(Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of Q-and-As featuring candidates for local offices. Respondents were given questions with word limits; responses are in their own words. Ellipses are used to signify that the candidate went over the word limit.)
Two candidates are vying for a Superior Court seat in Yuba County.
The incumbent, Yuba County Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Conner, is retiring from the bench and candidates for the position are Melanie Bendorf and Terry Spies. Following are questions submitted to the candidates and their responses:
1. Please tell us a little about yourself – you are free to list any background or credentials you feel are relevant.
Spies: I grew up and attended Marysville schools. I have lived in the Yuba-Sutter area for 53 years. I have 36 years of experience in the legal profession: 17 years as an attorney with 16 years in the Yuba County Superior Court. I am an active volunteer in the community.
Bendorf: An experienced trial attorney, I’ve been a prosecutor for Yuba County since 2000, handling serious cases including domestic violence, child abuse, sexually violent predators, and homicides. I graduated from CSU, Chico and Cal Northern School of Law. I’ve been married to my husband Robert for 16 years.
2. Tell us what you see as the range of issues a Superior Court judge is expected to referee and why you are suited for those various issues.
Bendorf: A judge referees civil, criminal, family, and juvenile matters.
My experience in complex criminal and civil litigation is recognized by my strong endorsements from the local legal community. Jury trial experience is vital to the role — hard to create an appeal-proof record if you’ve never played the game. I’ve represented children in dependency court and worked to rehabilitate children in delinquency court. I have years working with mental health and substance abuse issues that plague our community and a deep understanding of the impact they have on our children.
Spies: Superior Court judges are expected to hear cases such as traffic, small claims, landlord disputes, civil, family law, criminal, probate, adoptions, juvenile, guardianships, conservatorships, domestic violence, elder abuse, emergency hearings, and grand jury matters. Also, judges oversee the direction of the Court administration (budget, innovations, etc.) I have experience in all the above case types with the Superior Court. I also have experience with family law, probate, civil, landlord disputes, appeals, and writs during my time in private practice. Most importantly, I have the experience, training, and have handled many of these case types as a temporary judge.
3. How do you balance the idea of being as open to the public as possible with the need to maintain decorum and distance to effectively adjudicate cases?
Spies: As a judge, you must remain open-minded and hear all sides of a legal dispute. You must also maintain a level of respect and professionalism both in and out of the courtroom. Judges are held accountable by a code of ethics, and cannot discuss pending or potential cases outside of formal court proceedings. I pride myself in having a high standard of ethics. As a temporary judge, I already have experience addressing issues in the courtroom with dignity and fairness. During my personal time, I lead by example in the community by giving back to local non-profit organizations.
Bendorf: The courts belong to the people — openness and transparency are vital to maintaining the public trust. With few exceptions, most proceedings are open to the public for that very reason.
Respect for litigants, defendants, victims, witnesses, and the public is vital to maintaining courtroom decorum. Involvement in the court system can be a traumatic experience, and emotions can run high. Communicating with people on a level they can understand goes a long way toward maintaining order — people want to be heard and understood, and it is a judge’s job to do so professionally and with compassion.
4. Why are you the best person for this position; or what distinguishes you from your opponent(s); or what will your priorities be, if elected.
Bendorf: Legislative changes over the past several years have created new challenges for our community. Issues like homelessness and substance abuse should be addressed with compassion, but require accountability.
I have extensive, relevant legal experience and have been a licensed attorney nearly four years longer than my opponent. My entire legal career has been dedicated to Yuba County. I have been a long-time supporter of local charities trying to make a difference, including Yuba Sutter Colusa United Way and Agents of Change.
A judge needs to respect diversity and meet people where they are to build a stronger community.
Spies: My entire career has prepared me to be a judge. I already understand the operations of the Superior Court, and have been a temporary judge for the past three years. I have worked diligently to ensure there are no potential or perceived conflicts of interest, endorsements, or loyalties that would limit my ability to hear any case, specifically county agency cases, criminal, or grand jury cases. I have already proven myself as a temporary judge by having the proper demeanor and temperament for this position. I will ensure everyone access to justice and a voice in the judicial system.