Dammeier touts most experience, impartiality in race for open judge seat

Carlos Dammeier

UPDATEThe original version of this campaign profile (published on Feb. 15) did not include a mention that Dammeier’s name also appears on the March 5 Primary ballot in San Bernandino County as running for an open Superior Court seat (Office #15) against one other opponent, Deputy DA Michelle Lauron. We have updated this story to include that information.

Carlos Dammeier says he has some standout, straight-forward qualifications that his opponents do not have in the race for an open judicial seat on the Merced County Superior Court bench.

Simply put: He has the most years of experience as both a lawyer and a litigator. And, perhaps more importantly, he’s already a full-time judge who has presided over a great amount of court proceedings.

The 55-year-old Dammeier is an administrative law judge for the State of California who has heard and issued decisions in more than a thousand unemployment, disability or tax appeals that have come before him. He says he averages about 31 cases a week, and these are sometimes complex and emotional hearings and always require treating the litigants, attorneys and witnesses with respect and dignity.

Dammeier is running against two other candidates in the March 5 Primary Election: Monika Saini-Donabed, a judicial attorney and a judge pro tempore; and Regina Adams, an attorney who serves as a contract public defender. Both Saini-Donabed and Adams grew up in the local area, and both are highlighting that aspect of their lives in their individual campaigns.

However, Dammeier, who lives in Southern California when he’s not traveling for work across the entire state, says he has a different perspective. “Candidates in an election will try to differentiate themselves as much as possible. The reality is, from a judge’s perspective, you want someone as neutral as possible from that perspective. You really want someone who doesn’t play favorites, and doesn’t play politics, and do those backroom deals that can happen.

“I’m the guy who is going to call it like I see it. I’m not going to go, ‘Oh I went to high school with that person, so I’m going to give him a good sentence,’ or ‘I didn’t like her when I was growing up, so I’m going to do this or that.’ … It’s better not to have those complications.”

The candidate says his youngest son, a high school senior, is planning on going to UC Merced in 2025, and that’s how he became interested in the open seat at Merced County Superior Court.

“As a judge for the state, I could possibly transfer to this area, but I saw that this seat was open, and thought why not? … My wife and I have spent a decent amount of time in Merced County. I love the area. It’s a good fit.”

The Times notes, however, that Dammeier’s name also appears on the March 5 Primary ballot in San Bernandino County as running for an open Superior Court seat (Office #15) against one other opponent, Deputy DA Michelle Lauron. Having Dammeier’s name on two different county ballots is possible because judicial candidates aren’t required to live in the county of the office seat. However, an issue would arise if Dammeier wins the San Bernandino race and goes to a run-off in the Merced County race. Then he would need to either vacate the run-off or vacate the office in San Bernadino.

  

Background

Judge Dammeier has been wearing a black robe and hearing cases through the California Unemployment Appeals Board for a little over two years. He says they are still handling a backload of cases from the recent pandemic years — as is the case in local courts as well.

The candidate began his public service in law enforcement, working as a dispatcher, jailer and police officer. While working full-time, he went part-time to college and then law school, graduating in the top 5 percent of his class. As an attorney for 25 years, Dammeier practiced at all levels of state and federal courts, from winning his first civil rights case before a federal jury to arguing privacy and employment issues before the California Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court. For the latter, Dammeier represented the SWAT team at the Ontario Police Department in a groundbreaking case dealing with electronic communications and privacy in the workplace.

Utilizing his law enforcement background and legal experience, Dammeier was also active in public policy, testifying before the State Legislature and assisting in drafting bills, two of which are now law, and serving as a panel advisor to the Speaker’s Committee on Police Conduct.

In addition to all this work, Dammeier has been a volunteer judge pro tem in Superior Court for the past decade, adjudicating over 100 cases. He also currently serves as a volunteer fee dispute arbitrator for the State Bar of California.

Dammeier is a California native, born to immigrant parents, who grew up in a single-mother household.

“I’m always very empathetic to the situation people are in,” he says. “I have seen it all. I appreciate it, and I can see how people can be going through tough times. I’m always willing to listen and see what I can do to make the best decision.”

Dammeier is married with two sons — one a senior in high school, and the other serving in the U.S. Navy. If elected to the position at Merced County Superior Court, he said he fully expects to immerse himself into the local community.

ElectionsMercedMerced County
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