2012-04-26 / Community

T.O. attorney faces veteran judge in race for Superior Court

By Sylvie Belmond

Bradley Bjelke says if he’s elected to serve as a judge on the Ventura County Superior Court he will update technology and case management operations and breathe new life into the court.

It can take up to two years to resolve a case through litigation, said Bjelke, a Thousand Oaks attorney who is competing against veteran Judge Harry Walsh to fill an opening in the Ventura County court.

“The state court system is filled with trial delays, and the courts have not embraced new technologies to assist in the management of growing caseloads and paperwork,” said Bjelke, 36.

The Superior Court election will take place June 5 in conjunction with the presidential primaries.

Judges and sometimes juries hear witness testimony and other evidence. They use decisions from earlier, similar cases to decide the outcome of a trial.

The California courts handle all criminal cases, including felonies, misdemeanors and traffic matters. They also have jurisdiction over civil cases, including family and juvenile law, and general matters.

Five of 28 judges officiating in Ventura County have been elected. The others were appointed by the governor to fill vacancies between elections.

Six of the seven judicial candidates up for reelection this spring were unopposed, so their names were removed from the ballot.

Walsh, a Ventura resident who was appointed to the bench by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1998 and who is facing his first election, said 85 percent of civil cases in Ventura County are resolved within 18 months of the date they are filed.

Cases that take longer often require additional time because the lawyers are not ready or because the case involves complex circumstances, Walsh told the Acorn.

A former Air Force officer and graduate of Stanford University and Loyola University School of Law, Walsh, 68, began his legal career in 1971.

Walsh presides over civil trials for the Ventura County Superior Court. He also chairs the grand jury committee and is presiding judge of the appellate department. He previously handled family law cases.

“It has been the best job I’ve ever had. I enjoy the interaction with the juries and lawyers and being involved in the decisionmaking process,” he said.

Before becoming a judge, Walsh worked in private practice in Ventura and Oxnard handling litigation and jury trials.

“What I’m offering is my experience both as a lawyer and as a judge. I was a trial lawyer for 27 years. I’m very knowledgeable and experienced in how a courtroom operates.

“I’m also offering my reputation,” Walsh said, adding that he’s been endorsed by 400 lawyers who have had the opportunity to evaluate his job performance firsthand.

Walsh is past president of Catholic Charities and of Caregivers Assisting the Elderly. He is a volunteer judge for the high school mock trial program.

He said the most important function of a judge is to be fair, impartial and patient. But at the same time a judge must be able to make tough decisions.

“You can’t make all the people happy all of the time,” said Walsh, who has lived in Ventura County since 1971. He and his wife, Deanna, have five children and eight grandchildren. Bjelke is an attorney handling civil cases for a general practice law firm in Westlake Village.

He graduated from California Lutheran University and Boston College Law School and is an adjunct lecturer at CLU.

“Being a judge has been a lifelong dream for me. Since I began studying the law, I’ve always been fascinated by jurisprudence, looking at the law, looking at the facts and making judicial decisions,” he said.

Aside from being an informed and fair magistrate, Bjelke said he would streamline bureaucracy so the court system can adapt to the economic downturn.

Bjelke and his wife, Bridget, have two children.

He has been actively introducing himself and his platform to residents.

The nonpartisan office hasn’t been a well-publicized position, Bjelke said.

“I’m trying to bring awareness for the community through the election. One of the biggest problems with judicial elections is that most members of the community don’t know the judges’ names.

“It’s very important that a judge of the Superior Court be known to the community and be an active member of the community,” he said.

Judges serve a six-year term.

Absentee ballots are scheduled to go out on Mon., May 7.

Ventura County Clerk and Recorder Mark Lunn said the incumbent and newcomer will both face challenges in gaining recognition and support for their campaign.

He said challengers could find it hard to raise money because few people understand what they’re running for.

Incumbent judges are limited in what they can say to highlight their accomplishments because they can’t discuss individual cases.

“It’s a tough problem for a candidate to overcome,” Lunn said.

According to Lunn, appointed judges undergo more scrutiny than their elected counterparts.

“If a person wants to be appointed judge, they go through a huge amount of vetting by their peers,” he said.

The process allows officials to examine an applicant’s past and understand their temperament and experience. Then the governor makes a decision based on his preference.

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