Martin eligibility questioned in judge race

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

On the heels of political adversaries challenging the experience and ethics of Kern County Superior Court Judge Candidate Brandon Martin, one of the most high-profile legal minds in the county dropped a bombshell this week indicating that Martin’s suspension from the bar in 2010 disqualifies him from running for that office.

Bakersfield attorney Theresa Goldner went on the Richard Beene radio show Wednesday (archived under “latest blogs” at www.kernradio. com/shows/the-richard-beene-show/) to say that because Martin failed to pay dues for the state bar association from February to September 2010, for which he was subsequently suspended, he does not meet the California Constitutional requirement of 10 years continuous membership with the bar — the minimum requirement for running for judge.

Beene asked how, if that were the case, Martin made it onto the ballot in the first place. Goldner said she had the same question, so made a visit to the elections office earlier that day to ask.

“What I found out was very troubling,” she said.

She continued that as a former U.S. magistrate, county counsel, president of the Kern County Bar Association and Kern County Superior Court commissioner, “I felt compelled to find out what the truth was. I care about our courts and the integrity of our court system.”

Goldner said that elections clerks said prospective judge candidates can either show their bar card or a print out of their Bar Association history when they file for candidacy. “The elections office informed me that they rely on the truth and accuracy of the documents presented by judicial candidates,” she said. No procedure now exists to verify that information.

Martin only showed his bar card, she said. If they had seen his Bar Association history, they would have been on high alert about his eligibility. “I don’t think he would have even been allowed to be on the ballot. It’s pretty shocking, isn’t it?”

Martin called into the show, and Beene allowed him to join the interview remotely.

“She’s wrong about one thing,” said Martin. He said that a suspension does not remove attorneys from the rosters of the state bar.

Goldner cited Section 6143 of the California Business and Professions Code (Section 6143), “And I want your listeners to listen very carefully — it says, and I quote, ‘Any member, active or inactive, failing to pay any fees, penalties or costs after they become due, and after two months written notice of his or her delinquency, shall be suspended from the membership in the state bar.’ And that’s exactly what happened to Brandon’s membership.”

She said that the matter of eligibility for judgeship was the subject of a prior attorney general opinion.

“The question presented is whether suspension of membership in the state bar for nonpayment of bar fees during the 10-year period preceding election as a judge renders a candidate ineligible for that office.

“Our review of the history and court interpretation of the constitutional provision and the State Bar Act, including Business and Professions Code Sections 6000 and following, leads us to conclude that the candidate is ineligible for office.”

Martin noted that the attorney general’s opinion is not law.

“Why didn’t you give the elections office a printout of your state bar history?” Goldner asked.

Martin maintained that he’s been a member of the bar for the past 10 years.

“This is a big deal,” said Goldner. “To try to pass this off as like not paying library fines is entirely misleading. The voters deserve better than that.”

“This is an issue in your mind, not an issue in my mind.” He then prompted her to disclose that she had endorsed his opponent, Chad Louie, for the seat. “You’re not an independent legal analyst or anything like that.”

Goldner said she was one of many who had promised more than a year ago to support Louie for judge. “I know Chad, I know him to be a very, very experienced attorney with a great deal of integrity.”

Louie and his supporters, including Kern County Prosecutors Association President Anthony Caves, have continued to question Martin’s lack of experience as an attorney, particularly since Martin has been working for 4th District Supervisor David Couch for the last several years.

Goldner said that in 2017 taxpayers paid Martin more than $98,000 in salary and benefits for that position.

“If you were a full-time chief of staff for a member of the board of supervisors, when did you practice law and what cases did you handle?”

Martin said that in addition to his primary role, he helped with his father’s law firm and taught class one evening a week for a law school.

“You can do more than one job,” he said, adding that it shows his fitness for the bench. “You have to be able to handle a heavy workload.”

According to Karen Rhea of the Kern County Elections Office, all candidates are required to sign a declaration affirming their qualification to run.

When asked if there is a way to challenge that qualification, she responded, “That’s happening now, apparently.

“Any candidate can be challenged at any time during the nomination process,” she said, noting that her office is not involved in the challenge process.

The News Review attempted to reach Kern County Counsel Mark Nations. However, he is out of the office until June 7.

Story First Published: 2018-06-01