El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Warren "Curt" Stracener will face a runoff election in November after failing to win outright against two challengers.
While sitting judges in Yolo and Sacramento counties won handily, Stracener's two opponents combined to force him into a runoff.
He will face attorney Joe Hoffman in November.
Stracener got the largest portion of votes, 42 percent, while Hoffman got 37 percent and a third candidate, Stephen Valentine, got 20 percent.
The sometimes testy contest featured an attack campaign mailer from Stracener, challenging Hoffman's legal relationship with a jailed accused scam artist.
Hoffman's supporters, in turn, challenged Stracener's statements about his record, saying he exaggerated his legal experience.
"You ain't seen nothing yet," said Valentine. "I think it's going to get real nasty."
Valentine avoided most of the campaign fireworks with the exception of his attempt to inject some levity with a shooting contest between the candidates.
It failed to go off.
Hoffman spoke of a more peaceful remainder of the campaign.
"What I hope it will be like is a good, positive campaign," he said.
Stracener issued a brief statement saying he was looking "forward to educating voters about my record and having an honest debate about the issues that are important to the people of El Dorado County."
In Yolo County, incumbent Judge Dan Maguire won easily, turning away a challenge from Deputy District Attorney Clint Parish.
A Parish-approved mailer that painted Maguire as a Schwarzenegger crony involved in corporate fraud and bribery proved to be the deputy prosecutor's undoing.
Maguire won 77 percent to 23 percent.
In Sacramento County, too, the incumbent judge, Tami Bogert, won in a romp, with 70 percent of the vote to 30 percent for challenger Keven Star.
Star had almost matched the incumbent for campaign cash, but Bogert cornered the market on endorsements.
In Amador County, meanwhile, two newcomers faced off for the bench seat vacated by retiring Judge David Richmond. Deputy District Attorney Steve Hermanson bested defense attorney Jeff Seaton, getting 68 percent of the vote to 32 percent for Seaton.