Name: Carla Bressler-Keehn
Home: Carlsbad, CA
Current Employer: United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of California
Position: Assistant United States Attorney
Party Affiliation: Democrat
Marital Status: Married
Family: 3 children
Election Office: San Diego Superior Court Judge, Office 20
Opponent: Incumbent Judge Lisa Schall
Overview: Ms. Keehn exhibits extremely high intelligence, personal discipline, a proven track record of leadership in personal and professional endeavors, a history of dedication to her community and family, and a creativity and open-mindedness uncommon within her professional community.
Professional: Her 18 years as a criminal prosecutor for the United States include prosecution of hundreds of felony crimes including drug and currency smuggling, bank robbery, assaults on federal officers, and assaults on infants and children.
As a prosecutor Keehn has demonstrated leadership toward novel approaches to criminal justice. She has lead the Southern District’s development of diversion programs for defendants charged with non-violent drug crimes. These programs develop and deploy alternative criminal justice responses to traditional incarceration penalties proscribed for federal drug crimes. The programs include counseling, addiction treatment, and attention to the underlying causes of criminal behavior associated with substance abuse. For those offenders fortunate enough to qualify for these programs, institutional resources are re-directed from high security toward rehabilitation, planning, and support for the offender after release to facilitate a long-term positive modification of behavior and values, and decrease the likelihood of a repeat offense. Diversion programs are reportedly less expensive than high-security lockups.
Participation by prosecutors in such programs requires initiative; many more “aggressive” personalities decline the assignment. Keehn’s pursuit and leadership indicates she possesses unusual courage and independence to support novel, experimental, and at times controversial solutions to criminal behavior. Her leadership in supporting such programs indicates a sophistication and awareness of the broader social milieu that many feel engenders drug crime, and a professional commitment to the longer-term health of her community beyond the processing of a criminal during a period of incarceration.
Keehn’s service as Chief Trial Counsel for the Judge Advocate General Office (JAG) of the United States Army exhibits a long-term commitment to the law, military-style discipline and leadership, and a strong public spirit. Her biography page indicates experience before military tribunals including prosecuting attempted murder, rape, and sex crimes relating to minors. She served in the National Guard and was called to duty in the 1992 riots in Los Angeles.
Keehn has also served as an advocate for criminal defendants with the San Diego County Public Defender’s Office as a Deputy Public Defender early in her career. Her experience in representing criminal defendants as well as the government in criminal matters exhibits a high degree of skill as a legal thinker—an ability to extract herself from an ideological entrenchment of advocacy for only one of these two opposed interests. Neutrality and adherence to constitutional restrictions on judicial and state power when conflict must be resolved in a courtroom is a necessary, but often underdeveloped quality in a judge. Such self-discipline is often unpopular, and takes courage to maintain, but engenders respect for law and legal institutions in the longer term. Keehn’s diverse legal experience demonstrates disciplined administration of law in the courtroom, while remaining available to alternative tools when conflict may be more effectively managed by other means.
Academic: Keehn has an outstanding academic background, graduating at the top of her class from Princeton University as a Bachelor of Arts in History in 1983, and attending the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, obtaining a Juris Doctor in 1986. She was admitted to the Hawaii Bar in 1986, and the California State Bar in 1988. Her high achievement among the brightest legal minds in the nation indicates an extraordinarily high intelligence, self-discipline, and focus.
She has taught evidence as an Adjunct Professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, and is a member of the San Diego County Bar Association. Academic achievement and a commitment to teaching the law demonstrate a close connection to the intellectual values and perspectives of the academic community—perspectives and intellectual discipline frequently abandoned by lawyers and judges upon entering the practice.
Personal: Keehn’s personal accomplishments and experience are diverse. She is a married mother of three children, giving her a necessary first-hand perspective on matters important to families and children. Her “campaign mascot” is Vito (the dog). Clearly her intelligence and discipline make room for good humor. She and her wife were among the first lesbian couples to achieve formal recognition as a family after the United States Supreme Court’s decision in the Marriage Cases struck down California’s Defense of Marriage Act. She had been married since 2011 without official recognition, demonstrating courage, initiative, and accurate judgment for higher social and moral values and the direction of public sentiment. She has spent most of her life as a parent as a single working mother—apparently a very busy one at that—demonstrating organization and competency at diverse undertakings.
Her passion for running marathons—twenty-six so far—indicates an extremely high level of physical fitness and diligence.
She lives near Carlsbad.
Community: Keehn has continued her commitment to public service even outside of her career, serving on the Board of Directors for the Tom Homann Law Association—an organization describing itself as “dedicated to the advancement of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues throughout California and the nation.” The organization is named after the late Tom Homann, a highly-accomplished San Diego civil rights lawyer and activist who received numerous public awards during his career from organizations such as the ACLU. Keehn’s director-level involvement with this organization while serving as a federal prosecutor indicates appreciation for independence and diversity.
Politics and Ideology: Keehn’s diverse background in criminal defense, prosecution, and community involvement with civil rights organizations and extremely high intelligence indicates an unusual sophistication and awareness of the complexity of social mores, criminal justice, civil rights, and civic duties of public officials. Her involvement in sexual violence and children’s issues indicates a high interest in matters important to families and children. Her involvement with Tom Homann may indicate a particular interest in issues important to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender citizens and the rights of other minority groups and individuals. Her Facebook page references the July 13, 2013 Gay Pride Parade. She appears to be affiliated with the San Diego Democratic Party and has received its endorsement for this election.
Publications: Carpe Dicta has found no published decisions, briefs, or scholarly articles relating to Ms. Keehn.
Family Court Perspective: Keehn’s diverse family experience as a single working mom as well as a married head of household, extensive community involvement and leadership, and innovative problem solving skills will bring a fresh perspective to any family court assignments. As a working professional and single mom, she perhaps will bring a sensitivity to the harmful stresses civil and criminal family court matters add to an already stressed-out family, and an understanding of the burdens and limits of traditional state intervention. If elected she would perhaps continue to innovate and deploy novel approaches within the domestic criminal and civil courts for resolving sensitive conflicts among families and intimate partners.
Keehn’s leadership in developing drug offender diversion programs should catch the attention of family court litigants. California Coalition has petitioned domestic courts for adoption of robust sponsored alternative dispute resolution programs such as UpToParents.org and TransParenting. Many technological solutions to streamline co-parenting and reduce conflict are readily available from California Coalition partners, but largely ignored by courts and litigants captive to a domestic dispute industry focusing on raising its top-line revenue by deducing from a family’s bottom line cupboard sustenance. Future litigants and the court’s own bottom line could also benefit from an innovator willing to deploy a genuine ADR process to achieve a longer-term definition of healthy and just outcomes.
Conclusion: Keehn represents an extraordinarily talented challenger, is endorsed by her political affiliates, brings highly relevant experience in every aspect required of the office, and should pose a serious threat to embattled incumbent Judge Lisa Schall on June 3.