A year after running against a Republican-appointed judge on a slate of candidates from the Public Defender’s Office, defense attorney Maria Evangelista is back to try her luck at another seat on the bench.
This time, the deputy public defender said she is campaigning on her own to become the first Latina judge elected in San Francisco history.
“I’m running for judge to ensure that our courts are in touch with the communities they serve and provide equal treatment for all people that come before the courts,” Evangelista said. “That really goes back to who I am and how I’ve spent my whole life serving the public.”
Evangelista intends to run in March 2020 for a seat that is rumored to be left vacant by retiring San Francisco Superior Court Judge Peter Busch.
The deadline to enter the race is not until Nov. 6, but as of Thursday afternoon she will be running against only one other candidate.
Pang Ly, a commissioner pro tem for the Superior Court, is also vying for the seat and has the endorsement of Busch in the race, she said.
Both Evangelista and Ly have years of experience in the court system and compelling immigrant stories.
Raised by farmworkers
Since 2003, Evangelista has held a variety of roles for the Public Defender’s Office both inside and outside the courtroom. She currently works in the Veterans Justice and Intensive Supervision courts, which aim to provide defendants with alternatives to incarceration.
Evangelista, 44, is the child of farmworkers. When Evangelista was still in the womb, her pregnant mother was deported to Mexico.
Her father then left the U.S. voluntarily and carried her mother back over the border a few days later, Evangelista said.
She was born in San Francisco and grew up a block away from the Hall of Justice in South of Market.
“All of those things made me really want to pay it forward,” Evangelista said.
Evangelista would not be the first Latina judge in San Francisco — Judge Suzanne Bolanos is believed to have claimed that title in 2003. But she would be the first to win an election without first being appointed by a governor, Evangelista said.
Evangelista made news in the June 2018 election when she ran alongside deputy public defenders Phoenix Streets, Niki Solis and Kwixuan Maloof in an unsuccessful bid to unseat four longtime judges.
The public defenders targeted the judges for having been appointed by Republican governors, though three of the four judges said they were lifelong Democrats. Evangelista lost against Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow.
Ly started working in the Asbestos Department when she joined the Superior Court as a settlement officer in 2010. She was elevated to commissioner pro tem in 2016 and currently handles a variety of cases including asbestos, probate and complex litigation.
She began her legal career in Missouri as a prosecutor working felony driving-under the influence, elder abuse and domestic violence cases.
Ly said she hopes to “serve as a judge that is impartial, balanced and respects every person’s inherent dignity.”
When Ly was five years old in 1979, her family became refugees from Vietnam. They were rescued by fisherman who took them to an island off Malaysia where they remained in a camp for almost a year before finding a sponsor in Springfield, Missouri.
Ly said she grew up in poverty with her father holding two jobs and her mother working at a chicken factory or as a housekeeper.
“I have been so fortunate to be a part of the American dream,” Ly said. “I don’t take that for granted at all, leaving as a child and not being sure if we were going to make it.”
Both candidates say they have already fielded endorsements.
Evangelista said she has been endorsed by the labor leader Dolores Huerta, while Ly said she has endorsements from 21 San Francisco judges, including Busch.
Two other judges, James Robertson and John K. Stewart, are also rumored to be leaving their seats open next March.
But a spokesperson for the Superior Court would not confirm whether any of the three judges were retiring pending the Nov. 6 deadline to enter the race.
Department of Elections records show candidates are lining up for their seats.
Attorney Dorothy Proudfoot, the former president of the Marin County Bar Association, has declared her intent to replace Robertson, while attorney Kulvindar “Rani” Kaur Singh, a former assistant district attorney in San Francisco, intends to run for the Stewart seat.