contributions from a "candidate-controlled committee" didn't apply to a termed-out mayor no longer seeking office. He also said miscommunication between his committee and FPPC staff led him to think the contribution was legal.

The FPPC ruled in September that Reed broke its laws, but it whittled a proposed $3,500 fine against Reed to just $1 on grounds that the mayor had not intentionally violated the law.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Allen Sumner, however, upheld Reed on appeal. Though Sumner agreed with the FPPC's interpretation that Reed qualified as a "candidate" under the law's definition, the judge found the law itself an overly broad restriction on political speech. Sumner cited the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial Citizens United ruling in 2010 overturning restrictions on independent political spending, a case that originated over a film critical of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"The ability to communicate freely about candidates for political office and the issues in an election," Sumner wrote, "lies at the heart of the First Amendment's protections."

For those thinking Sumner must be a political kindred spirit with Reed, it's worth noting that he also rejected the mayor's lawsuit complaining that Attorney General Kamala Harris' ballot summary of his proposed statewide pension reform initiative was unfair.

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



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