Thursday, October 16, 2014

Interview with Judge Hugh Swift - candidate for Superior Court Judge Dept 2

Judicial candidate questions:

Name and dept.
-          Hugh Swift
-          Dept. 2

Why are you running for Superior Court Judge?
As the incumbent judge in Department Two, I currently hear criminal, civil, traffic, family law, probate, domestic violence and unlawful detainer cases.  Based on my experience as a judicial officer I understand the impact decisions judges make have on the parties, their families and the community.  I consider it an honor and a privilege to be chosen to make these types of decisions. 

As an attorney in private practice for 13 years and working in the California trial court system in various capacities (Superior Court Judge, Commissioner, Research Attorney, Court Executive Officer) for an additional 15 years, I have an unique understanding of the Court and how it operates. 
The Calaveras Superior Court has seen a great deal of change over the last few years; Judge Mewhinney’s retirement, a vacant judgeship for almost two years, the move to the new courthouse and a new calendar system, and Judge Martin’s retirement at the end of this year.  We will continue to experience change over the next year with a new judge in Dept. 1, a new case management system, changes in organizational structure and adopting new programs such as Veteran’s Treatment Court. 

It is gratifying to be able to use my diverse experience to lead the Court forward and to provide the continuity in public service court employees, court users and the citizens of Calaveras County deserve.  I am the only candidate who can provide the stability and leadership the Court requires at this time.

What qualifies you for the position you seek?
As a Superior Court Judge and Commissioner I have presided over thousands of individual hearings.  I am the only candidate for this position who has experience as a judicial officer.  I hear criminal jury trials, as well as civil, family law and probate court trials.  I am the only candidate who has this experience. 

Every week I preside over trials and other hearings where the Rules of Evidence and courtroom procedure apply.  Our Court hears many more court trials than jury trials and I have heard the majority of those trials.  I also presided at three of the 8 criminal jury trials held this year. 

The Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission of the California State Bar Association determined I was qualified to serve as a Superior Court Judge.  As part of the judicial appointment process, the Commission contacted attorneys, judges, former employers and employees regarding my qualifications and suitability as a judge.  Among the criteria the Commission considers when rating candidates for appointment are impartiality, integrity, honesty, freedom from bias, commitment to equal justice, patience, intellectual capacity and judicial temperament.

While in private practice for 13 years, I defended clients in hundreds of cases involving personal injury, construction defects, products liability and real property disputes.  My litigation experience included arbitrations, mediations, jury and court trials, and appeals.  I am the only candidate for this position with any significant experience in civil law. 

As a research attorney for five years, I researched legal issues in every type of case that came before the court.

I have been endorsed by Judge John E. Martin and retired Judge Douglas Mewhinney (Ret.) of the Calaveras Superior Court.  I worked closely with both of these judges. They know me and are familiar with my skills, abilities and character. I am proud to list them, as well as many members of our community and more than 25 other judges throughout the state, as supporters.

What is your current occupation and the duties of that position?
I am a Superior Court Judge.  Every day I hear and decide cases that come before the Court.  Those cases include criminal, family law, civil, probate domestic violence and traffic matters.  In addition, I preside over Drug Court and am leading the efforts to plan and implement a Veterans Treatment Court.  I work in collaboration with Court staff and our justice partners to improve efficiency in court operations and public service.

How would you define the caseload make-up (civil, family, etc) of your desired department? And what expertise do you currently have to handle those types of cases?
There are appears to be a misconception that Dept. 1 hears certain types of cases and Dept. 2 hears other types of cases.  That is not correct.  The presiding judge assigns cases to judges and not to departments.  The types of cases currently heard in Dept. 2 is different from the types of cases heard in Dept. 2 several years ago and probably different than it will be three months from now. 

In a two-judge court, the judges must be able to hear all of the cases that come before the court. Since 2/3 of the work done by the judges is not in the area of criminal law, diverse experience is essential.  

Since taking the bench I have heard and decided criminal, civil, family law, probate, domestic violence, civil harassment and traffic cases.  

I am the only candidate with any significant experience in civil and family law.  These are the cases that impact people the most.  It is difficult to imagine what could be more important than a judge determining the child custody and visitation rights of parents.  I am the only candidate who has made this type of decision.  

If you could list one thing in life you are proud you accomplished with regards to your career, what would that be? And why?
My greatest accomplishment is being appointed as a judge.  I went through a very thorough evaluation process in which the JNE Commission looked at all aspects of my career and character.  The Commission evaluated me using the same standards used to rate every other person in the state who applies for a judicial appointment.  

My appointment was the result of many years of hard work and dedication. 

What have you done in the past year, 2014, to further your education?
In a recent conversation with Judge John Martin, he mentioned that after 18 years on the bench, he learns new things about the law all of the time.  Every case is different, particularly in the areas of civil and family law, and a judge must read cases and research the law to correctly rule on the issues that come before the court. 

In January 2014, I attended a week-long training for Family Law judges.  In June 2014, I attended a week long training for Criminal Law judges.  These trainings are only available to California judicial officers and are taught by California judges, who are considered experts in the subject matter being taught. 

What is your greatest strength?
My diverse experience in the law.  I am the only candidate who has substantial experience in civil and family law.  I am the only candidate who has experience as a judge hearing criminal cases, family law, civil, probate and domestic violence cases.  I worked as an attorney in private practice for 13 years until moving to Angles Camp in 1999.  For the last 15 years, I have gone to work in a courthouse every single day, where I served in different capacities.  

What is your greatest weakness?
The fact I was appointed in late 2013 and was placed in a position that I had to begin campaigning for this position at the same time I took office.  Because I work a demanding full-time job as a judge, I do not feel that I have as much time as I would like to get out and meet people. 

At this point you may submit a 300 word or less statement covering topics not covered in the before mentioned questions.

As a judge I cannot be influenced by partisan politics or special interests.  Unlike others in public office, a judge’s job is not to serve a political ideology or group of constituents.  Our system of government requires our judges to serve the Rule of Law.  In doing so, judges sometimes reach decisions that are not popular.  

I think it is important that voters understand that judges cannot make promises as to how they will rule on particular cases or issues.  Judges need to be chosen based on their overall qualifications for the position. 

I ask that you carefully look at my qualifications and the needs of the Court.  I believe I am the candidate with the experience, competence and character to continue to serve as Superior Court Judge – Dept.  2.

Updated 10-31-14 8:16 am
This interview was updated at the request of Judge Hugh Swift to include the word "substantial" when referring to his experience in civil and family law.
Please note the word will appear in blue.