Two former prosecutors wooing voters in judge race

San Francisco voters will choose one of two former prosecutors to take a seat on the San Francisco Superior Court bench in the Nov. 8 election.

Victor Hwang, a police commissioner who has worked as both a public defender and prosecutor, is running against Paul Henderson, an advisor on criminal justice for Mayor Ed Lee and a former District Attorney’s Office administrator.

The pair advanced after the runoff election in June, in which Hwang came away with 47.53 percent of the vote compared to Henderson’s 34.61 percent. The third candidate, Sigrid Elizabeth Irias, got 17.2 percent.

The seat became vacant earlier this year when Judge Ernest H. Goldsmith retired.

Candidates

At a Bar Association of San Francisco debate earlier this year, both candidates explained why they want to run and what they think matters in the judiciary.

“It’s not about somebody’s political values or personal values as much as their qualifications and experience in the courtroom,” said Hwang, a 23-year trial attorney, who’s taken about 80 cases to trial.

“The judiciary should reflect the community that it served, and I want to reflect this community,” said Henderson, who’s tried 46 cases to verdict.

Judicial philosophy

Hwang noted that San Francisco has it’s own “definition of justice,” and judges must reflect San Francisco values while at their core, remaining referees in the courtroom.

As a judge, Hwang said he would make sure that unheard people like immigrants and others feel they have been listened to and understand the process.

Henderson, meanwhile, said judges must play a role to set a tone on how both sides will interact before a jury.

“Every single day, communities come into the courtroom and they look to the judge,” he said, noting that judges must be leaders and examples of fairness and justice.

Henderson said his broad range of criminal and civil legal work, including time on the bench as a pro tem judge and as an administrator who developed policies around the law, are experiences that will help him be a better judge.

“The sum of those experiences make me the best candidate,” said Henderson.

Hwang said his career has been one dedicated to the idea of justice, and added that his experiences trumps his opponent’s because of his time in the trenches as a prosecutor and defense attorney.

Biographies

Hwang serves as deputy director for the Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach and has been a civil rights attorney and public defender. He was a deputy district attorney in San Francisco from 2007 to 2014, when he prosecuted hate crimes and human trafficking, among other crimes.

Hwang was appointed to the Police Commission in April 2014, and the San Francisco Bar Association ranked Hwang as more qualified than his opponents. The organization does not do outright endorsements, but instead grades each candidate for their qualification.

Henderson, a fourth generation San Franciscan from the Bayview, worked in the District Attorney’s Office, most recently for then-District Attorney Kamala Harris as the Chief of the Office. Since then, Henderson has been a deputy chief of staff for the mayor, focusing on justice reforms. He also has experience as a judge serving pro tem for several years in San Francisco.

Read more criminal justice news on the Crime Ink page in print. Follow us on Twitter: @sfcrimeink

Jonah Owen Lamb
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Jonah Owen Lamb

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