Better Courts Now Endorses Conservative Judges Following Death of Founder

Published in March 2010 by San Diego News Network (sdnn.com).

Bettercourtsnow.com, a website and political action committee concerned with “activist judges,” released its list of endorsements Friday, backing candidates in four of the five Superior Court Judge races being contended for in this June’s primaries.

The group’s website, launched last December, includes video posted at the beginning of the year of 20 local pastors, politicians and citizens endorsing both Bettercourtsnow.com and the endorsed candidates, 3 of 4 of whom appear in their own videos posted to the site yesterday.

Endorsed candidates are:

– Craig Candelore against Judge Lantz Lewis;

– Bill Trask against Judge Robert Longstreth;

– Harold Coleman, Jr. against Judge De Ann Salcido;

– and Larry “Jake” Kincaid against Judge Joel Wohlfeil.

Jennifer Tierney currently manages the campaigns of Judges Longstreth, Salcido and Wohlfeil, all three of whom have been appointed to the bench since 2007.

“I don’t think anybody’s surprised,” she said. “What will be interesting now is if they’re able to follow the law” and disclose all finances as a political action committee.

“Judge’s races are typically really quiet,” she said. “The only thing that has made them newsworthy this time is this slate working together.”

California Superior Court judges are appointed by the governor and required to run for office every six years, though incumbent judges are rarely challenged.

Judicial races are supposed to be non-partisan, and the organization claims to be non-partisan, however, as covered in a previous story, conservative political rhetoric is offered on the site’s blog.

No criticisms of incumbent judges or their handling of particular cases have been offered by the website or their opponents, a previous review found.

The “four courageous attorneys” were “very carefully vetted to insure their qualifications, sound morals, and support of those fundamental American values of fidelity to the Constitution,” Better Courts Now said on its website Friday.

The sites founder, Pastor Don Hamer, died suddenly of a heart attack last month (Mar. 17), spawning another site, donhamer.com in his memory.

Thousands attended the longtime pastor and educator’s memorial service, said Craig Candelore. Candelore only met Hamer once but was convinced to run for the Superior Court.

“He said ‘Why don’t you consider running?’ and it was somewhat of a last minute decision but it felt like it was the right thing to do.”

The service was held at Sonrise Community Church in Santee where he was ordained in 1991. That church’ predecessor Midway Baptist Church is where he met his wife Theresa, a Sunday school teacher.

March 22, the day of his memorial, was the couple’s 24th wedding anniversary. Hamer is also survived by five children as well as others who called him father.

Pastor Bryan Hendry called Hamer “the greatest man I’ve ever known,” in part of a 90-minute long video of the memorial posted to donhamer.com

“He was a teacher in fifth grade. And again in high school. He became a mentor. He became a father. He became a colleague, and he became a friend.”

Hamer remained a pastor at Sonrise until 2004 when he and Hendry established Zion Christian Fellowship. The same year, the two opened Kuyper Preparatory School, an independent Christian K-12 school with locations on Euclid Ave in National City, Paradise Valley Road in San Diego and a third scheduled to open in the north county this fall (the video said, as did others close to him).

Hendry could not be reached for comment but is said to now be in charge of bettercourtsnow.com, Hamer’s passion which began as an idea 3 and a half years ago.

Hamer’s son-in-law Jeff Stine is a pastor at Zion Christian Fellowship as well.

He was there the night before his death and spoke to the doctor after his death.

“It’s very unique what happened to Donald. This only happens to high level athletes who run too fast,” he said the doctor told him.

“How fitting for Donald Hamer. All he did was run too fast for the Lord,” he said,

“Don was just going 180 mph,” said Pastor Chris Clark of East Clairemont Baptist Church, a friend and also included in the site’s video endorsements.

“When you combine the fact that hes pastoring in church and overseeing two school campuses and beginning to open up a third and on top of that…”

“I know he used to always say, ‘I can rest when i get to heaven. There’s too much work to be done.”

Hamer was active with the Santee Chamber of Commerce, the city’s Human Relation Advisory Board, the Christian Legal Society and the Salt and Light Council which hopes to “churches to reclaim their rightful position as the moral guides of society.”

Bettercourtsnow.com was his latest project, a website to “put Godly judges on the bench,” Stine said.

Chris Canderlore has run Men’s Legal Center, a family law practice for men, since 1985. Retired from the Army in 2008, Candelore was a linguist delivering messages to high military command in Europe during the Cold War and was deployed to Iraq (where he was in charge of Iraqi police development as a colonel, he said).

“Everyday you go outside the wire could be your last and that gets you thinking,” he said.

“The convoy in front of me gets hit and mine’s spared. The mortar round hits the room next to me and mine is spared.”

“You really want to make your life count and have meaning,” he said.

Candelore said he comes to race with a “pure heart” and called his opponent a “decent gentleman” but is running to encourage all Superior Court judges be elected to be held accountable to voters the same way we do politicians.

It was an informal vetting process, Candelore said, just lunch with Hamer and additional questions from members of his staff. He hasn’t raised much money or other endorsements yet, but said he is running to simply give people another choice, and to break the unwritten rule that you don’t run against sitting judges.

“I’m very flattered they’re running with me and they’ll make great judges,” he said of the other three lawyers endorsed by Better Courts Now

Conversely, Kincaid said he was interviewed by a room of 25 to 30 people to receive an endorsement.

“I was asked specific questions about my willingness to uphold the constitution and follow the laws and come out and meet with the public in the future, whether or not I’m challenged,” he said.

Kincaid said he doesn’t remember specific questions asked but that gay marriage and abortion were not topics.

Larry “Jake” Kincaid runs his own law practice, among other things.

Kincaid is on the board of directors at Literacy First Charter School in El Cajon and Creating Safer Havens, a child abuse prevention organization in Santee.

He was a deputy sheriff in the 1980s dealing with jail, patrol and investigations, also served in the Army and has been a temporary judge in El Cajon and Chula Vista for six years and arbitrator for the San Diego County Bar Association for the past 11 years.

He also ran for the Superior Court in 2006, with backers as varied as taco shops and laundromats to the San Diego Republican Party (smartvoter.org listed endorsements from 2006 elections).

During the campaign, a letter was sent out to supporters calling the La Raza Lawyers Association “a radical organization.” Kincaid said the letter was sent by “a zealous volunteer” and that person was fired and a public apology made.

Kincaid is also yet to receive many endorsements or though he has appeared in front of several local organizations “shaking hands and kissing babies just to let them see who I am, because the main complaint I hear from people is that people don’t even know who judicial candidates are.”

Of judges currently on the bench being challenged by Better Courts Now endorsed candidates, three have been appointed to the bench since 2007. All have received endorsements from District Attorney Dumanis, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, retired and deceased San Diego County Sheriff Bill Koleander and the county public defender Henry Coker, along with local legal organizations and dozens of Superior Court judges, including each other.

Both Candelore and Kincaid said they weren’t asked questions about gay marriage or abortion, though in an interview weeks before his death, Hamer said some candidates were asked their opinions on abortion and gay marriage.

“We did ask those questions but answers came back in a way that we know we had fair and just judges.”

Stephen P. Clark, Jim Miller Jr. and Richard Monroy will run against each other as Judge Robert Coates retires.

Brett Maxfield was challenging Judge Harry Powazek but papers to run were thrown out last month, claiming Maxfield could not prove he has been a member of the California Bar Association for more than 10 years, a requirement to be a Superior Court judge. Maxfield contends he was a member after passing the exam and being sworn in and that his Bar association card does not reflect. However, sufficient action wasn’t taken in time and he was disqualified from the race.

Comments are closed.