What was your professional life like before you were a judge?
My life before being a judge was incredibly busy. My family was in Washington D.C for 8 years. I had some great opportunities as Assistant Attorney General of the U.S. to create an office for Victims of Crime in the U.S Department of Justice. I was able to brief the President and his cabinet on several occasions on the important issues of victims of crime and family violence to gain support for important legislation. Further being appointed as a U.S delegate to the United Nations for four different overseas conferences was a great challenge and learning experience.
Prior to our move to Washington D.C, I worked as a deputy district attorney in Alameda County, California.
What made you want to be a juvenile judge?
I have always enjoyed working with young people and actually never aspired to be a judge unless it was a judge in juvenile court. While going to Hastings Law School, I worked as a probation officer in the summer and as a counselor in juvenile hall during the school year. I truly loved talking, interacting, and listening to youth and wanted a chance to help, inspire, encourage and support youngsters as best as I could.
As Assistant Attorney General, there were four large departments under my supervision. One of them was the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. I paid special attention to those programs and found them very worthwhile and interesting which further piqued my interest in juvenile law.
You have been offered other assignments in other courts. Why have you chosen to remain in Contra Costa County’s Juvenile Department?
I have been fortunate to be able to remain in the juvenile division for 18 years. I believe that it is an area where you can best protect children, reunite families when possible and help redirect youth who are committing crimes. Youngsters are more malleable and open to redirection than adults. When I see incredible positive changes in a child and/or parent, it is very rewarding. Being able to praise, encourage and support change is a blessing.
How have events in your life influenced the manner in which you approach your responsibilities as a juvenile judge?
I believe working with youth in my law school days influenced my approach as a juvenile judge. I think I was able to see all sides of many youthful issues. Some children come from very difficult homes, some come from recently divorced parents and can’t handle the emotional turmoil, and some came from homes where the parents were never home for one reason or another. There is a common theme, although accountability and consequences for bad behavior are necessary to effect change – understanding and encouraging and supporting are also necessary. There are also peer pressures that influence youngsters, even with a wonderful home life; and, certainly drugs and alcohol have a big affect on actions and decision making.
Can you share with us one of your most encouraging stories as a juvenile judge?
There are hundreds of them. Suffice it to say when a youngster changes his or her ways and goes on to college or work and becomes a productive, happy citizen, I am thrilled. Also, when parents truly change their behavior and their child is returned to a safe, drug free, loving home, I am thrilled.
Can you share with us one of your greatest disappointments as a juvenile judge?
My greatest disappointment is our community response to illegal drug use. Day after day for 18 years I have watched babies exposed to illegal drugs in utero. These children are often born with terrible lifelong handicaps and disabilities. These very disturbed children, who cannot help their difficult behavior, are overwhelming our teachers in school, our health care system and our criminal justice system; and, it is not their fault that they are deeply harmed. Further, I see young girls and boys (95% of delinquency cases) using drugs on an almost daily basis, always marijuana and often methamphetamine. These young people are dropping out, flunking out, sleeping through classes, driving under the influence and losing inhibitions and conscience.
They commit crimes, some terrible crimes, harm themselves and leave a long legacy of innocent victims with lives changed. The youth sometimes are just following the lead of their parents of crime and drugs and others are exposed to drug use by their peers. I see an A student drop down to F’s and crime. For too long we have tolerated illegal drug use in our society and it has made victims of us all.
What would you say to practitioners who may be considering entering the field of juvenile law?
I would say go for it. You will sleep at night knowing you did your best to help a family, a child or protect future victims. You will be rewarded by knowing you truly make a difference; and isn’t that really why most of us went into law?
What is the greatest skill an attorney can bring to your courtroom, and to the service of juvenile clients?
The greatest skill, besides intelligence, is an open mind, an open heart and love of children. I have many dedicated attorneys in my court on a daily basis that possess these skills in abundance.
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