Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Political Notebook: Second gay attorney takes on judge


Attorney Daniel Dean, who is openly gay, is running against another gay lawyer and a sitting judge in his quest for a seat on the bench. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
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Out attorney Daniel P. Dean was at an event recently at his law school alma mater, the University of San Francisco, when he ran into another alumnus of the Jesuit-run school, California Supreme Court Justice Ming Chin. Dean casually mentioned to the conservative jurist that he planned to seek a seat on the San Francisco Superior Court.

Chin asked Dean if he was running against a sitting judge. When Dean replied that he was, Chin's reaction visually signaled he wasn't pleased, recalled Dean.

It is a look Dean will likely receive from more jurists now that he has decided to run against Judge Richard Ulmer in the June primary. Taking on a sitting judge, while allowed under the state's constitution, is nonetheless viewed as verboten by judges.

"I have nothing against Judge Ulmer," Dean said. "He is a new appointee so let's let the voters decide who is the best nominee to be on the bench."

Ulmer was appointed to the court's Seat 15 last year by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and now faces two gay opponents: Michael Nava, an openly gay staff attorney for California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno, is also in the running. If none of the three receives a majority plus one of the vote then the top two vote-getters will advance to a runoff in the November general election.

During an interview last week with the Bay Area Reporter , Dean, 44, said he did not come to his decision lightly. He had initially planned to seek an open seat on the bench in the June primary.

But faced with having to compete against four other candidates, two of whom are also openly gay, Dean conferred with his campaign consultant, Alex Tourk, over the weekend prior to the February 10 deadline to declare which judicial seat to seek. Several LGBT people had pressed him to take on Judge Ernest Goldsmith.

Dean, however, said he felt Goldsmith had "done a good job" over his years on the bench and determined it wouldn't be appropriate to run against him. That left more recent judicial appointees such as Ulmer, a registered Republican when he was picked for the court, or Ron Albers , the governor's only known openly gay judicial appointment who was named the same day as Ulmer.

So Dean, a fourth generation San Franciscan who works for the law firm of Fotouhi, Epps, Hillger and Gilroy, chose to take on Ulmer.

"I decided let's have two races," said Dean, who called Nava to inform him they would be opponents. "The system is set up for people to run, even though some people may not like that system. When I say people, I mean judges."

Dean, who has been a judge pro tem in San Francisco handling small claims and traffic court cases since 2007, said he has wanted to be a judge for years. His running a support group through the AIDS Health Project, where he serves as a board member, not only taught him how to listen but also prepared him to be a judge, he said.

"Californians' biggest gripe is they go to court and feel they are not heard. I remember that every day I am in court," said Dean, who lives in Glen Park with his domestic partner, Stephan Smith Collins, whom he met eight and a half years ago.

As the B.A.R. reported last week, Ulmer said he is confident he will be given a full term on the bench by voters. Nava, in the meantime, had to jettison his endorsements from various judges due to his decision but has the backing of both openly gay state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and out District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty.

Dean has yet to secure endorsements, as he wanted to wait until after he decided which seat to seek. He said he is not running against Nava, whom he called a "good guy," and doesn't plan to attack Ulmer. Rather, he is focused on explaining to voters why he is the most qualified for the bench.

"I respect all the candidates," said Dean, who co-chairs the LGBT-focused Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom. "The way I look at it is, Michael and I are running against Ulmer. And one of us is going to beat him."

Decision a boost for other gay judicial candidates

The surprise move by Nava and Dean to take on the same sitting judge is a welcome break for the two other out lawyers seeking a seat on the superior court this June. Lesbian Deputy Public Defender Linda Colfax and Robert Retana , an openly gay attorney in the state court system's Office of the General Counsel, are among the four candidates running for the open Seat 6.

They will face off against Assistant District Attorney Harry Dorfman and Roderick McLeod , a trial lawyer at Jones Day, for the seat being vacated by Judge Wallace P. Douglass.

In a statement e-mailed to reporters, Colfax trumpeted the fact that based on the latest campaign finance reports, she had a nearly two-to-one edge in fundraising over her opponents. She raised more than $90,000 in contributions.

