Since a career day at his Lancaster middle school, Phil Urie knew he wanted to become an attorney.
He ultimately reached that dream, and now the prosecutor is running for San Joaquin County Superior Court judge. He and attorney James Morris took the most number of votes in the primary election, and voters will select one of them on Nov. 4.
Urie, who turns 59 today, grew up in Lancaster, then went into the U.S. Army.
Why the military instead of directly into college? Urie answers with a laugh: "I broke up with a girl. Instead of going to the French Foreign Legion, I went into the American Army and learned French."
His military stint lasted seven years - from 1969 to 1976 - working as a French and Russian linguist, then learning German when he spent three years in that country.
After the Army, Urie used the GI bill to enroll in the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. He received Bachelor's Degrees in both finance and Russian.
After finishing law school at University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law and joining the state bar in 1981, Urie went to work at a large accounting firm.
Phil UrieAge: 59
Occupation: Deputy district attorney
Family: Wife, two daughters, two grandchildren
- 22 years as prosecutor
- Seven years in the U.S. Army
- Several years in tax law
Campaign site: philurie.com
He worked in the San Francisco and San Jose offices of a firm called Arthur Andersen, a name Urie mentioned with a slight chuckle and noted that it was long before the Enron scandal. He left long before the firm went under.
"I was working in their tax department and decided no, I became a lawyer to be in court," he said.
So Urie began looking for such a job and wound up interviewing at the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office. He was hired, and has remained there for 23 years.
Urie and his wife of 36 years, Peggy, raised two children in Stockton and have two grandchildren.
They're both active in their Mormon church, where they are currently running a 12-step recovery program.
Urie previously ran for Stockton City Council in 1994, served two years on the Council of Governments board and was active in the Stockton Civic Theatre. He has also taught Russian at San Joaquin Delta College.
Those things never figured into Urie's campaign, he said, because they didn't relate to the justice system and how he would apply the law as a judge.
"It's not relevant to being a judge, I don't think. It's certainly life experience, but it's not what makes you a good judge," Urie said.
But he thought twice about that campaign decision when his opponents mentioned various community activities. That feeling increased after Presiding Judge William Murray recently sent a scathing letter to newspaper editors, endorsing Morris and pointing out what he felt were Urie's shortcomings.
Murray attacked Urie's career as a prosecutor, pointing out that he spent most of his time in asset forfeiture and prosecuting medical marijuana cases, rather than in other criminal proceedings.
Urie countered that asset forfeiture - a civil process in which police confiscate money and cars used in felony cases - brought in millions of dollars that went back to police. Medical marijuana cases are complicated because California law allows the drug for medical reasons, while federal law does not.
Until the letter, and one written by Urie in a counterattack, the campaign had been free of controversy, something both candidates previously said they wanted. Whether the letters will change things remains to be seen, but Urie noted that he's since heard from people who are no longer on the proverbial fence and have decided on a candidate.
As for the original race, Urie said he chose to run because he's wanted to be a judge since the mid-1990s when he applied to the governor's office for appointment.
"It is sort of a natural progression," Urie said. "It's a different form of service."