A member of the six-person Democratic Party panel that interviewed Sonoma County judicial candidates last month has weighed in on the controversy between Chris Mazzia and Jamie Thistlethwaite over whether Thistlethwaite promised to take the death penalty “off the table.”

Her position: Mazzia is right.

“She did say that,” said the panelist, who spoke to me on the condition that she not be identified. “She said she would do what she could to take the death penalty off the table.”

Controversy broke out Tuesday when Mazzia criticized Thistlethwaite for taking such a vow during the March 17 interview.  He argued that it raised questions about whether Thistlethwaite was willing to put aside her personal views and do her job as judge.

Thistlethwaite quickly denied the allegation and a Democratic Party Central Committee official said the charge was based on an internal recorder’s report that included statements that were taken out of context.

But this interviewer, who actually voted to recommend supporting Thistlethwaite — a position she still defends — says the quotes were not taken out of context. She argues Thistlethwaite went so far as to say she would work as supportive counsel — known as “Keenan counsel” — on the appeal, which is automatic in death penalty cases. How that would work given her role as a judge was unclear.

She said the recorder, whose report Mazzia cited in his criticism, “did a very accurate job of taking notes.”

“So it’s just inaccurate to say that Chris was misinterpreting or misrepresenting what she said,” the woman said. “That is in fact what she said.”

She said two members of the all-female panel cited Thistlethwaite’s position on the death penalty as reasons why they were “uncomfortable” in endorsing her. Another two cited the death penalty position as reasons why they wanted to support Thistlethwaite.

“Well, when I heard her say it I was very concerned,” the woman said. What Thistlethwaite should have done, the source said, is start with the condition that she was bound by her position as a judge to uphold the law. But she didn’t do that.

So why is Thistlethwaite now arguing that she didn’t say that?

“I think she and her campaign realized that the statement came out way too strong,” she surmised.

But the source said, overall, she still agrees with the panel’s recommendation on Thistlethwaite.

“I was just really surprised to see the (online) comments and to see how vehemently people were attacking Chris having put all of this out there,” she said. “It just didn’t seem right that a statement that he actually said would turn around and be thrown in his face.”

– Paul Gullixson