Kern County candidates weigh in


Donny Youngblood

Justin Fleeman

District Attorney

Cynthia Zimmer

Scott Spielman

Superior Court Judge - Dist. 10

Brandon Martin

Chad Louie

Superior Court Judge - Dist. 14

John Lance Fielder

Cole McKnight

Why have you chosen to run for office?

Youngblood: “Because I’m a three-term Sheriff, I did weigh whether I wanted to run again, and a couple factors were really important. We’re opening a new jail next week, and it’s taken us 10 years to get there. We’re also in a fiscal emergency in the county. We’ve been cutting for several years now in the Sheriff’s Office, so our personnel numbers are down, and we’re starting to rebound. We’re getting really close to that positive change. I just felt like right now isn’t a good time to walk away and put somebody new in charge.”

Fleeman: “I have chosen to run for office because I see a need for new leadership in the Sheriff’s Office. Homicide rates have increased 102 percent from 2007 to 2017, vehicle thefts have increased 41 percent from 2007 to 2016, and rape rates have increased 62 percent from 2014 to 2016 (prior years not included because the FBI changed the definition of rape.) We cannot continue to go down this path. We need a Sheriff that will be tough on crime. Further, the deputies and staff have low morale due to ineffective and absentee leadership. As a result, employees are leaving the Sheriff’s Office to work at other agencies.”

Spielman: “I want to lead our office and find ways to better protect and serve crime victims and our community. As the second-in-command, I’m helping to lead the office through challenging times. We’ve experienced reduced budgets but increased crime due to changes in the law. I helped start Veterans and Mental Health Courts to get Veterans with PTSD and people with mental illness out of the justice system and make them responsible for themselves.”

Zimmer: “I am running to be Kern County’s ‘Top Cop’ because I care deeply about the safety of citizens in our community. 2017 was the deadliest year on record with 101 homicides in Kern County. A strong working relationship between the District Attorney and law enforcement is essential for the protection of the public. I am law enforcement’s choice for District Attorney and have earned the endorsement of law enforcement associations from every corner of Kern County.”

Martin: “I’m running to become the kind of judge I always wanted for my clients -- a judge who is both (1) consistently fair and impartial and (2) respectful to the parties, participants, and the public in his courtroom. I’d like to see a court that is more understanding of victims, that relies on technology rather than leniency to create efficiency, and that reflects our community’s respect for first responders, the Constitution, and ordered liberty.”

Louie: “I am running for judge because I care deeply about public service and the well-being of our community. I have spent my career serving Kern County as a Prosecutor for the District Attorney’s Office. It is vital that we select judges who have substantial trial and courtroom experience so that they can manage a court calendar in a competent and efficient manner as expected by our community.”

Fielder: "I have been serving as a judge in Kern County for 37 years. Kern County is my home. I have raised my children here and wish to continue serving this community as your judge. I want to continue to make Kern County a better place for our children."

McKnight: "The reason I am running for office stems from my time at the Kern County DA’s Office. I have been a deputy district attorney for eleven years. For the last seven years I have been with the DA’s Gang Unit. During that time, I have seen the number and severity of gang related crimes increase in Kern County. Our county needs judges who not only know gang law and know how to handle trials with gang evidence, but who will also sentence defendants guilty of gang related crimes appropriately. I know gang law and I have the courage to do what is right not only in gang trials but all criminal cases."

What skills and experience will you bring to the position?

Youngblood: “I’ve been the Sheriff for 12 years, and I’ve been in the organization for 40. So I’ve been in charge of or worked in every detail in the department. I have a BA, an MPA; I’ve graduated from the FBI National Academy, I have a commercial pilot’s license, and I have an Executive Certificate from POST. In the 2017-18 year, I was the California Rifle and Pistol Association Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. So I’ve never stopped learning in the 40 years that I’ve been here.”

Fleeman: “I have been a deputy for 20 years. During that time, I have worked in and/or managed every bureau of the Sheriff’s Office. I have experience managing both the Coroner’s Office and the Public Administrator’s Office. I have earned the position of Chief Deputy – the highest rank in the office without being elected or appointed. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Emergency Services Management, and I have gone through numerous POST training courses. I am also at a higher rank and have more working knowledge than the current Sheriff when he first ran. Lastly, I am a proven leader with the experience and skills necessary to run the Sheriff’s Office to better serve our community.”

