By KAREN VELIE
Attorney Ilan Funke-Bilu announced Friday he will run for an open San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge seat in 2018. Incumbent judge Barry LaBarbera is not seeking reelection.
Generally, judges are governor appointed following their predecessors retirement or death. As a result, most judges are politically connected or former employees of the district attorney’s office.
“I think someone with my diverse background and experience would make it a better bench,” Funke-Bilu said. “My diverse experience is unprecedented in the county.”
Funke-Bilu, 67, has had an esteemed 40-year career as a criminal defense and environmental litigation attorney.
In 2003, a San Luis Obispo jury awarded $10 million in punitive damages and $2.6 million in compensatory damages to clients of Funke-Bilu who sued the Unocal Corp., for a blob of crude oil, diesel, gasoline and gas oil that leaked under under their property off Tank Farm Road in San Luis Obispo. Funke-Bilu also successfully litigated cases of environmental contamination in Avilia Beach and Santa Maria.
Funke-Bilu, however, is best known for his work as a criminal defense attorney.
In 1986, he won an acquittal in the murder case of Tony Phillips, a client who said he accidentally shot a man in the stomach during an argument. At the time, the district attorney’s office offered Phillips a charge of manslaughter, but Phillips wanted his day in court, Funke-Bilu said.
Following Phillips’ acquittal, all 12 juriers, Phillips and Funke-Bilu went to a local bar to celebrate, Funke-Bilu said.
Six years later in 1992, a jury acquitted Cal Poly volleyball star Kimberly Kaaiai of attempted murder in the shooting of her teammate and former lover. Kaaiai shot her teammate in the back during an altercation.
In an attempt to protect her former lover from the embarrassment of a trial, Kaaiai asked Funke-Bilu to secure a plea deal with prosecutors, Funke-Bilu said. Prosecutors and Funke-Bilu then agreed to a charge of assault with a deadly weapon with a one-year sentence in jail, a plea agreement rejected by the judge. A jury then acquitted Kaaiai.
There are currently seven seats on the local bench up for election in 2018. Four of the seats are governor appointed temporary judgeships that will become permanent if the appointees win the seats in the 2018 election.