The three candidates on the primary ballot next Tuesday for a seat on the San Diego County Superior Court agree on the qualities that make a good judge: solid legal experience, fair-handedness and an even, respectful temperament on the bench.
Their disagreement is that each insists he, alone, is the man for the job.
Voters countywide will choose in the relatively rare judicial vote among E. Mac Amos, a San Diego Municipal Court judge; Thomas Waddell, a San Diego attorney in private practice, and Charles Wickersham, a deputy district attorney.
The candidates have much in common. Each is in his 40s and has three children. Each has experience as a prosecutor. Each supports the death penalty. Each claims he has earned the support of law-and-order-conscious San Diego County voters.
But each also lays claim to distinctive qualities that set him apart from his challengers:
- Amos--appointed to the Municipal Court by Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. in August, 1982, and retained by the voters later that year and again in 1984--notes that he is the only candidate to have served full-time as a judge.
That distinction may explain why he was the only one of the candidates to receive the highest rating of a San Diego County Bar Assn. evaluation committee. The bar dubbed Amos "well qualified" for the post; Waddell and Wickersham were rated "qualified."
"Once you've seen somebody on the bench, you have an idea what that person's judicial temperament is like," said Amos, a soft-spoken runner who was a federal prosecutor in the early 1970s and later a criminal-defense lawyer and civil litigator. "You maintain respect and decorum in the courtroom, but you put the parties at ease."
- Waddell--who ran unsuccessfully for district attorney in 1976--says he has the most varied legal background of any of the candidates, with experience in civil, criminal and domestic law. His personal style is animated bluntness, a marked contrast to his subdued, circumspect competitors.
Waddell started his legal career as a deputy district attorney in the 1960s and went on to establish a reputation as a tough legal advocate for law enforcement officers accused of wrongdoing. Currently, his practice is devoted mostly to family law, and he occasionally has filled in as a judge pro tem for the Superior Court.
"In order to be a well-rounded judge, you need to be a well-rounded lawyer first," said Waddell, whose downtown office walls are lined with sports-oriented art.
- Wickersham--best known for winning the criminal case that forced Roger Hedgecock to resign as mayor of San Diego last year--insists he is the strongest law-and-order candidate in the race.
Each candidate was interviewed last week, and only Wickersham described himself as the front-runner in the race. A 20-year veteran of the district attorney's office, he has the endorsement of the city's most widely read daily newspaper, the San Diego Union, and of the county Police Chiefs' and Sheriff's Assn.
"For people that want a strong law-enforcement type judge, my leanings would be that way," said Wickersham, the only one of the candidates who admitted to a predisposition in criminal matters.
The campaign, like many judicial contests, has been virtually invisible to the public. Waddell has turned down campaign contributions, Wickersham has raised about $6,000, and Amos has collected less than $10,000.
Wickersham and Amos have toured the circuit of service clubs and luncheon groups. Waddell, busy with a private practice, said he has relied mainly on word of mouth to sell his name to voters.
The seat is up for grabs because Superior Court Judge Earl H. Maas Jr. is retiring.
All three candidates say that, if they were elected, attorneys and litigants would walk away from their courtrooms satisfied--win or lose--that they had gotten a fair shake.
"I think it's always courageous when a judge does what he thinks is right, even though it's not the popular thing to do," Wickersham said. "That's the toughest part about the job."
Waddell said: "It's fine to be firm--and that's what I think I am. But I think you have to treat everybody in the courtroom with the respect he's entitled to."
Amos said the trial judge must always be the man in the middle, taking the law as interpreted by higher courts as his guide.
"Before you hear anything at all about an issue, you can't say, 'I'm inclined to do this, I'm inclined to do that,' " he said. "That's one of the big differences between being an advocate and a judge."
His challengers--both advocates in their current roles--acknowledge that moving to the bench would require a quick change of tack. Waddell and Wickersham said they would be able to make the shift, but Waddell acknowledged that he might find the change difficult.
"In my case, the valid criticism might be just that--'Waddell, can you stop being an advocate?' It's probably a legitimate criticism," he said. "It's something I would have to learn to do, probably."