Spielman: “I have law enforcement experience after serving three years as a Military Police Officer in the Army. I’ve personally prosecuted 105 felony jury trials. Almost half of the trials have been for murder, sexual assault and serious child abuse. As the Assistant District Attorney, I supervise approximately 250 employees. I handle budget, personnel and policy decisions. I am the Acting District Attorney when District Attorney Lisa Green is out of the office.”

Zimmer: “I have been a prosecutor for 33 years and handled every type of criminal case. I’ve been a supervisor for 20 years and head of the Gang Unit for 11 years. I led the first prosecution in California to successfully introduce a new DNA technique in trial. I have personally prosecuted some of Kern County’s most notorious criminals in high profile jury trials, including serial murderers and rapists. In the last 7 years, I have been in trial nearly 400 days.”

Martin: “I’m the only candidate with any meaningful civil litigation experience to replace long-time civil Judge Sid Chapin. I’ve handled complex, multi-party, multi-million dollar civil litigation with record-setting results and practiced in a breadth of law at small, regional, and national firms. I’m also a law professor, a Judge Pro Tem hearing cases in a regional Superior Court courthouse, a licensed real estate broker, a PMP, a LEED-AP, and a former Kern County Planning Commissioner.”

Louie: “As a prosecutor, I fight every day for victims of crime. I have successfully prosecuted thousands of cases in the courtroom including murder, gangs, shootings, robbery, drug dealing, theft and domestic violence. For over twelve years I earned jury trial and courtroom experience expected of a judge. I am the only candidate who has this critically necessary experience which is why judges, prosecutors, law enforcement and community leaders endorse me to be our next Kern County judge.”

Fielder: "During my career as a judge I have handled almost every type of case a Judge would hear. I have done felony cases, misdemeanor cases, civil cases, small claims matters, traffic cases and for the last 10 years I was hearing family law matters, supervising the department for eight of those years. Criminal jury trials are only a small part of the total workload a judge does. I have a wide base of judicial knowledge."

McKnight: "During my time at the DA’s Office, I have brought over fifty felony cases to trial. Six of those have been murder cases where Kern County juries have rendered guilty verdicts of either first or second degree murder in each case. I have extensive courtroom experience and because of that I have a strong working knowledge of the Evidence Code. The Evidence Code, when fairly and properly applied, is what ensures both sides get a fair trial. I know the Evidence Code and I guarantee everyone who comes into the courtroom will receive a fair trial."

What do you feel are the most critical issues affecting Kern River Valley residents, and how might you help solve them?

Youngblood: “I think quality of life issues are really important. I get a lot of feedback from the KRV on drug dealers, drug trafficking, etc. I’ve kept the KRV substation at full staff because of those issues. It’s been impacted by Ridgecrest not having full staff; we’re working towards getting them up to staff and opening the jail that closed, and I think we’re going to make that happen this year. That frees up the KRV deputies to protect people in the KRV.”

Fleeman: “Theft and drugs are the most critical issues affecting the Kern River Valley. Criminals need to know they will be held accountable for their crimes, and we can achieve that through booking criminals into county jail instead of citing and releasing them. Homelessness is also a major problem in the valley. We need to work with Veteran’s Services, Mental Health, and the Department of Human Services to help get homeless individuals into shelters and get them the help they need.”

Spielman: “The Lake Isabella courtroom needs to handle misdemeanor criminal cases. The canyon is one of the most dangerous roads in the state. If cases could be heard here, the citizens would not have to travel the canyon to get to their court appearances. This would keep our community safer and allow victims greater access to the DA’s office. Habitual thieves are also a problem and handling cases locally will hold law breakers more accountable.”

Zimmer: “Residents in rural areas deserve to be protected by law enforcement. Theft and drug related crimes plague the citizens of the Kern River Valley. A small group of people commit the majority of the crimes. I will ensure that prosecutors will closely work with law enforcement to investigate and prosecute the offenders. I will work with the community in the formation of drug rehabilitation programs in order to help offenders focus on a law abiding path.”

Martin: “There’s tremendous potential in the Kern River Valley because of its scenic beauty and natural resources, but there are areas for improvement. Specifically, KRV can benefit from greater, affordable broadband internet access, increased remote mental and behavioral health services, and economic development aimed at growing the middle class and job opportunities. I would love to walk the halls with community leaders from our Kern River Valley.”

