Offering greater diversity to a bench loaded with former prosecutors, defense attorney Gary Windom on Tuesday joined two other candidates hoping to replace suspended Superior Court Judge Robert Bradley.
Windom, 47, who has handled high-profile cases for the public defender's office for years, is a professor at Ventura College of Law and one of a handful of African Americans who practice law locally.
"I'd bring balance to the court; I'd bring diversity," Windom said. "Our court is 21 out of 27 ex-prosecutors. It has one black, one Hispanic and four women. Our county is more diverse than that, and our court needs the same balance."
Windom joins a top county prosecutor and a prominent east county family-law attorney as candidates to replace Bradley, a veteran jurist who reentered an alcohol-treatment program Jan. 13 after two drunk-driving arrests and apparently showing up for work under the influence of alcohol.
Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Kevin McGee, 44, and family lawyer Cathleen Drury, 46, declared their candidacies last week. Judicial candidates have until next Wednesday to declare for the June 2 ballot.
Together, Windom, Drury and McGee give voters a rare choice, given their diverse experiences and since judicial races are usually not competitive.
Boasting an array of endorsements from top police officers, McGee claims the law-and-order mantle. Drury, a specialist in divorce and child-custody cases, says the court needs a family-law specialist, not to mention another woman.
And now Windom says he would bring to the bench a balance of experience that only he can offer: He was a civil lawyer for 10 years after graduating from Marquette Law School in 1975 and has been a criminal defense attorney for 13 years.
"I support him because he has a broad background in both criminal and civil law," said Windom's boss, Public Defender Kenneth Clayman. "He's also a person of great integrity. I hope the citizens of this county think it's time to elect someone to the bench other than a member of the district attorney's office. If the people want the bench to be [composed] of different qualifications and viewpoints, then he stands a very good chance."
In addition to Clayman, Windom is endorsed by Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez and Police Chief Harold Hurtt, as well as Oxnard-based county Supervisor John Flynn. A Camarillo resident, Windom grew up in Oxnard and helped establish a mentoring program for teenagers in that city.
Windom's announcement that he had received Hurtt's endorsement came as a surprise, since McGee last week said the police chief supported him.
Reached late Tuesday, Hurtt said he had endorsed both candidates.
"They're both well qualified," he said. "And the choice is not going to be made on Harold Hurtt's endorsement."
Hurtt, who plans to leave Ventura County for Phoenix, where he is a candidate for police chief, added, "I may not even be here at the time of the election."
Windom acknowledged it will probably cost $100,000 to run a competitive campaign to get his qualifications and issues before voters and overcome a perception that he is a liberal defense attorney.
Although only about 2% of county residents are black, Windom says he does not believe racial bias will hurt him. The other African American on the local bench, Municipal Court Judge Herbert Curtis III, was appointed in 1984 and has been reelected twice.
"I don't think it was a factor in my last race, and I don't think it will be a factor in this race," said Windom, who lost a 1992 Municipal Court campaign by 26 percentage points. "I think people see beyond that."
When he first declared his interest in Bradley's seat--after the judge had returned to work Jan. 5 following a second drunk-driving arrest--Windom said he thought he would need the endorsement of either Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury or that of top police officials to win.
But now, with McGee securing the support of Bradbury and Sheriff Larry Carpenter and most local police chiefs, Windom cites the endorsement of Hurtt and says he believes he can still capture the seat by running a smart campaign.
"Gary Windom's extensive community involvement, his legal experience and role as a professional would make him an excellent [judge]," Hurtt said in a statement distributed by Windom. "He will provide a balance in the courtroom."
Windom said he lost his first judicial race badly because he did not understand the campaign process.
"The way you win is by the way you run your campaign," he said. "The first time, I had no idea what the politics were, and I had no concept of the fact that there is a double election."
The first election, he said, is for absentee voters, at least 20% of the electorate. So he said this time he will specifically target those who vote by mail.
It is not clear whether Bradley, 56, will seek reelection, though his candidacy seems highly unlikely. So far, the judge has not declared himself out of the race. His attorney, George Eskin, has said the judge is concentrating only on getting well.
Eskin said he believes Windom, Drury and McGee are all solid candidates, each well-respected in the legal community.
"Each of them comes with a different background and different qualifications," he said.
All three said they will run even if Bradley seeks reelection.
Windom was the first to declare himself a possible Bradley opponent, saying the day after the judge returned to work in early January that Bradley staying on the bench fostered distrust of the courts.
"I just hope he [Bradley] takes care of himself," Windom said recently. "That's the only thing he should do."
This year, nine judgeships are up for grabs on the June 2 ballot, if contested.
Candidates must declare their intention to run by next Wednesday to qualify to run for four $107,390-a-year Superior Court positions. Five Municipal Court posts, which pay $98,100 a year, are also available.
In all, there are 15 judges on the Superior Court and 12 on the Municipal Court.
Times staff writer Chris Chi contributed to this story.