Superior Court Judge (No. 14) candidate Cole McKnight

Kern County Voter’s Guide

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Superior Court Judge (No. 14) candidate Cole McKnight“Gang violence is the fastest growing criminal trend in Kern County. We need judges who understand gang law, and as D.A.s we find ourselves educating judges on these laws,” said Cole McKnight, candidate for Kern County Superior Court Judge.

After 11 years working in the Kern County District Attorney’s Office, with the last seven of those years spent in the gang unit, McKnight said that he is motivated to run for the seat currently held by John Fielder.

“During my time with the gang unit, I have seen that the crime rate is increasing not just in number, but in severity,” he said.

“I understand gangs are not an issue for you here in Ridgecrest, and I hope it stays that way. Unfortunately that’s not the case with the rest of the county.”

In recent years Kern has experienced a record number of homicides, most of which are attributed to gang-related activity.

“This county needs judges who have the knowledge, the will, the resolve and the strength of character to sentence these criminals appropriately.”

McKnight’s family moved to Bakersfield when he was a baby. He grew up in the area and earned first a bachelor’s then a master’s degree in biology.

His love in school for the sciences didn’t translate well to working in a cancer research lab in Sacramento, he said.

“So I decided to look for something more exciting, with more immediate rewards. I kept working in the lab and went to law school at night.”

When he graduated, he applied to the KCDA “because I wanted to come home.”

He and his wife of 22 years, along with their three children and extended family, are back in Bakersfield.

Since working in the D.A.’s office, he has prosecuted all manner of crimes, including more than 50 felony murder trials, and worked closely with Gang Unit Supervisor Cynthia Zimmer, a candidate for D.A.

“As a judicial candidate, I cannot publicly endorse a person in any race, but I can say that I am who I am because of her,” said McKnight.

“I am comfortable in a courtroom and I know the evidence code very well, which is what ensures that both sides get a fair trial. It takes integrity, honesty and strength of character to do what is right.

“To be here and tell you I have those qualities doesn’t mean a lot, but even defense attorneys are supporting me in this race. These are the people I have battled it out with — on multiple occasions — but they know I have those qualities. They know that I will treat their clients with courtesy and respect and fairness.”

His other endorsers include the Kern County Prosecutors’ Association and numerous police officers associations.

“My opponent has been a judge for 37 years. He has been disciplined four times by the commission on judicial performance.” Each resulted in a public admonishment, he said.

McKnight said that he does not believe county judges are too lenient on crime, for the most part, but he acknowledged that state-mandated initiatives to reduce felonies to misdemeanors and reduce sentencing guidelines have created challenges in public safety and criminal justice.

“While these laws are changing, gang violence is getting out of hand and plea bargaining is not helping the issue.

“From a judge’s standpoint, which is sort of a passive entity, they cannot make policy or rule on anything other than the cases brought before them,” he said.

“What we need are judges who can appropriately address violent crimes by understanding and working within the set framework to sentence guilty defendants.”

Story First Published: 2018-05-25