The two candidates vying to fill the judicial vacancy abruptly created when Judge Diana Hall was removed from office two years ago for hiding the source of a $20,000 campaign contribution could not be more different. At age 38, prosecuting attorney John MacKinnon qualifies as young and brash, intense about politicking and passionate about getting addicts into recovery programs and out of jail. By contrast, his opponent, Jed Beebe, a 59-year-old legal researcher for the North County bench, is cool, professional, and decidedly understated, more content to let his 18 years of working side-by-side with the North County judges speak for itself.
That there is an election at all comes as something of a surprise, and it’s probably a mistake. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was supposed to fill Hall’s vacancy with an appointment, but when he failed to do so -proffering no explanation for the lapse- the race was on. Voters can parse the respective qualifications of MacKinnon and Beebe-the top voters in last June’s four-way contest-but when it comes to running, it appears to be in MacKinnon’s blood. It was expected that he would line up endorsements from District Attorney Christie Stanley, Sheriff Bill Brown, and all the major law enforcement unions, and he did so. But MacKinnon, a lifelong Republican, also managed to secure endorsements from Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum and every member of the Santa Barbara City Council, a well-known repository of committed Democrats, as well as the Goleta City Council. MacKinnon’s secret? He asked. Beebe did not.
More than that, MacKinnon impressed many elected officials with his commitment to drug and alcohol diversion programs. Until recently, that beat was among his assignments at the District Attorney’s office, and he brought to the task all the entrepreneurial zeal of a crusading social worker. He noted that Judge Rogelio Flores-who’s strongly endorsing him-would soon be stepping down as the North County’s judge for diversion programs. “He’d feel confident with me taking over his assignment,” MacKinnon said. “A lot of judges are very reluctant to be in there working that beat. [They ask,] ‘You mean I have to talk to drug addicts?’ I am.”
Beebe, by contrast, is hewing to a more traditional, almost apolitical, approach. While he says he strongly supports the county’s diversion efforts and is familiar with them all, it is not the gong he bangs. That gong is experience. “With me, voters will get a great deal more actual experience, 20 years more. And 18 of those years have been spent working with the judges on a day-to-day basis,” he said. Beebe has been a practicing attorney for 33 years; MacKinnon for 13. As the court researcher, Beebe has worked behind the scenes with all of the North County judges, ferreting out the legal underpinning upon which a myriad of rulings big and small depend.
MacKinnon contends that Beebe’s experience is relegated to backroom scholarship, away from the messy hurly-burly of courthouse dynamics. Beebe noted that he works under intense time deadlines on a wide range of cases-both criminal and civil-and that there’s nothing remotely academic about it. He notes that he’s been endorsed by the vast majority of judges- in both North and South County. “These are the people who know the quality of my work and can attest to it,” he said. “I feel that I’m ready to take to the next level. And I don’t think I’m lacking any of the experience that Mr. MacKinnon’s acquired in his 13-year career.”