In a fascinating turn of events that will assuredly cause a run-off election, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Thuy Dinh Pham (who is an Orange County resident despite working for LA County) has entered the race for Superior Court Judge Office No. 40, which currently includes Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson and Orange County Deputy District Attorney Larry Yellin, who is the immediate past president of the Orange County attorneys union. Former Huntington Beach City Attorney Jennifer McGrath has entered the race for Superior Court Judge Office No. 3, which currently includes Deputy District Attorneys Megan Wagner and Scott Zidbeck.
Office No. 40 – Nelson, Yellin, and Now Pham
Pham’s entry adds a female Vietnamese-American prosecutor to a race already featuring a prosecutor and a County Supervisor, both white men. In the June primary, Pham will presumably draw the lion’s share of the high-propensity Vietnamese-American vote. As the only woman on the ballot, Pham will also draw a significant portion of the women’s vote, though she is hampered by the fact that not all voters know Thuy is a woman’s name. Her entry into the race deals the biggest blow to Yellin since the Deputy District Attorney vote will be split between Pham and Yellin.
Supervisor Shawn Nelson should come in first in June for Office No. 40, but in a race with three major candidates, it is unlikely he can break 50% in the primary, thereby causing a November run-off. The question is who comes in second: Yellin or Pham? With identical ballot designations, demographics could become a factor. Their ballot statements will also play a role. Will Pham describe her prosecutorial career without mentioning it has been in the LA County DA’s office or will she highlight that fact to try to capitalize on the negative publicity surrounding the Orange County DA’s office? Pham’s entry has made a contentious race for Judge a complete toss-up.
Office No. 3 – Wagner, Zidbeck, Stein, Philips, and Now McGrath
McGrath has joined, by far, Orange County’s largest field of candidates for Superior Court Judge, which already includes Deputy District Attorneys Wagner and Zidbeck, along with attorneys Andrew Stein and Wayne Philips.
In 2014, McGrath was defeated in her bid for a fourth term as the elected Huntington Beach City Attorney in 2014, losing 56%-44% against Michael Gates. While she brings the most elected experience of any candidates, she faces a steep uphill battle against two prosecutors, and her name ID outside of Huntington Beach is likely as poor as that of Philips or Stein. McGrath likely comes in a strong third though due to her Huntington Beach name ID, her ballot statement presumably touting her experience, and the fact that she is one of only two women in the five-person race.
Wagner and Zidbeck should take the top two spots. Who gets first and who gets second is tougher to predict but largely irrelevant since both would make the November run-off. With five candidates in the race, including two prosecutors, it is highly unlikely there would not be a run-off.
Wagner is married to Assemblyman Don Wagner. In 2014, Stein lost a run-off for Superior Court Judge in Los Angeles County against prosecutor Tom Griego.
It appears attorney Fred Fascenelli has not filed the Declaration of Intention form required for candidates for Superior Court Judge by yesterday’s deadline, so he will not be able to continue the filing process for either Office No. 3 or Office No. 40, both of which he had previously pulled papers for. Fascenelli is married to Villa Park Councilwoman Diana Fascenelli.
All Quiet for Office No. 49 – Murray vs. Martin
In the race for Superior Court Judge Office No. 49, unless one of the candidates fails to complete filing, it will be a head-to-head race between Deputy District Attorney Mike Murray and attorney Thomas E. Martin.