Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Political Notebook:
Judicial aide runs for judge


Michael Nava is running for judge on San Francisco Superior Court. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
Print this Page
Send to a Friend
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on MySpace!

Crime novelist Michael Nava, an openly gay staff attorney for California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno, has spent the last four years patiently waiting for an appointment to an appellate court seat. But so far Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has passed him over each time a vacancy has arisen on San Francisco's 1st District Court of Appeal.

Now Nava has decided to bypass the appointment process and seek a judicial post via the ballot box. He pulled papers this month to run for a seat next year on the San Francisco County Superior Court. He plans to run for an open seat on the court but does not have to designate which one until next February.

"I filed the paperwork to begin raising money on Monday, October 5. At the moment there is one open seat, and I think just from the gossip mill, there may be a couple of other judges who decide not to run for re-election," Nava told the Bay Area Reporter during a phone interview last week. "I would prefer not to run against a sitting judge but I am not ruling out anything at the moment. I am keeping all my options open."

Judicial races are usually quiet affairs, and other than within legal circles, they go largely unnoticed by the voting public. Last year saw an exception when former Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval ousted longtime Republican Judge Thomas Mellon from the city's superior court. The spirited campaign included lesbian attorney Mary Mallen and pro-gay campaign fliers targeted at LGBT voters by the candidates.

Next year's election should also upend the rule. In addition to Nava's campaign the 2010 ballot will also include the state's chief justice, Ronald George, and Justice Ming Chin, who will both be running to retain their seats on the state's Supreme Court.

Chin is a reliably conservative member of the court who voted against granting LGBT couples marriage rights, while George has vacillated from being praised by the LGBT community for authoring the court's 2008 opinion legalizing same-sex marriage to a year later infuriating LGBT people with his lead role in upholding Proposition 8, the voter-passed same-sex marriage ban.

More than any other the marriage cases brought to the LGBT community's attention the importance of the makeup of the state's courts. After the Supreme Court's 6-1 ruling in May upholding Prop 8, some LGBT activists said they intended to campaign against George and Chin.

While George has defended the court's decision in the Prop 8 case, he recently lashed out at the state's initiative process, saying in an October 10 speech before the American Academy of Arts and Sciences that the ballot box measures have "rendered our state government dysfunctional." He went on to note that due to last November's election "chickens gained valuable rights in California on the same day that gay men and lesbians lost them."

In an essay explaining his decision to run for judge, Nava writes of the importance of having a diverse judiciary and what impact that has on court decisions. Should he win his race next fall, Nava said he would be the superior court's first openly gay person of color.

"Like the judges I have worked for, I would bring to the bench the perspectives and experience of communities rarely represented in the black robes of a judge: gay, Latino, immigrant, poor," wrote Nava. "Judges are called upon every day to make decisions that affect the lives of poor people, people of color, and all the other outsiders who are more likely than middle-class people to become entangled in the nets of the law. And while no judge can decide a case out of sympathy with one of the parties, the judge who has a personal sense of the complexities of the lives of the people before him may treat those people with greater respect and be more thoughtful in reaching his decisions."

Nava, 55, lives in Daly City with his partner, George Herzog, an oncology nurse at the Veteran's Administration hospital in San Francisco. Together seven years, the couple married one year ago this week at a ceremony presided over by Moreno.

There is no residency requirement that a judicial candidate must reside within the boundaries of the court district on which they are seeking a seat. Like many homebuyers, Nava said he and his partner were priced out of San Francisco and opted to buy a house on the Peninsula.

"There is no residency requirement for judges because they administer state law not local laws. They are state judges," explained Nava, who earned his law degree from Stanford in 1981.

Following graduation Nava worked as a deputy city attorney in Los Angeles before joining the Encino-based law firm Horvitz & Levy in 1985. Eventually he made his way to San Francisco, first opening a private practice and then going to work in 1999 for the California Supreme Court as a senior attorney on the criminal central staff.

He also penned a series of award-winning crime novels starring gay Latino criminal defense lawyer Henry Rios. The last of the seven books was published in 2001.

