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Judge race recalls some old wounds

October 14, 2002

Paul Clinton

Five years after they clashed in an emotional vehicular

manslaughter trial, two local attorneys find themselves rivals again,

this time in a political race for an Orange County judgeship.

Vickie Bridgman, who lost her son in a tragic car wreck along the

S-curve of Irvine Avenue in 1997, is running for the judgeship,

Office No. 22.

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Jennifer Keller, the attorney who defended the teenage driver of

that car, 18-year-old driver Jason Rausch, signed on as the campaign

treasurer for Bridgman's opponent, Kelly MacEachern. Both Bridgman

and MacEachern are deputy district attorneys and residents of Newport

Beach.

"I think it's pretty ugly that she's involved in [MacEachern's]

election," Bridgman said. "There is obvious bad blood there."

Rausch was ultimately sentenced to three years of probation,

rather than jail time, for the death of Bridgman's son.

At the time, Bridgman criticized the verdict as too lenient,

saying: "I don't think my family got a fair shake."

Messages were left with Keller at her Irvine office regarding this

story. While she did not return phone calls, a staffer there said she

was in London and was aware of the story.

Keller is a past president of the Orange County Bar Assn., which

handed Bridgman a "not recommended" rating in February after a

lengthy review of her track record. The association handed

MacEachern, who received similar scrutiny, a "qualified" rating.

This election season has brought other conflicts between the two

attorneys. Keller, along with attorney Michael Schroeder, filed a

lawsuit against Bridgman in August on MacEachern's behalf. The suit

challenged Bridgman's ballot statement as "false and misleading."

After Bridgman answered with a dueling suit against MacEachern's

statement, the candidates mutually agreed to drop their suits in an

Aug. 31 settlement.

THE HISTORY

On May 23, 1997, Bridgman's life was permanently changed. Driving

the Bridgman family's Chevy Blazer, Rausch crashed as he drove a

carload of nine other teens south on Irvine Avenue, after a night of

partying in Santa Ana Heights.

Donny Bridgman was killed in the wreck. Two other teens,

cheerleader Amanda Arthur and Daniel Townsend, suffered lasting brain

damage from their injuries. The case stirred emotions throughout the

Newport Beach community and sparked a bevy of a lawsuits.

The District Attorney's office charged Rausch, who police said was

driving 67 mph in a 35-mph zone, with manslaughter. During a

three-month trial that wrapped up at the end of February 1998,

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