RIVCO: Judicial seat in Blythe opens door for veteran prosecutor, two attorneys

A veteran Riverside County prosecutor and two longtime
defense attorneys have their sights set on the sole judicial seat up for
grabs in today’s primary, and each man believes his experience, knowledge of
the law and philosophy are a good fit for the position.
“I’ve been practicing law for 31 years and felt it was time to give
something back to the community,” attorney David Duke told City News Service.
“I have a very broad practice and am well-versed on various types of
Duke, who also runs the nonprofit Institute for Children’s Aid that
coordinates adoptions of orphans throughout the world, lives in Temecula with
his wife and three children.
Duke, attorney Shaffer Cormell and Deputy District Attorney Burke
Strunsky are contending for the seat being vacated by retiring Superior Court
Judge Sara Christian at the Blythe Courthouse.
Although the seat is based in Blythe, it may not stay there, given that
a county presiding judge can rearrange judicial assignments in accordance with
“There’s been a tendency to move power to the center, and courthouses
in smaller communities can suffer for that,” Cormell told CNS. “For now, this
is a Blythe judicial seat. I have practiced in Blythe my entire 25 years as an
attorney. At times, I’ve been the only attorney here. Therefore, I practice in
a wide variety of areas — civil, criminal, family, business.”
The father of two also practices in Indio and Palm Springs, where all of
Blythe’s felony trials are transferred.
Neither Duke nor Strunsky have handled cases in Blythe. However, both
men said they would accept being assigned there.
“I’m OK with going wherever I can to best serve the interests of
constituents,” Strunsky, a 16-year prosecutor, told CNS. “No matter the area
of law, whether it’s a new issue in criminal justice or a certain type of case,
I’m always prepared.”
The father of one, who has resided in Temecula since relocating from San
Francisco nearly a decade ago, Strunsky largely has dealt with homicide
cases, including several involving children. Last year, he was rotated into a
supervisory position, vetting felony criminal filings in the central part of
the county.
“It’s a natural extension of my work within the courtroom to become a
judge,” Strunsky said. “Courtrooms are dynamic, amazing places. Some people
may want to catch a movie or watch their favorite television show. I’d rather
be observing a court proceeding. I love it.”
According to Duke, he worked as a pro tem judge in San Bernardino County
years ago and enjoyed the experience.
“You never know what you’re going to be facing on the bench,” he said,
admitting that there are still some aspects of law, including criminal
matters, to which he could afford more exposure. But “it’s fine to pick up a
law book and study.”
Duke said his approach to meting out justice would account for “the
person” and the circumstances.
“It’s reasonable that you’d treat a 15-year-old girl arrested for
prostitution entirely different than a 30-year-old who just committed a
murder,” the attorney said. “You have to look at the whole picture to
understand what happened. Has this person made a mistake and can be put back on
track, or does the situation call for a very firm hand?”
Cormell said regardless of whether it’s a civil or criminal matter,
“people should have the opportunity to have their cases handled fairly.”
“People who know me know that I’ll always strive to see that occurs,”
he said. “One of the issues we see nowadays is people coming into the system
with mental health issues. It’s far less expensive to provide mental health
counseling than $55,000 a year to lock them up. On the flip side, there have to
be consequences for certain conduct. As a judge, you have to make sure your
orders are followed.”
Assembly Bill 109, the Public Safety Realignment Act of 2011, and voter-
approved Proposition 47 have created serious burdens for law enforcement and
the judicial system that all three candidates recognized. AB 109 shifted
responsibility for managing “non-serious, non-violent” felons from the state
to counties, ratcheting up the strain on local jail space. Prop 47 reduced
numerous drug and property crimes to misdemeanors.
The combined effect has contributed to double-digit increases in crime
in some parts of Riverside County, according to public safety officials.
“There’s been a rapid increase in violent crime over the last 18
months,” Strunsky said. “This is not a time to elect a judge who doesn’t
understand criminal law. I understand every nuance of AB 109 and Prop 47.
They’re very complex. People who lack understanding of the specifics are likely
to make a mistake — and those mistakes could very well affect public safety.”
All three candidates voiced support for the Second Amendment and gun
ownership rights, which surfaced as a campaign issue after the California Rifle
& Pistol Association issued a negative rating of Strunsky, who authored San
Francisco’s Proposition H. The voter-approved measure sought an outright ban on
handgun ownership but was defeated in a 2006 National Rifle Association
In his 2012 book “The Humanity of Justice,” Strunsky wrote that
“handguns are rarely successfully used for self-defense,” contrary to some
published statistics. In 2013, the prosecutor also supported Sen. Dianne
Feinstein’s proposal for a sweeping nationwide ban on many sporting rifles she
classified as “assault weapons.” The idea gained no traction in Congress.
“I was wrong,” Strunsky told CNS. “Everybody evolves and changes
their opinions. The police can’t always be there to protect us. I own a
handgun, and my wife owns a handgun. In the last six months, I’ve gone shooting
and used an AR-15.”

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