Elections 2020 Guide – Inyo County Superior Court judge candidates

Kristina Blüm Justice
Staff Writer

Philip Ashworth

Longtime attorney Philip Ashworth of Independence said he is running for Inyo County Superior Court judge because Inyo County’s court system has become inefficient – something he said he hopes to change.
“I have a wide range of experience, from working with indigenous people for more than 22 years to serving individuals in the community, to administering services to individuals,” Ashworth said. “My humanity and my ability to connect with people is a good qualification to understand where people are coming from when they come before the court.”
Ashworth, who has extensive experience in the legal field, said he was inspired to make sure the rights of individuals appearing in court are respected.
“The most important thing a judge does is make sure the constitutional rights of all individuals are upheld and followed,” Ashworth said. “Everyone should feel certain that the judge will protect their rights and make sure they’re not violated.”
After obtaining his undergraduate degree from Chico State University in political science, pre-law, Ashwroth attended Western State University in San Diego and was admitted to the State Bar of California in 1990.
“I always wanted to be a lawyer,” Ashworth said. “The law impacts all aspects of life and it was something that very much interested me.”
He practiced law with a firm in San Diego, primarily handling litigation cases. During that time, he worked on a major California Environmental Quality Act case against the city of Coronado and on a land dispute over a new road placement that encroached on the property of an elderly landowner. He won both cases.
After moving to Independence in 1992, Ashworth went into private practice, working on a variety of matters, including criminal defense to representing children in custody cases.
Two of the most prominent cases he handled during that time were contingency cases, one representing three female bus drivers from Death Valley who were discriminated against, and the second representing a woman who had been subjected to pregnancy discrimination. He said he won both cases.
Ashworth continues to call Independence home and works in Bishop, performing contract administration and purchasing for the Owens Valley Career Development Center, a role which he has held for 16 years.
Although he grew up in southern California, Ashworth has deep family ties to the Owens Valley. He frequently visited the family ranch north of Independence, where he spent his summers playing in the creeks. He said back then, they had cups hanging from foot bridges and would drink the mountain runoff water directly from the streams.
“We really loved coming up here as kids,” he said.
A meet-and-greet for Ashworth will be at 5:30 p.m. today at Astorga’s Mexican Restaurant in Bishop. Another will take place at noon Sunday, Jan. 19, in Darwin. Meet-and-greets in Olancha, Big Pine, Shoshone and Lone Pine will be announced at a later date.
To learn more about Ashworth, visit ashworthforjudge.com.