Last week Colfax also announced that she had earned Leno's endorsement in her race. And she has hired the same campaign firm Leno has used for years, including during his successful but divisive bid to defeat former state Senator Carole Migden in their party's primary for the lesbian lawmaker's seat.

"Linda Colfax is going to be embraced by San Francisco voters," stated John

Insurance Commissioner candidate Hector De La Torre. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
Whitehurst, her chief campaign strategist and founder of Whitehurst/Mosher Campaign Strategy and Media. "We will be working very hard on Linda's behalf to make sure voters have the opportunity to get to know her."

Colfax has lined up an impressive list of endorsers, including state Assembly members Tom Ammiano and Fiona Ma, both Democrats from San Francisco; City Attorney Dennis Herrera ; Public Defender Jeff Adachi ; Supervisor John Avalos ; Superior Court Judges Donna Hitchens and Harold Kahn ; and Golden Gate Law School Dean Emeritus Peter Keane.

Retana had raised $8,000 by the filing deadline and said he had a goal of $100,000 by Election Day. He also has backing from some notable names, including state Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco); Assemblyman Joe Coto (D-San Jose); and Superior Court Judges Gail Dekreon , Loretta Giorgi , Charles Haines , and Gerardo Sandoval .

Gay issues emerge in insurance commish race

Oftentimes the most overlooked electoral match-up on the ballot, the race for California insurance commissioner is bucking that trend this political season. And LGBT issues are helping to draw some attention to the primary campaigns for the post.

The incumbent, Republican Steve Poizner , opted not to seek re-election this year, and instead, run for his party's gubernatorial nomination in June. Last year the Political Notebook disclosed that since he was elected in 2006, Poizner has failed to issue a gay Pride proclamation each year. He stands alone among California's statewide elected leaders in his refusal to denote the many LGBT pride events that take place in the Golden State.

Democrats have a chance to take back the seat, with two strong primary candidates this year: Assemblymen Hector De La Torre of South Gate and Dave Jones of Sacramento. San Francisco Supervisor Michaela Alioto-Pier recently withdrew from the race to focus on recovering from a health problem that has had her in the hospital.

One of the two will face off against fellow Assemblyman Mike Villines (R-Clovis), who is running unopposed in the Republican primary.

Jones appears to be targeting LGBT voters, as he highlights the lawsuit against Proposition 8, the ban against same-sex marriage, on his campaign Web site. He has posted a story by the Associated Press in which he is quoted speaking out in favor of full marriage equality.

De La Torre, in the meantime, doesn't list any specific issues on his campaign site. To date it doesn't include much more than a short biography. Instead, he has raised eyebrows with his vocal opposition against seeing a gay candidate succeed him in the Assembly because he hasn't lived in the district for years. [See story, page 9.]

Asked if his stance in the Assembly race might give LGBT voters pause in supporting him for insurance commissioner, De La Torre recently told the Bay Area Reporter that the two have nothing to do with each other.

He said he wasn't worried because "I have supported a number of gay candidates," and unlike Jones, De La Torre said he supported seeing gay Assemblyman John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) become the next speaker "from the beginning. My opponent didn't."

On his Twitter account, Jones not only tweeted he was "proud to have" voted in Perez as the next speaker but also called out the Assembly Republicans for putting forward their own candidate rather than backing Perez, as has been tradition during past votes for speaker.

"Assembly Republicans cant [sic] bring themselves to vote for a gay man so they put up their own candidate for speaker. How sad," tweeted Jones.

For his part, Perez told the B.A.R. that LGBT voters should evaluate De La Torre on his positions rather than his endorsements in races.

"If someone is not supporting a candidate due to their sexual orientation that should be held against them," said Perez, who is remaining neutral in the primary because two of his Assembly colleagues are in the race. "But he shouldn't be expected to support every gay candidate."

De Le Torre also said that he had the backing of Ammiano in the race. But a spokesman for Ammiano said the politician had actually given a dual endorsement in the race to both De La Torre and Jones.

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. The column returns Monday, February 22.

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 mailto:.

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