Candidates for judicial office, both challengers and incumbent Superior Court judges, are constrained by the California Code of Judicial Ethics in how they can campaign and what they can say. They are prohibited from making statements to the electorate that “commit the candidate with respect to cases, controversies, or issues that could come before the courts or, with reckless disregard for the truth, misrepresent the identity, qualifications, present position, or any other fact concerning the candidate or his or her opponent.” Violations can result in disciplinary measures against both incumbents and challengers.

That leaves hot button issues — such as the three strikes law, capital punishment, marriage equality, and abortion — arguably risky as part of any campaign’s comments or statements, either about a candidate’s position on these issues or their comments about their opponent’s positions. This makes it more difficult for voters, who might be influenced by candidate stands on these hot button issues, to decide.

Gary Tranbarger
In the two races covered here, incumbent Superior Court Judge James A. Cox versus attorney Michael J. Kennedy for Office 2 and Superior Court Judge Gary Tranbarger versus attorney Richard T. Nixon for Office 12, we will list websites, endorsements and statements made in public forums.

Incumbents Cox and Tranbarger cite their experience on the bench and the increasing court workloads as reasons to retain them, saying they administer their dockets efficiently and, through years of hearings and rulings on many cases, have the levels of legal expertise required.

Richard T. Nixon

Nixon ( claims, in public statements, Tranbarger displays arrogance from the bench and presents a less than desirable judicial temperament. Nixon, who deliberated until the last filing day until deciding to challenge Tranbarger, said he believes a judge is responsible for providing access to justice and that Tranbarger “creates an environment that is not impartial and displays an apparent anti-prosecution bias.”

Tranbarger cites his 18 years as a municipal and Superior Court judge with no disciplinary measures imposed against him.

As to judicial temperament, Tranbarger said, “Appropriate judicial temperament sets the tone in the courtroom so that both sides are confident they will be fully heard without the need to interrupt or be disruptive. It also communicates to all sides that inappropriate courtroom behavior will not be tolerated.”

For more information on Tranbarger, including his list of endorsements, see Among key endorsements are County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach, Sheriff Stan Sniff, the Desert Sun and County supervisors Bob Buster and John J. Benoit. Prominent Nixon supporters include Supervisor Marion Ashley and the Riverside County Deputy District Attorney’s Association.

James Cox
In the James Cox and Michael Kennedy race, Cox who currently sits as probate judge in the Indio court, cites being a Riverside County native and current county residency (Kennedy resides in San Bernardino County), his lack of any criminal record (Kennedy had two previous DUI convictions, one 23 and one 28 years ago and bar association censure for those infractions), and his broad experience in presiding over criminal, civil and probate cases.

Kennedy cites what he views as Cox’s lack of neutrality and arrogance from the bench. Cox counters by saying that judges must control proceedings in their courtrooms to ensure fairness to all. “All [in the court] must behave civilly and in accordance with all due propriety.” Kennedy also cites an incident in which he said Cox, sitting in Banning’s traffic court, required anyone who requested a trial to post excessive bail, in effect denying trial to those who could not post bail. Kennedy said that amounted to judicial tyranny and inappropriate behavior for a judge. Cox replied that a traffic bench officer has the discretion to reduce bail or continue release on a written promise to appear when an offender cannot post bail.

Michael Kennedy
“In the times I filled in for our absent traffic commissioner, I never hesitated to properly use my discretion in these matters,” said Cox. “No person was ever denied his or her right to trial. It is convenient that Kennedy raises this issue in the course of an election contest some 9 to 12 years after the fact when all the court’s traffic records have long since been purged, thus preventing the showing of the factual record.”

Cox has no reelection website. Prominent endorsers include Sheriff Stan Sniff and the Riverside County Deputy District Attorney’s Association.

For more information on Kennedy, see Endorsers include Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Mexican American Bar Association’s political action committee.