Brian Lamb

Inyo County Superior Court Judge Brian Lamb is looking towards another term in office to continue the work he has begun in Inyo County’s judicial system.
“I intend to continue to bring my best qualities to this job and am committed to leaving a legacy of a court that serves this county at a high standard,” Lamb said. “I’m focused on making sure our facilities and staff meet our community’s needs and that our judges and staff have the training they need to provide the best service we can.”
Lamb, who was elected to the bench in 2002, currently is the presiding judge for the Inyo County Superior Court. He primarily presides over criminal cases in both Independence and Bishop.
“To be a judge in this county, you have to be able to step up and handle cases that are complex and difficult,” Lamb said. “You have to be able to handle those types of cases when they arise because if you can’t do it, there really isn’t anyone else to fill the gap.
“Justice is not an assembly line. We have to make sure everyone affected is heard from before making a decision. Even if they know they might lose their case, it’s really important to hear people out. The process is still really important, and people have to know you’re hearing them.”
One of the major projects that Lamb has worked towards throughout his time as judge is finding a better solution to the courthouse in Bishop.
“The court facility in Bishop was never
intended to be a full-
service court, but now we’re having more complicated civil and felony cases in Bishop,” he said. “Right now we can’t really have jury trials in Bishop, and if we have to do a jury trial, they have to go to Independence. We should have the ability to do jury trials in both the north and south county.”
Lamb’s vision for a new courthouse to serve northern Inyo County is coming closer to reality. Recently he was the only presiding judge to attend the judicial council in San Francisco, where he informed the council of the importance of funding a new courthouse construction in northern Inyo County.
Lamb said the council is scheduled to approve funding for the construction of a new courthouse within the next five years. He said he hopes to have a new court facility in Bishop completed during his next term, should he be reelected.
A lot has changed in Inyo County since Lamb became judge.
“When I started, juvenile delinquency cases were more numerous and more serious,” he said. “Juvenile hall in Independence was filled to overflowing. Now the number of those serious cases has declined to the point where juvenile hall has been moved to part-time status. We’ve been able to address the issue by keeping them in county, in school with intense supervision and case management so we can give them constructive alternatives. ... It’s really been better to rehabilitate them in the community where they live and address their family stresses, educational difficulties and giving them learning opportunities where they’re likely to continue living once they’re out of the system. That’s a success story for the courts, probation and the schools for turning that trend around.”
Lamb said one of the consistent challenges faced by the court system in Inyo County is people who try to resolve their disputes before the court without the assistance of an attorney, and it’s not solely because lawyers are expensive. There are simply aren’t enough of attorneys in the area, especially who are willing to take cases involving civil disputes.
“Unfortunately people have to go out of county to find counsel that is willing to do these types of cases, which adds to the expense,” Lamb said.
As one way to help address this issue, Lamb said he has worked to bolster Inyo County’s self-help program, which helps individuals know what forms to fill out and generally how to navigate the court process on their own.
“I hope to continue to serve Inyo County as a superior court judge, as I have since 2003,” Lamb said. “I aspire to decide every case coming before me with justice and to treat the people coming to court, whether they are witnesses, defendants, family members or observers with patience, dignity and respect.”
For more information, visit judgebrianlamb2020.com.

Susanne Rizo

Susanne Rizo, director of Child Support Services in Inyo County, has filed as a challenger in the upcoming election for superior court judge.
“I believe deeply in the foundation of our democracy and judicial system, and I perceive a lack of confidence in how certain cases before our courts are being handled,” Rizo said. “I want to do what I can to restore public confidence and bring my skills to make a difference for our community and our public.”
With more than 18 years of experience, Rizo has handled criminal prosecution cases involving DUI, theft, sexual assault battery and domestic violence and other crimes. Her experience in civil law has included environmental issues, water, public contracting, probate and family law.
One of Rizo’s goals is to increase the efficiency of the superior court in Inyo County, she said.
“The state of California tracks civil cases and how long it takes to resolve those cases,” she said. “We need to ensure that, at a minimum, Inyo County’s courts are making decisions or dispositions at least as quickly as the statewide average.”
Rizo, as the director of Child Support Services, deals with the intricacies of family court cases every day. In her capacity with Child Support Services, Rizo is the lead attorney and has handled more than 1,000 cases involving family law.
“I routinely make decisions in cases that are difficult and complex,” she said. “Taking that to the bench, these experiences will be useful as a superior court judge.”
“The biggest issue I’ve been exposed to as director of Child Support Services has been when I’ve appeared in court with families dealing with child support and custody issues,” Rizo said. “Many people, when they are appearing in court, are in crisis, and its extremely stressful. The importance of having a judicial officer who can issue court proceedings are professional and allows people to be heard is paramount to our justice system. Ongoing continuances affect the people we’re serving and I’ve become a lot more aware of the human element of our court cases.”
Rizo attended McGeorge Law School through the University of the Pacific, and was admitted to the State Bar of California in 2000. Rizo is a Bishop Union High School graduate, Class of 1990. After high school, she attended Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where she studied business administration with an emphasis in marketing. She traveled for a while, working in South America for a time, before eventually returning to Bishop. She and her husband have two elementary-school aged children.
During her time as an undergraduate student, Rizo took a class on federalism, which helped fuel the fire for her interest in law. When she went on to law school, she said her favorite areas of study were criminal law and constitutional law – which tied back to the federalism class she enjoyed so much as an undergrad.
“I enjoyed learning about government and the history of our country,” she said. “I’m really intrigued by criminal procedure and the Fourth Amendment, and how law enforcement works within the law to keep us safe.”
For more information about Susanne Rizo, visit susannerizoforjudge.com.