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Prosecutor Gerald Pfohl and Commissioner Elizabeth Tucker are running for the open judge seat in Riverside County—and sat down with Follow Our Courts to make their case for the March 5 election.

The third candidate to the position, Orange County Prosecutor Jeffrey Kirk, declined to participate in the forum.

Opening statements

Tucker is a Riverside Superior Court commissioner, meaning she performs most of the work that judges do. Commissioners are appointed by judges. She currently manages a juvenile dependency courtroom in the court’s Indio courthouse. Prior to her appointment in 2018, she spent 23 years as a Riverside prosecutor, bringing charges of serious and violent felonies, sexual assaults, domestic violence, property crimes and juvenile adjudications. She was placed in charge of the Eastern Division Child Abuse prosecution unit, which handled sexual abuse cases. She billed her experience and training as a commissioner as setting her ahead of the other candidates.

“What makes me uniquely qualified to be your next Superior Court Judge, is that after 23 years of being a Riverside County Deputy DA, the judges of Riverside County vetted and selected me from over 100 applicants to be a Superior Court commissioner. I’ve been a judicial officer for over five and a half years, and have actual judicial experience presiding in courtrooms such as civil, criminal, juvenile justice, juvenile dependency, probate and traffic cases,” Tucker said.

Pfohl has been a prosecutor for 16 years, and currently prosecutes murder trials. In the last year, he brought California’s first murder verdict by jury for a fentanyl overdose. He says he has brought some of Riverside County’s most complex cases. As a high school mock trial participant, he was coached by prosecutor John Davis, who continued mentoring him throughout his law career. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Davis a judge in 2010. Davis’ retirement opened up this position, and Pfohl said he was encouraged to run for the election to fill his mentor’s seat.

“In one of the most impactful conversations in my life, I had the opportunity to speak with (Davis) to talk about our time together, and what he’s seen in me, my growth as an attorney over more than 16 years, and to receive his blessing to succeed him on the bench,” Pfohl said.

What obstacles prevent access to justice in Riverside County?

The candidates agreed that the biggest obstacle to access to justice in Riverside County is the limited funding Riverside Superior Court has.

Pfohl said civil cases are being unnecessarily delayed, because criminal cases have taken precedence. He said that the court employees need to continue doing more with less, that judges have to run courtrooms efficiently, and that everyone has to be prepared every day.

Tucker said the lack of funding has long-reaching effects, with law enforcement having to wait around in court longer to offer testimony, instead of patrolling or investigating, family members languishing in the expectation of a case resolution, and litigants missing work. Judges need experience to handle the lack of funding, she argued.

What about your background and experience will make you a fair judge?

Pfohl said that he brings “experience, and not arrogance,” and that the endorsements of people throughout the criminal justice community indicate he is the right person for the job. He said he received support from a member of the Public Defender’s Office, and cited his endorsements from Riverside District Attorney Mike Hestrin and defense attorney Virginia Blumenthal.

“Colleagues across the aisle, in a year where I was named at the Southwest Riverside County Bar Association Attorney of the Year, the people who know me know that I’m going to come in prepared, they know I have the acumen,” Pfohl said.

Tucker said that judges need to have experience to keep an open mind. She cited her training in discretion as a criminal prosecutor, and continued by saying her experience as a mother, and as a member of a family with someone with mental health conditions, makes her positioned to be fair.

“Prosecutors are tasked with evaluating cases, to make sure that people are being charged when we have the evidence to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” she said.

What changes does the judicial system need?

Tucker said that Riverside Superior Court needs to invest more in self-help and information for self-represented litigants.

“Many people set their cases for trial, and then would ask me, as the judicial officer, ‘Well, how can I get these records? What can I do to subpoena something?’ and, obviously as a judicial officer, you’re prohibited from giving any sort of legal advice. We need more self help centers, with real people to manage them, to give advice to individuals,” Tucker said.

Pfohl said that Riverside Superior Court will need to continue instituting remote technologies, a practice that began during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We saw an increase in live stream of courtroom proceedings where people who could be on the other side of the country, or at home right next to the courthouse, could be listening to the events, because the idea is that courtrooms are open to the public. This courtroom is a center of justice that needs to be seen,” Pfohl said.

How would you serve the court beyond case management?

