San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Commissioner and former prosecutor, Tim Covello, has filed paperwork to run for a judgeship, meaning he will challenge attorney Ilan Funke-Bilu for a seat on the bench.
Generally, judges are appointed by the governor following their predecessor’s retirement or death. The race between Covello and Funke-Bilu will be the first competitive electoral campaign for a SLO County judge seat in years. Both are vying for the seat Judge Barry LaBarbera is vacating next year.
In 2014, Covello, then SLO County’s assistant DA, ran unsuccessfully for district attorney in a heated race against now-DA Dan Dow. The rank and file members of the DA’s office supported Dow, while then-DA Gerald Shea, as well as the county Democratic Party establishment, backed Covello.
After losing the DA’s race, Covello resigned and accepted a position with the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.
In Jan. 2016, SLO County judges unanimously appointed Covello to a court commissioner seat. Covello replaced Stephen Sefton, who died earlier that month. Covello’s duties as a commissioner have included presiding over a variety of calendars, including traffic, small claims, juvenile drug court, family treatment court and truancy cases.
Covello’s career as a prosecutor in SLO County spanned more than two decades. Covello prosecuted Rex Krebs, who in 2001, received a death sentence for abducting and killing two college students. He also handled the Dystiny Myers case, which ended in Feb. 2013 with murder convictions for all five defendants.
Between 2012 and 2014, Covello served as second-in-command at the DA’s Office, and he was seen as a favorite to replace Shea. However, internal issues led to a wave of support for Dow over Covello.
Covello’s opponent Funke-Bilu, has had a 40-year career as a criminal defense and environmental litigation attorney, He launched his campaign on the platform of bringing a more diverse background to the bench. The judgeship election will take place in June 2018.