BISBEE— After competing in an arduous race obstructed by animosity at almost every turn, Jason Lindstrom, the newly-elected judge of Cochise County Superior Court Division V, can finally breathe.
After almost a year of campaigning for the judicial bench, Lindstrom said that once he learned he had won the contest against his two opponents he was relieved.
“It was a great sense of relief,” Lindstrom, 47, said Tuesday. “My family and I worked really, really hard for this campaign. We gave up a year of our life. It was expensive and time consuming and surprising along the way.
“I wasn’t expecting some of the things that happened.”
Indeed, the race between Lindstrom, Anne Carl and Sandra Russell was anything but dull. The three candidates, it seems, were at war, firing salvos at each other on social media and bringing out anything that smelled of controversy from their pasts.
On election night, though, it was clear the contest was between Lindstrom and Carl, the latter ahead at one point by 65 votes. But as the ballots began getting tallied by Cochise County elections officials, Lindstrom began gaining steam, finally taking the election by just over 1,000 votes.
His family — an 18-year-old son, a 20-year-old daughter, his wife of 24 years and three dogs — who helped him gather signatures at gas stations, in parking lots and wherever they could do so safely with the advent of COVID-19, felt the relief when it was officially over, Lindstrom said.
“They weren’t comfortable until the final numbers came in,” Lindstrom said.
An assistant Cochise County attorney who handles a hefty load of criminal cases, Lindstrom takes the bench the first Monday in January. He said he will probably be given the civil docket because he is transitioning from the County Attorney’s Office and is familiar with many of the criminal cases.
He meets with Cochise County Superior Court Judge Tim Dickerson on Wednesday morning and likely will get his assignment of cases then. Dickerson becomes the presiding judge for Cochise County on Jan. 1.
“I imagine that I would get cases that I’m not familiar with,” Lindstrom said, adding he’s grateful for Dickerson’s guidance.
He anticipates there’ll be some anxiety as he goes through the learning curve from prosecutor to judge. Lindstrom quipped that he thought he would have some “training” before jumping into the docket, but a friend who was recently elected as a superior court judge in another jurisdiction told him there will be “no training.”
“My friend said he was sworn in, he went to his courtroom and they started the docket,” Lindstrom said.
His term on the bench lasts four years and he’s replacing Cochise County Superior Court Judge James Conlogue, who is retiring on Dec. 31. Conlogue is also the presiding judge.
One thing Lindstrom came away with after navigating the negativity that often shrouded the campaign is the belief that judges should be appointed, not elected.
“And I never used to feel that way, but this cycle has made me feel that way,” Lindstrom said. “We expect a certain type of behavior and demeanor from our judicial candidates. But then when you throw people into this political environment and you have a nasty participant, it makes it really difficult to maintain that decorum and it undermines the integrity of the system.”
Lindstrom mentioned he was taken aback by the influence of social media during the campaign. He referred to a Facebook comment he posted over a year ago that prompted sharp criticism and that he thought at one point, would cause him to lose the election.
“I’m just surprised that something like that had such an influence over this process,” he said. “I was under the impression that there were real matters that need to be discussed and the one that seemed to rise to the top belongs in a gossip column.
“It didn’t belong as the type of information that might determine an election,” Lindstrom added. “I see this as a very important position, one that carries a lot of influence on how our criminal justice system as a whole operates. It kind of depressed me.”
All that aside, Lindstrom is excited to serve as the newest judge in the Cochise County Superior Court.
And while he loves the law — he teaches ethics at the University of Arizona — how does Lindstrom relax?
He plays the guitar, writes songs and poetry and spends time with his family.
He thanked those who voted for him and said he hopes to gain the confidence — while on the bench — of those who didn’t for the next time around.