With Judge Tobias retiring from his position on the Superior Court of San Benito County, four new candidates have stepped forward hoping to take on this position. In alphabetical order the candidates are Robert Michael Foley, Frances Henderson, Gregory Michael LaForge, and Jose “Omar” Rodriguez.
Robert Michael Foley
Though a retired judge from Santa Clara County, Robert Michael Foley has been working as an assigned judge in San Francisco County since 2015. As Foley stated, “For me this is not a job it’s a passion. This is what I do and I absolutely love it. I do not take vacations. I just want to work.”
Foley’s career includes service as a Vietnam Vet, eight years as an attorney, and over 30 years’ of service as a Superior Court Judge. Wanting to continue his career and support the community in which he lives, Foley would like to be elected as a Judge to the Superior Court of San Benito County. “These are my friends and neighbors,” Foley said. “I should be serving them not the citizens in San Francisco.”
If elected to this position Foley says his first steps would be to learn the culture of the court house and the services that are available in the community in an effort to work with all effected parties to create the best path forward. “The last thing you want to do is walk in and say ‘this is how I am going to do it,’” Foley said. Instead Foley believes when elected to a new position it is important for a judge to earn the title they receive through hard work and taking the job seriously.
Part of the areas that Foley would like to look further into if elected to this position include juvenile cases, family cases, veterans who have addiction problems, as well as how the court currently handles its different caseloads and services. Once learning the culture of the court and how it differs from his current position as assigned judge in the Superior Court of San Francisco County Foley stated, “we are off to the races.”
When asked what he believed made a good judge Foley stated, “You have to have judicial temperament and that can be defined as hardworking, patience, don’t pull the trigger and be courteous and polite to all people who appear in the court because we are dealing with human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of what they might be accused of and why they are in court.”
Henderson, who is currently the Family Law Facilitator and Director of Family Court Services for San Benito County, was raised in a family that valued public service. Though Henderson’s great grandfather was a Congressman, Henderson decided to take a different route. “Politics wasn’t for me, but being an attorney was,” Henderson said.
Within her 30 year legal career Henderson has worked as “an associate attorney in business, civil, probate, and family practice,” worked in private practice in both State and Federal Court, and has served in San Benito County as both the Family Law Facilitator and Director of Family Court Services. Henderson was also elected by her peers as President of the California Family Court Services Directors Association in 2006.
Henderson believes her experience over the last 18 years in her current position has allowed her to understand the needs of families and citizens in San Benito County. Henderson also believes challenging moments in her life, such as her husband surviving a stroke and having her house burn in a fire, has helped her become more empathetic and compassionate to those around her. When working with people at the court house she stated that she tries to help, “people understand the process and leave my office in better shape than when they came in.”
Henderson’s desire to insure that people understand their legal rights, as well as to insure that the law is being properly enforced is part of the reason Henderson decided to run for judge. Henderson shared that if elected judge she intends to “approach cases without bias,” in order to, “give people a fair trial.”
When asked her thoughts on being the only woman running for Judge Henderson explained that while there has never been a woman who has been elected as a superior court judge in San Benito County, there have been child support commissioners. Henderson further said, “It’s important to have a diversified bench,” however, “It’s the person that matters, not race, sex, or economic status that makes them right for their job, it’s their merit.”
When describing what Henderson believed made a good judge she said, “The qualities I believe are needed in a judge are fair mindedness, intelligence and integrity. A Judge must have the ability to listen carefully, be decisive, and apply the law equitably with the goal of reaching a just result for all parties.”
Gregory Michael LaForge
Gregory Michal LaForge, who has practiced law in San Benito County for 29 years, is currently a criminal defense attorney “who has the highest case load per attorney in the County.” In addition to his current position LaForge has been a Chief Deputy District Attorney and has worked on cases in both civil and criminal law.
In a statement shared with BenitoLink LaForge stated, “I was sworn in as a member of the United States Supreme Court Bar by Chief Justice John Roberts in June of 2009 and in 2009 I was named best attorney in San Benito County by the Free Lance newspaper. I am a member of the State Bar of California, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, former member of the California District Attorneys Association and current member of the United States Supreme Court Bar.”
After reaching out to Judge Tobias and confirming that he would be retiring, LaForge said he thought about the position, talked to his family, and decided to “put my (his) hat in the ring.” After a long legal career LaForge felt that running for judge was “a natural progression for me (him).” Part of LaForge’s desire to be a judge in San Benito County also comes from his attachment to the area since moving into the community in 1989. As LaForge said, “I love San Benito County. San Benito County reminds me of growing up in Napa in the 70s.”
In addition to wanting to treat all parties equally if elected judge, LaForge wants to make sure that he relates to members of the community. “It’s important for voters to know that I’m more than an attorney,” LaForge said while further stating, “I’m well-rounded. I’m not one of those guys that grew up in a court room. I studied for the bar and pumped gas at my dad’s station.”
LaForge is currently endorsed by the San Benito County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, the Hollister Firefighters Union, and the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association.
When describing what LaForge believed would make a good judge he said, “Honesty and Integrity,” as well as ensuring that there is “fairness to all parties” and a “judicial temperament.”
Jose “Omar” Rodriguez
Jose “Omar” Rodriguez, who was raised in Hollister, is currently Assistant County Counsel to the County of Santa Cruz. In his professional career Rodriguez has practiced in both criminal and civil law, while working in both the private and public sectors. Starting his career as a Deputy District Attorney in San Benito County, Rodriguez hopes to return home to continue his legal career as Judge to the Superior Court of San Benito County.
Rodriguez stated, “As an attorney, I have sought out positions that allow me to serve the public and do what is right and just. That pursuit of justice has been the best part of law for me, so when I found out that Judge Tobias was retiring, I decided that running for judge would be an excellent opportunity to continue doing what I already love about the law,” while returning to work in the community in which he lives and credits with having done so much for him.
When reflecting on what he would like the voters to know about him Rodriguez shared that he was the, “first person in my (his) family to graduate from college. My mother is an immigrant, and my father was raised in San Juan Bautista.”
Rodriguez also shared what it would mean to him to be elected as Judge in San Benito County as a Latino. “I am also humbled by the fact that if I were elected, I would be the first Latino judge in San Benito County in decades, if not ever. I take that responsibility and honor seriously, and I believe that I will bring a diverse perspective to the bench that is still reflective of our entire San Benito County community.”
When describing what attributes Rodriquez believes make a good judge he said, “A judge should be temperate, fair and impartial; he or she should be respectful of the people appearing in court and of their time; a judge should have a strong work ethic and analytical abilities and a dedication to following the law; and a judge should be able to integrate these qualities to make reasoned and just legal decisions in an efficient manner.”