Louie: “Access to court services can be challenging for Kern River Valley residents because of the proximity to the nearest courthouse. For many years I served on the California Bench Bar Coalition where a group of attorneys and judges worked to keep courthouses in Kern County open. I will continue to work to provide equal access to justice for all Kern County residents.”

Fielder: "Due to State budget cuts in the past the Court was forced to close the Lake Isabella courthouse. This has greatly reduced the service our Court is able to provide the residents of the Kern River Valley. I would like to see that courthouse reopened in the future. Many years ago I serviced the Lake Isabella Court at times and always enjoyed my time in the Kern River Valley."

McKnight: "The Kern River Valley area has not seen any gang related crimes yet; however, the area does have issues with property crimes (like burglaries), narcotics, and vagrancy. Fortunately, deputies have helped reduce those crimes. However, more can be done. Although some sentencing laws are now more lenient in California (residential burglary is now the only property crime punishable with prison), a judge can set certain requirements for probation. I believe requiring people to learn a skill or trade as a term of probation would greatly reduce recidivism. If people learn such skills, they have a legitimate way to earn a living and are less likely to re-offend."

What improvements would you make if elected?

Youngblood: “I can answer that with the improvements that we’ve made. We’ve partnered with Mental Health over the last 5-6 years like we never have before. We put a Mental Health worker in the car with a deputy not in uniform so they can respond first to an issue and diffuse it so that it doesn’t escalate. We’ve also got a virtual Mental Evaluation Team who use iPads to communicate with deputies and those having issues across the county and decide how to best help them. That’s been really successful. I’ve also fought against Senate Bill 54, and I’m fighting for a repeal. That’s the law that says we can’t communicate with ICE about people who are in the country illegally committing crimes. California sheriffs have a great deal of influence on legislation, and I think that’s really important. I’ve also fought and continue to fight for your 2nd amendment rights.”

Fleeman: “The first thing I would do is reallocate individuals from the electronic monitoring program and narcotics unit. The EMP deputies would be able to do their jobs more effectively if they were in the communities where EMP participants are living, and this will increase staffing levels in local patrol and substations. The Narcotics Unit can be utilized like SWAT, they can be called in when a major narcotics investigation occurs, but patrol our communities at other times. Putting deputies on the street is a priority for me because that will help ensure the public is safe in our County.”

Spielman: “We need a specialized unit to analyze computers and cell phones. We had to wait a year for the FBI to analyze a computer in a murder case. With a digital analysis unit, we could improve prosecutions of violent crimes, child pornography and major fraud cases. We are aggressively prosecuting violent crimes but we need to also hold habitual criminals more accountable. I will lead a county wide effort to hold repeat criminals accountable.”

Zimmer: “With homicides at an all time high, my immediate priority will be the reduction of violent crime. I will adequately staff homicide units, employ cutting edge technology, and work closely with law enforcement to stop the killings. I will focus on the protection of victims in rural areas and involve the community in keeping children from drugs and gangs. I will fiercely fight Sacramento’s further attempts to destroy law enforcement’s ability to incarcerate dangerous criminals.”

Martin: “I’d work to keep the regional courts open longer through technological improvements like video conferencing and an expansion of the voluntary judge program. I’ve served as a policy analyst, so I can help facilitate government spending when that’s not always easy. I’d also take the time to scrutinize plea bargains for violent crimes and commit to treating everyone who appears in my courthouse with respect and dignity. I will always protect the Constitution.”

Louie: “Improvements can be made to ensure that jurors, witnesses and members of the public are not unduly burdened with having to be involved in a court proceeding. Expecting attorneys to be prepared and to be timely in addition to running an efficient court calendar will improve the entire court system and save tax dollars.”

Fielder: "If re-elected I would like to see the regional courts reopened as soon as possible. We must continue to lobby the elected officials in Sacramento to ask for additional resources. Our court system works well in Kern County, but I would continue to streamline our case management to be even more efficient for the people of Kern County."

McKnight: "The court system is extremely impacted. The number of cases in Kern County courts have become so high that, in my opinion, the legitimacy of the judicial system is at risk. Part of the reason for this high volume is due to cases, both civil and criminal, being continued almost without end. I have heard of family law cases (like divorce and child custody cases) being repeatedly continued and taking years to come to a resolution. Such delays cause the public to lose faith in the judicial system. If elected, I will do all that I can to reduce the number of cases being continued."