In one of four contested races for Riverside Superior Court, incumbent Judge Victoria Cameron faces challenger attorney Tom Eckhardt in the Tuesday, June 5 primary election.
In an interview, Cameron cites her courtesy on the bench and the plaudits for fairness she has received from both prosecution and defense attorneys who have come before her. Those groups do not include her challenger, Indio resident Eckhardt, a current defense attorney.
Eckhardt claims Cameron, a former prosecutor, is a prosecutor first and foremost, that she gives short shrift to the defense and doesn’t understand proper bail processes. Eckhardt’s relatively late entry into this race apparently grew from his personal dissatisfaction with how he was treated in Cameron’s court when he appeared as defense attorney for an 18-year-old Hispanic male with no prior record. Eckhardt said he sought a bail reduction because of his client’s clean record. Judge Cameron did not agree to the bail reduction.
“She believes that once you get them in you don’t let them out,” Eckhardt said. “I’m running because I’m dissatisfied with her actions on the bench and I believe I have more experience.” Eckhardt, who has also been a prosecutor, was admitted to the California bar in 1982 and Cameron, originally from Maryland, in 1997.
Eckhardt suggested that Cameron displayed an impatient and unwelcoming temperament, rudeness in fact, that he found inappropriate for proper judicial temperament. Other than the treatment he received in her court and disagreements he expressed about her professional mien, manner and rulings, Eckhardt offered no other specific reasons to contest her office. “I want to tell them [people who would appear before him were he elected] the truth,” he said. “I want there to be balance on the bench.”
Cameron and Eckhardt disagree on whether and to what degree a judge should exercise influence in encouraging parties to settle before trial. Cameron said parties are entitled to their day in court and it is not a judge’s role to exert pressure on the parties to settle before trial.
Eckhardt holds the opposite view. He said a judge should exert as much influence as possible to get a settlement prior to trial, but the judge should avoid creating an atmosphere where the parties settle because of fear that they would not get a fair hearing were they not to follow the judge’s urging.
Cameron discussed “papering” a judge, the right of an attorney to petition the court for another judge (sign a paper request) if they felt they could not get a fair trial from a particular judge. “I have never had a complaint filed against me by anyone,” said Cameron. “Mr. Eckhardt, who has appeared frequently before me has never ‘papered’ me. After he challenged me, I recused myself from hearing any of his cases. If you talk to people who have worked with me, I have a reputation for fairness.”
Cameron has amassed a broad base of endorsements including Sheriff Stan Sniff, Supervisors John J. Benoit, Marion Ashley, and 3rd District Supervior Jeff Stone, Fifty-seven sitting Superior Court judges and 15 retired California judges.
“I have earned the good reputation I have and want to continue serving the people of California in my capacity as judge,” Cameron said.