Federal Judge David Carter is not your typical California Democrat, he is a “Marine who has been temporarily reassigned as a judge.” Literally running circles around lawyers, reporters, and elected officials alike, 74-year-old Judge Carter has been “rattling the cages of every single council member in Orange County” with his personal crusade to solve the homeless crisis brought on by decades of failed liberal policies and hoarding of mental health funds.
“I was literally begged by one of your (county) supervisors to take a breath and slow down,” Carter laughed. “No. Absolutely not.” His regiment in Vietnam was called the “Walking Dead.” He makes it his job to hold fellow Democrats to their oath of office no matter how uncomfortable they get. He won’t allow any politician to shirk their responsibilities on his watch and they are furious.
“He gets down in the trenches,” Marine Sergeant Al Anderson relates. “That’s the way he was in Vietnam, and in our platoon.”
The ninth regiment of the first battalion got its nickname because of the heavy casualties they took. When Carter went up a hill at Khe Sanh in 1968, out of 38 men, only 8 survived. A hand grenade blew his face apart and his arm was shattered by sniper fire.
Despite serious injuries, he continued to fight. By the time he stopped moving, he was so badly hurt that he was mistaken for dead and put in a body bag. After nine months in a hospital, they gave him a Bronze Star to go with his Purple Heart.
Carter caught the national attention in February when he took his U.S. District Court bench on an early morning field trip. He marched embarrassed county workers and elected officials through the Santa Ana riverbed to tour firsthand the county’s largest homeless encampment.
The makeshift city of tents was home to about 500 people at the time and was scheduled for immediate closure and clean up. Judge Carter demanded to know where all the homeless people were supposed to magically relocate to.
When he didn’t like the answers he was hearing, he ordered arrangements to be made for each and every one of the campers. Over 300 were housed in area motels for at least 30 days as a temporary solution.
California lawmakers and officials whine privately but nobody is bold enough to actually raise “accusations of judicial activism” or hint that he might be “legislating from the bench.” They all realize he will instantly demand to know what they personally are doing to fulfill their civic duty to help their homeless constituents.
By March, officials of all the various cities that make up Orange County were dragging their feet, and pointing fingers at each other over the blame, instead of coming up with a long-term plan. Judge Carter had another “special session” in his court.
On a Saturday, Carter “invited” all the elected officials from the 34 different OC cities. “His court staff took attendance to take note of who did not show up,” one report notes. Once everyone was settled, he put a slide up on the courtroom screen.
What it displayed was a page from a recent audit report that showed exactly where money earmarked for mental health under California’s Proposition 63 really went.
According to the report, in black and white for reporters and the public to see, Orange County “stockpiled about $242 million in fiscal year 2015-2016, earning $11 million in interest.”
Tell me again, he said, that you don’t have money to address the problem. It was obvious he noted, that county officials had been “hoarding funds that could be spent to help homeless people” and lying to him about not having it.
By the time court was recessed that day, $70.5 million was directed straight into the creation of temporary homeless camps until permanent housing could be made available.
Not satisfied with the pace of efforts since then, the judge has threatened to suspend laws against urban camping and loitering until enough emergency shelters are open.
Judge Carter has been annoying fellow Democrats since the 1980’s. The American Civil Liberties Union reported Carter to the Commission on Judicial Performance for “duct-taping the mouths of unruly defendants in his courtroom for spitting at court staff and shouting profanities.”
He refused to stop doing it when he considered it necessary.
After graduating from UCLA with a 4.0-grade average he found himself in Central Vietnam as a 24-year-old lieutenant on Christmas Eve, 1967. The infamous “Tet Offensive” was brewing.
While recovering in Guam from his trip up the hill, Carter became interested in the law. He went back to UCLA for a law degree. Fresh out of college a second time, he became a District attorney in 1972 and worked his way to the Senior Deputy slot.
He presided over the “Freeway Killer” case which put William Bonin down in the books as the first person to die by lethal injection in California.
When Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him to the State Superior Court, he earned the nickname “King David” for advocating some of the very first alternative programs for juveniles and for numerous efforts to engage with repeat offenders to break the cycle.
In the middle of the 80’s, he failed in a run for Congress as a Democrat. He made a better impression with the non-democrat voters than he did with his own party so lost the primary and went back to his comfort zone behind the bench.
Over the years, many high profile cases “fraught with legal challenges and high emotions” came through his courtroom. He didn’t stand for any nonsense while handling trials for the Mexican Mafia or the Aryan Brotherhood.
“He’s a Marine who has been temporarily reassigned as a judge. He can do that and his work ethic is legendary,” former state Assemblyman Tom Umberg recalls.