First District Justice J. Anthony Kline and Peter Keane, former Bar Association of San Francisco president and dean of Golden Gate University School of Law, finally got a chance to take the gloves off today.
Things got testy between the two during an innocuous panel on judicial elections, which quickly turned into a heated back-and-forth over the hot judicial race in San Francisco between incumbent Judge Richard Ulmer and his challenger, Michael Nava.
Keane, who backs Nava, called out Kline for “cronyism” in his strong and vocal support for Ulmer.
In particular, Keane criticized Kline for his role in assembling former bar association presidents at a downtown law firm in early summer to raise money and rally around Ulmer.
He said that when Kline made his pitch for the lawyers to support Ulmer because of the threat to judicial independence, “the only thing I could think of was Dick Cheney saying ‘weapons of mass destruction.’”
Keane dismissed that threat to judicial independence as “a lark” and “a canard.”
“What you just heard, most of it was nonsense,” Kline retorted.
And, later in the discussion, which was hosted at Golden Gate by the Bay Area Lawyer Chapter of the American Constitution Society, Keane tried to hammer home that the real threat of money and politics in the race has come from Ulmer’s camp (though he described Ulmer as an innocent bystander and “an avuncular, nice guy").
“You shouldn’t have been proud of what happened,” Keane said, referring to the meeting of local bar leaders.
“I am,” Kline responded.
“That was a shakedown, Tony… This was an attempt by the superior court of San Francisco to shake down the big firms of San Francisco for $350,000 and getting them to line up behind Ulmer,” Keane said.
Later, Kline responded: “What I did was ethical. What I did was right.” He added that it was “justified by the threat that I perceive.” The threat to independence of the judiciary has real consequences, he said: “Judges are obliged to vindicate the rights of people and ideas that voters hate.”