Voters to choose three new Superior Court judges on Tuesday

Unusual race features three open seats contested by six women candidates

San Francisco voters will have the unusual opportunity to elect not just one but three Superior Court judges on Tuesday from a pool of candidates that is made up entirely of women.

Six women — with varying backgrounds including as public defenders and prosecutors — are vying for three seats on the bench in the March 2020 election.

This election stands out from previous years because of the three open seats being left behind by Superior Court judges Peter J. Busch, John K. Stewart and James A. Robertson II.

“Open seats are few and far in between,” said candidate Michelle Tong, a deputy public defender of 16 years.

The election comes nearly two years after a group of public defenders unsuccessfully ran on a slate to unseat four Republican-appointed Superior Court judges in June 2018.

Once elected, the candidates could preside over an array of issues from criminal court cases to housing or family matters.

Tong is running against Dorothy Chou Proudfoot, an administrative law judge at the San Francisco Rent Board and a former longtime Marin County assistant district attorney.

Both women have immigrant backgrounds. Proudfoot is the daughter of Chinese parents who were raised in Taiwan, while Tong’s family is from Hong Kong.

As an attorney who has worked in San Francisco for more than two decades and lived here for seven years, Tong has positioned herself as a voice for the underrepresented.

“I have the cultural competence of being able to navigate around so many different communities from Asian, to Latin, to immigrant to black,” Tong said.

Proudfoot could not be reached for comment by press time. She specialized in sexual assault and domestic violence cases as a prosecutor of 16 years in Marin County.

On her website, she said “making decisions based on the rule of law, not political influence or a personal agenda” is critical to democracy.

In another contest, longtime San Francisco prosecutor Rani Singh is up against Carolyn Gold, a housing attorney who founded the nonprofit Eviction Defense Collaborative in 1996.

Singh, the child of a refugee from the partition of India, has risen through the ranks of the District Attorney’s Office since 2000 to become managing attorney of the collaborative courts and mental health unit.

A San Francisco native, she described herself as a progressive prosecutor who seemed destined to work as a public defender before choosing to make change from within the system.

“I never did gang prosecutions because I never really felt like we had a gang issue,” Singh said. “What we call gangs here are mostly just kids hanging out on the corner.”

As a director with the Eviction Defense Collaborative, Gold runs the recently created Right to Counsel program that provides tenants facing eviction with an attorney.

If elected, Gold said she would be the first tenants rights attorney to serve on the bench in all of California.

Gold said there is currently “a dearth of knowledge of landlord tenant law” among Superior Court judges in San Francisco.

“There isn’t a single one who comes from this area of law,” Gold said. “That’s why I decided to run.”

In the third contest, Deputy Public Defender Maria Evangelista is facing off with Pang Ly, who presides over traffic court arraignments, appeals and trials as a judge pro tem.

“I know what it’s like to beat the odds as a war refugee now running for judge,” said Ly, who was a refugee from Vietnam at age 5 in 1979.

Ly said she would be a “fair, impartial and independent judge for all San Franciscans.”

Evangelista is the child of Mexican farmworkers who was raised in South of Market and has worked with the Public Defender’s Office since 2003.

“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,” she previously said.

The candidates are limited in what they can say during their campaigns.

Under the California Code of Judicial Ethics, candidates cannot “engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary.”

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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