A November runoff likely will pit prosecutor Shawn D. Bessey against Superior Court Commissioner Nancy Williamsen for a seat as a Stanislaus County judge, according to the preliminary results from Tuesday's election.
With 75 percent of precincts counted, Bessey was running in first place with 7,872 votes, or 24.10 percent. Williamsen had 7,136 votes, or 21.85 percent.
Neither won a majority of the vote, so they must run again in November to win the seat vacated by retiring Superior Court Judge Donald Shaver.
Williamsen, 56, and Bessey, 46, benefitted more than other candidates from their name recognition within the legal community.
Bessey said his background prosecuting gang crimes for the district attorney's office appealed to people worried about violence.
"I feel blessed and honored I'm getting the number one vote," Bessey said. "I think (voters) respect what I'm about."
As a court commissioner for 11 years, Williamsen has heard cases in place of Superior Court judges, mostly in the areas of juvenile delinquency and dependency law.
"I think it's wonderful that the voters of Stanislaus County have stood by me," Wil- liamsen said. "We just worked really hard and we tried to be ethical and aboveboard and, really, there's (been) no mudslinging."
Both had noteworthy endorsements: Williamsen from sitting Stanislaus County Superior Court judges and Bessey from area law enforcement groups.
The winner likely will secure a lifetime job, because it's rare for a challenger to unseat a judge.
But neither Williamsen nor Bessey had the deepest pockets. It was attorney Geoff Hutche- son, who looks to be shut out of the runoff race. Hutcheson far outpaced the field in raising money, pulling in more than one-third of the $150,000 raised by the candidates. Hutcheson won 5,010 votes, or 15.34 percent, putting him in fourth place closely behind William Mussman.
The campaigns weren't high on drama, as judicial candidates are discouraged from voicing personal opinions about legal issues they are charged with applying from the bench.
But some of the few barbs came from veteran criminal defense attorney Martha Carlton-Magaña, who openly criticized fellow candidates' endorsements as "implied promises" to people who might come before them.
Despite having 34 years of legal practice -- the most experience of any candidate -- Carlton-Magaña was running in fifth place with 3,841 votes, or 11.76 percent.
Rounding out the field were attorneys Mussman, with 5,020 votes, or 15.37 percent, and Philip A. Pimentel, with 3,643 votes, or 11.15 percent.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2337.