San Pedro attorney R. Stephen Bolinger says that in the 26 years that he has been a licensed attorney, he has handled virtually every type of legal matter there is.
“Family law, civil rights litigation, business litigation…,” Bolinger rattles off a list.
He claims over 116 trials to his name, about 50 of them jury trials, in both civil and criminal matters. The only areas he says he has had no experience in are bankruptcy and collections.
Bolinger’s current practice primarily involves representing minors in juvenile court, although he has also been a reservist in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps for the California State Military Reserve, a volunteer operational force that performs such military duties as the governor directs, within the parameters of applicable federal and state law, since 1988.
Having such a diverse background, Bolinger opines, would serve him well as a judge, since “it’s good to have been on both sides” of a case and he is “not entrenched” in the mind-set of a plaintiff’s attorney, prosecutor or defense counsel.
He said he had twice applied for appointment but “was told my application was sitting on Gray Davis’s desk when he walked out the door.” He also says his second application was “on the verge of going to [the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation]” but stalled when Sharon Majors-Lewis became the judicial appointments secretary for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2007.
Under Majors-Lewis, Bolinger observes, the appointment process “has a tendency to favor district attorneys” and so he decided it was time “to take my future into my hands” and seek election since a position on the bench was the next step in “the natural progression of my career.”
Bolinger is in his third term as a member of the Orange County Democratic Central Committee and says he has never run for any other political office before.
The attorney lives in Santa Ana, but says he is pursuing a seat in Los Angeles county because this is where he practices and more trials are held.
For the judicial race, he says he paid his filing fee and is not planning to spend anything more, relying on the Internet and word-of-mouth to reach voters.
He is working without a campaign consultant and insists: “I don’t need to buy support, I have it.”
Bolinger says “there are people out there who are willing to help” him in his campaign, who “may not be professionals” but have “worked in the political area at one time.”
As for whether his efforts will be enough to garner the vote, he remarks, “I’m going to find out, aren’t I?”
If elected, Bolinger says, his “judicial philosophy” can be summed up in one word: “fairness.”
He opines that litigants “want someone to understand they’ve been aggrieved and why, and that’s what the court system is for.”
The attorney also complains “if courts get too focused on their calendars, they forget those calendars are made up of people” and that such a “time-critical” approach to cases “doesn’t work.”
“We’re not there for our convenience, we’re there to settle disputes,” Bolinger says, naming Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John J. Cheroske as an example of a jurist who is “too interested in the calendar [and] moving things along.”
Bolinger disclaims any “bad experiences” with the jurist and acknowledges that “he’s probably got pressures on him that I’m not aware of,” but insists that he would handle his courtroom, if elected, differently.
He says he has experience running a courtroom, having served as a judge pro tem in traffic and small claims and as a summary court-martial judge for the military. Bolinger estimates that he has presided over about a dozen cases as a summary court-martial judge and about 80 to 90 matters as a member of a legal separation board, which he describes as the military equivalent of an administrative hearing.
Native American Ancestry
A native of Minneapolis, Bolinger is part Osage and Omaha and carries an Osage nation membership card.
He played football for Northwestern University for one year before being sidelined by injuries and transferring to the University of Tulsa. Bolinger says he came to USC his junior year in hopes of being able to play again, and decided to stay in Southern California—even though team doctors declared him ineligible to play—because of the weather.
After graduating from USC, Bolinger spent some time working as a photographer and journalist for the Downey Paramount Herald American, doing public relations, and serving as an assistant manager for the Hamburger Hamlet restaurants in Westwood and Beverly Hills.
Bolinger also worked as a security guard for the Disneyland Resort for 17 years while earning his law degree from the University of West Los Angeles, and continued even after he was admitted to practice in 1984.
His first trial was before the National Labor Relations Board defending his Disney co-workers’ formation of a union, and he has maintained a solo practice his entire career, he says.