Controversy swirls around El Dorado County judge race

By: Art Garcia, Telegraph Correspondent
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Nothing stirs up an election like controversy, and plenty of that has surfaced just three weeks before voters go to the polls to elect an El Dorado County Superior Court judge. Facing off are incumbent Superior Court Judge Warren Stracener and his run-off challenger Joseph Hoffman, an attorney with offices in Folsom and Cameron Park. Both reside in El Dorado Hills. Stracener was appointed to the bench by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger two years ago and Hoffman has served as a judge pro tem for El Dorado County Superior Court. What usually is a benign race for the superior court office has been fired up by charges and criticisms, mostly directed at Stracener by some members of the county legal community. One complaint questions the incumbent judge’s competency and his alleged slowness in moving cases through the court system. Others, however, are strong Stracener supporters. Stracener received 42 percent of the vote in the June 5 primary and Hoffman was second with 37 percent. A 50 percent plus one majority was needed to avoid the current runoff election. Stracener, 62, has lived in El Dorado Hills with his wife, Michelle, 16 years. They have an 11-year-old daughter. Hoffman, 43, lives in El Dorado Hills with wife Sheri and two children, ages 12 and 10. Both candidates claim to be conservatives. Stracener was an attorney for the California Department of Personnel Administration for 19 years before seeking appointment as a superior court judge. His court assignment is as a juvenile court judge, covering cases involving juvenile delinquency and dependency, as well as traffic matters. “I believe my service was to a broad community of the state, including taxpayers,” he said in an interview. “But I wanted to do something more narrowly focused on where I lived so I sought an appointment in my own community. I wanted to have a positive impact on my community. “The reason I’m running for retention to the position is because I want to continue to have a positive impact on the community.” That goes back, he said, to “my nature and self” as being a public servant. “That’s something very meaningful to me,” the judge said. “As a school teacher I served the public and as a school administrator, a vice principal and working for the state.” Stracener said his goal is to be “one of the best judges this county has ever seen. Every place I have gone, I’ve always risen to the top, succeeded very highly. I don’t see that my time on the bench would be any different,” he said. The bulk of Hoffman’s legal practice has been family law, divorce and custody, as well as general civil cases. His wife also is an attorney in the Hoffman & Hoffman law firm. Hoffman said the “short answer” to why he’s running for judge is “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain. I came to the conclusion I can sit back and complain about it or do something about it. I felt attempting to do something about it was the better way to go.” Hoffman has never before run for public office but said he knew in high school he wanted to be a lawyer and a judge “at some point in my career. I chose now because of the problems the court has and the fact I believe I can do better.” He said he wants to “bring back a little common sense into the court room” and to apply the business principles he’s learned in running a law office “that would bring a fiscal conservatism mentality into the court room.” That business experience “will translate very well to what I think is needed in the court room, as opposed to my opponent, who’s worked for the state for 25 years,” Hoffman said. Regarding two propositions on the November state ballot, Stracener said he supports the death penalty and the three strikes law as it is. “It’s been doing a good job,” he says of the latter. Hoffman said he hasn’t had time yet to study changes proposed in the three strikes modification proposition but on the death penalty said he has “a tough time throwing it out because it’s not working correctly. I’m more in favor of let’s fix it, as opposed to abolishing it.”