In the "Politics" column of the Bay Area Reporter newspaper last week, there was a small announcement about a campaign kickoff party at the Eureka Lounge in the Castro District for the lawyer Michael Nava (above). He has been on something of an informal career judge track over the last 20 years, working as a research attorney and writing judicial opinions for the legendary Arleigh Woods on the Second Court of Appeals in Los Angeles during the 1980s-1990s.
Nava, who earned a J.D. degree from Stanford Law School in 1981, moved back to the Bay Area in 1995 and has been working as a staff attorney for the California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno (click here for an interesting recent article from the LA Times). Moreno also performed a marriage ceremony for Nava and his partner George Herzog (above) last October.
Nava would like to be appointed as a Superior Court Judge, but his chances have been slim to none with Schwarzenegger in the California governor's seat, so he has decided to run for election for an open seat in the June 8, 2010 primary election. How many open seats will be available and how many candidates will be vying for them is still an unknown, but he decided to put his hat in the ring early.
I knew none of this before the campaign kickoff party, since my reason for attending was as a literary fan. Besides being an accomplished lawyer, Michael Nava happens to be one of my favorite fiction writers in the world. From 1986 through 2001, he wrote a series of seven slim mystery novels featuring the gay Chicano detective Henry Rios, starting with "The Little Death" and finishing with "Rag and Bone," which he announced would be the end of the line. In an email to me, Nava confessed that it took him a while to get comfortable:
"I had never written a long piece of fiction before the first novel -- I wrote only poetry before then -- and I didn't really know what I was doing until about the third book. I suppose I could have profited from a creative writing program, but I was already practicing law. After that, though, I found myself in the midst of the AIDS epidemic and writing with an urgency that probably made me a better writer than I would have been otherwise. I have not re-read the books in a long time; it seems, when I think about them now, that they were written by different hands than these."
Though Nava's humility is charming, as far as I'm concerned his Henry Rios books are classics of California detective fiction, comparable to Ross McDonald and Raymond Chandler. As a glbtq encyclopedia puts it (click here):
"The seven novels are more than simply puzzles to be unraveled. Indeed, the novels are not plot-driven, but character-driven. What sets them--especially the last five--apart from much detective fiction, in addition to their highly textured and allusive prose, is the increasing depth with which Nava probes character and motivation. Rios is gradually revealed to be more complex and more introspective than most fictional detectives, and his internal struggles and his often tortured relationships with others are what finally provide the major interest of the books and lift them above their formulaic genre."Interestingly enough, none of the guests at the San Francisco Superior Court Judge campaign kickoff party seemed to have read the novels, including San Francisco District 8 Supervisor candidates Rebecca Prozan and Rafael Mandelman (above).
Neither had San Francisco Supervisor David Campos (above), who gave an eloquent speech about the qualities Nava would bring to the judiciary, and also how expensive a citywide campaign was going to be.
If Michael Nava is half as empathetic, intelligent and nuanced about justice as his fiction, he should make an absolutely superior judge. I volunteered to work on his campaign immediately.