Feb 26 2002 8:03AM
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - You''d think that Judge Ronald Kline would have a tough time getting reelected to the Superior Court in California''s Orange County what with his being under house arrest and awaiting trials on charges of trafficking in child pornography and child molestation.
But even though he wears an electronic ankle bracelet to monitor his movements, you would be wrong: Kline is the man to beat in the non-partisan March 5 primary.
Kline, 61, was indicted Nov. 28 on six felony counts of possessing child pornography. The indictment came three weeks after the primary filing deadline, thus not affecting his name appearing on the ballot nor providing voters with an alternative candidate. If he wins the primary, as expected, his name will go on unopposed in the November election.
The pornography charges were followed in January by charges of child molestation, dating from Kline''s alleged relationship with a 12-year-old neighbor in the late 1970s.
In both cases, Kline, who is seeking his second six-year term, has pleaded innocent.
Eleven write-in candidates are vying to unseat Kline, but his is the only name on the primary ballot. Kline is currently on administrative leave from his $136,224-a-year job.
Though voters can request to see a list of write-in candidates at voting stations, political experts say voters are unaccustomed to writing in candidates'' names. The write-ins'' chances are slim, they say.
"One political consultant told me I''d need $350,000 to give it a go," said Gay Sandoval, 49, a civil trial lawyer who is running as a write-in. "I''ve raised a few thousand."
The hope of the contenders is that they will collectively draw more than half of the primary vote, forcing a run-off.
University of Southern California political scientist Sheldon Kamieniecki said that, even contests for more visible offices, write-in campaigns are rarely successful.
"When you get down to local races, where the campaigns are relatively quiet and non-partisan, it''s very hard for people to know what''s going on. Unless they''ve been following things very closely, it''s going to be a lot to overcome," Kamieniecki said.
He added that the success of a write-in candidate, whose partisans must actually write in his or her names rather than merely pulling a lever, would have to be based on a substantial, well-financed campaign. "It''s a long shot," he said. "If a particular candidate can bring in a lot of money, they might be able to overcome the odds."
100 PORN PICTURES
A federal investigator allegedly found more than 100 pornographic images on Kline''s home computer, including pictures of boys in sexual or simulated sexual positions.
According to court papers, U.S. Customs Service senior special agent Harry J. Pettibone found that Kline had used his position as a Little League umpire to "gain access" to underage ballplayers.
In one e-mail message retrieved from Kline''s hard drive, Pettibone said in a report, Kline said "he resisted the urge to pat the Little Leaguer on the legs or touch the minor male''s skin as the teenage boy sat next to Kline."
The molestation case has been transferred to Los Angeles Superior Court. Kline''s Orange County colleagues, many of whom signed his nominating petition, recused themselves on the basis of their personal knowledge of him.
The molestation charges surfaced after news reports about Kline''s alleged pornography collection. Kline allegedly had sex with a teen-age neighbor between 1976 and 1978. The state has filed four counts against him.
The Orange County Bar Association said on Monday that it had declined to find Kline either "qualified" or "not recommended" as it customarily does in judges'' contests. Association president Richard Millar said the situation was "unprecedented."
"I don''t think we''ve ever had a situation where a sitting judge was up for reelection where criminal charges were pending against him," Millar said. "We felt we were not in a position to evaluate the charges against him."