Pfohl said that judges need to give each litigant their fair day in court, and that judges should mentor both attorneys, through Inn of Court programs, and children. He once helped his neighbor’s daughter, who was undecided as to her future, meet a judge in the Southwest Justice Center in the courtroom. She’s now planning to be a judge.

“We have an obligation as a potential and hopeful member of the bench to be a mentor, to be a member of that community, to let people know that these are not justice people who sit up there with a robe and don’t think of what’s going on, but are real people who are committed to the best interests of the community,” Pfohl said.

Tucker said she would provide leadership to the bench. Sixty percent of Riverside’s judges have less than seven years of experience, and those with 10 or more years of experience have already served in leadership positions, or are close to retirement, she said. (Riverside Superior Courts’s judges elect their presiding judge every year.)

Tucker plans on attending a Riverside County Court Leadership Symposium. 

“If I win this election, when I am sworn in, I will have over six years of actual judicial experience in addition to experience over areas of juvenile law, juvenile justice and juvenile dependency, I have experience in many other areas of law,” Tucker said, referencing her time as a criminal prosecutor.

How would you ensure your courtroom handles the court’s case backlog properly?

Tucker said she would continue doing what she’s been doing—setting expectations.

“When I was assigned to preside over the misdemeanor calendar court in March of 2022 we were at the height of our backlog, averaging cases of 200 a day. After a year and a half of actively managing that courtroom, I had dropped that number in half,” Tucker said.

She said she cut down on hearing postponements by asking the attorneys why they asked for one and limiting the number of postponements she granted, and reset attorneys’ expectations by taking the bench promptly.

“It was done by providing leadership, structure and expectations in my courtroom. I would take the bench promptly at 8:30, and would be prepared to take every case that was on my calendar,” Tucker said. 

Pfohl said that judges need to individually assess each case, with a focus on detail. 

“We need to ensure that we are running full calendar days, that we are starting as early as possible, respecting juror’s time when they are there, making sure everyone comes in prepared, and putting the schedule to the greatest use,” he said.

What characteristics make a good judge, and how do you embody them?

Pfohl said fairness, ethics, compassion and intelligence make a good judge. 

“Every person who’s worked with me has said the same thing, that they know I have the temperament, the intelligence and the personality that is perfect for that job,” Pfohl said.

Tucker said that intelligence, knowledge of law, a strong work ethic and ethics are important, but that judicial temperament and humility are crucial. 

“Knowing that you don’t need to know everything, being willing to listen to everyone who might have something to say in your courtroom, regardless of how they look, their background, what they may have been accused of doing, and being open to changing your mind,” Tucker said.

Where do you volunteer?

Tucker volunteers with the Indio Rotary Club, a chapter of a national service organization with the motto “service above self.” She’s been the club’s president, treasurer, secretary and foundation chair. She also volunteers with her daughter at the homelessness-support organizations Coachella Valley Rescue Mission and Martha’s Village and Kitchen, through the National Charity League. She volunteers at Mama’s House, which supports women going through crisis pregnancies, Coachella Valley Horse Rescue and the botanical garden Living Desert. She’s a Girl Scout troop leader, and has been involved in mock trial since 1996, as coach, scoring attorney, and a presider, in Indio and Palm Desert.

Pfohl has volunteered with the Temecula Valley mock trial program, and volunteers with the Riverside Superior Court’s Youth Court Program. Youth Court gives teenagers that have admitted their guilt for alleged crimes the chance to be heard by a jury of other teenagers. The jury assigns counseling, community service, a jail tour, curfew restrictions, and other dispositions, rather than sending the defendant to juvenile detention.

“(Youth Court) is a fantastic program that gives minors the ability to avoid anything on their record, and go through a program where their fellow kids are the jury of their peers. They get to listen to their cases, and help effectuate positive change in their life,” Pfohl said.

Both candidates have mentored students from high school mock trial to passing the bar.

Closing arguments

Taxpayers won’t have to pay to train Tucker, and she is experienced in all areas of law, Tucker said in her closing argument. 

“Experience matters, and Riverside County deserves a person who can hit the ground running from Day One,” she said.

Pfohl said he has prosecuted over 60 jury trials, in some of the most serious and complex cases in Riverside County.

“You will know that, when I am in the courtroom as a judge, you are seeing a judge who has the temperament, acumen and intelligence needed to make sure that justice is done,” he said.

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