Having worked for Moreno since 2004, Nava decided he had built up enough experience to seek an appellate court seat and applied in December 2005. He earned a favorable rating from the state Bar's evaluation committee but was never interviewed by the governor's judicial appointments secretary, a key step for being picked to fill a vacancy.

After he was passed over again this past June, Nava said he finally "concluded it is just not going to happen" as long as the GOP governor is in office. Since being elected in 2003 Schwarzenegger is known to have appointed a single openly gay judge – Ron Albers was tapped this June for a seat on San Francisco's superior court – though four other picks are said to be closeted judges.

With his 60th birthday fast approaching, Nava said time is running out for him to realize his dream of becoming a judge. Also spurring his decision to campaign for a seat is his desire to see a more diverse court.

"I would like a judicial career. I think I would be a good judge. It is important to have gay judges and Latino judges," he said. "I am five years from turning sixty, I really feel that I needed to do this now if it is going to happen."

He is planning several fundraisers for this November and a campaign Web site at should go live today, Thursday, October 15.

Sanctuary city policy debate leads to homophobic phone threat

Last week the Board of Supervisors' Public Safety Committee passed by a 2-1 vote legislation that would restrict city officials from reporting illegal immigrant youth who are arrested to federal immigration authorities until after they are convicted of their crimes. Openly gay Supervisor David Campos is pushing the new rule and likened it during the October 5 hearing to civil rights legislation once pushed by slain gay Supervisor Harvey Milk.

The remark elicited an objection during public comment from Colin Gallagher, who identified himself as gay and spoke against Campos's policy proposal.

"I didn't think his words were appropriate," Gallagher told the B.A.R., explaining that he also believes Campos's legislation is "unconstitutional and unenforceable."

Gallagher also penned a letter to the editor explaining his opposition that ran in the October 7 San Francisco Examiner. His public objections led an unidentified caller to leave him a threatening phone message sometime between October 8 and 10.

"It's always yuppie fags like you, yuppies like you, who are ruining this city," said the male caller in a message left for Gallagher on his home phone line. "I'm gonna call you every single day on the hour until you pick up. It's yuppies like you with your fucking ideology that's ruining the city. Chris Daly is more of a San Franciscan than anything you can possibly know ... Fucking yuppie scum is what you are. Pick up the phone, asshole."

Gallagher filed a police report after hearing the message and is hoping his phone company can track down who made the call. He said he also plans to change to an unlisted phone number.

"I hope the police department or the phone company can assist in identifying who the caller is, so I can take appropriate legal action," said Gallagher, who saved the message and gave a copy of it to police.

As a Republican whose public denunciation of President George W. Bush in 2004 provoked no harassing phone calls, Gallagher said he was surprised his critique of Campos's legislation elicited such an angry response.

"I would have expected something like that from the Republicans," he said. "When I went on the news in 2004 to explain why I wouldn't vote for George Bush and was supporting John Kerry, I didn't get any phone calls."

The full board is supposed to take up the matter at its October 20 meeting.

Milk Club to decide early D8, D6 endorsements

The field of candidates running to be the next supervisor from both District 8 and District 6 has yet to be finalized but that isn't stopping the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club from voting on early endorsements in both races.

At its meeting Tuesday, October 27 the club will vote on whether to give early backing to current president Rafael Mandelman in his bid for the District 8 seat and to former president Debra Walker, who is running in District 6. It will also decide whether to give an early nod to Michael Goldstein, another former Milk Club president who is running for a seat on the community college board.

The deadline to file in all the contests isn't until next August, as voters won't decide any of the races until the November 2010 election. But due to all three candidates' strong ties to the Milk Club it is unfathomable any of the three would not have its support in their perspective races.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Women's Building on 18th Street near Mission.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check Monday mornings around 10 a.m. for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column catches up with former gay Vallejo mayor-for-a-week Gary Cloutier.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail

Follow The Bay Area Reporter
facebook logo
facebook logo
Newsletter logo
Newsletter logo
ISSUU logo