Karen Katz challenges LGBTQ+-identified judge for Alameda County Superior Court seat

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Judge Tara Flanagan/Courtesy

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Alameda County Superior Court Judge Tara Flanagan, who is also one of two judges in the county who openly identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, is the only one of 24 judges up for re-election who has drawn an opponent.

Former public defender Karen Katz has generated controversy through her campaign to take Flanagan’s seat. Challenging an elected, sitting judge is unusual in Alameda County, according to fellow Superior Court Judge Vicky Kolakowski, who is the other self-identified LGBTQ+ judge.

According to Michael Colbruno, who is the political action committee chair for the East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club, Katz’s campaign has sent shockwaves through the LGBTQ+ community.

“A lot of equality has come from the court,” Colbruno said. “It’s shocking that the challenge is to the only self-identified lesbian on the court.”

The East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club was founded in 1982 and focuses on electing people familiar with LGBTQ+ issues. On Feb. 28, the club released a press release denouncing Katz’s campaign and giving an early endorsement to Flanagan’s re-election campaign.

Of the judges up for re-election, Katz said she chose to challenge Flanagan because of a campaign finance violation that the latter incurred during her first campaign. The violation was due to Flanagan’s failure to report what she describes as two personal loans that totaled to $25,000, or about 23 percent of the total reported receipts from her campaign committee.

After the violation was discovered in a post-election audit by the Fair Political Practices Commission, or FPPC, Flanagan self-reported the incident. The FPPC fined Flanagan $4,500 and the Commission on Judicial Performance issued a public admonishment. Since then, Flanagan has publicly accepted the mistake, noting that as a judge she has high standards to uphold.

Kolakowski said campaign complaints are not unusual — after her own election race, reporting irregularities were found. Though such violations are serious in their own right, Kolakowski said she does not believe the violation should define Flanagan after her now five-plus years on the bench.

Katz, who identified herself as a “bisexual mother of a gay son,” alleged that Flanagan created the claims that she is being challenged based on to her sexuality during her application to be endorsed early by the East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club.

“Tara Flanagan has a record of disrespect to prospective jurors, rudeness to lawyers and comments and decisions that call her fairness into question,” Katz alleged in an email.

Flanagan said in an email she is not sure why she in particular has drawn Katz’s challenge. She added that she intends to run a strong campaign as she did in 2012. This time, however, she has hired a professional treasurer.

Flanagan said she believes that as a lesbian woman, she brings diversity to the bench. Her perspective, she added, is part of the reason she was elected in 2012.

“I’m very proud of (my job) and I take it very seriously,” Flanagan said. “I’m honored to serve the people in this way.”

Contact Alexandra Stassinopoulos at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AE_Stass.