SACRAMENTO — A criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor has joined the race for Yolo Superior Court judge, saying his roles on opposing sides of the law offer him unique qualifications his fellow candidates don’t possess.
“I think I’ve seen a side that most people don’t get an opportunity to see,” John Brennan said in an interview at his downtown Sacramento law office, citing the impacts of crime not only on victims but also the families of the defendants.
If elected, “I would bring a great judicial temperament to the bench. I would be tough, but I would also be fair, based on my experience,” he said.
Brennan, 45, became the fourth and final candidate last week for the judicial seat being vacated by Judge Stephen Mock, who announced he would retire at the end of his fourth term next January.
In addition to Brennan, those seeking to replace Mock include longtime Commissioner Janene Beronio, Sacramento family law attorney Fredrick Cohen and Deputy Attorney General Larenda Delaini.
Born and raised in San Francisco, Brennan was one of four children raised by European immigrants who taught their children from an early age the importance of education. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from St. Mary’s College before moving on to Ohio Northern University, where he received his law degree. Two of Brennan’s brothers also are attorneys.
Brennan began his law career as a prosecutor, working in district attorney’s offices in San Francisco and Kings County before landing in Sacramento 14 years ago. Five years later, he decided to open his own criminal defense practice.
“I’d done everything from misdemeanors to felonies, and I felt after 10 years (as a prosecutor) it was time to take on another challenge — open up a small business,” Brennan said. He estimates he’s performed more than 100 trials during his career, ranging from DUIs to homicides, and has handled civil, family law and juvenile court cases as well.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael P. Kenny, who has seen Brennan at work in both prosecution and defense roles, describes the attorney as “smart, and he comes in well-prepared.”
“He knows his facts and he knows the law — he ‘s not afraid to put in the long hours,” Kenny said. Having seen both sides of the law, “it provides him with broader perspective and a broader understanding of all the issues, and that allows you to come into it with far less bias.”
Brennan and his wife, Sacramento County prosecutor Heidi Brennan, have five children ranging in age from 2 to 17. The family lives in West Sacramento.
Brennan said he has long aspired to serve as a judge but, because he lives in Yolo County, had misgivings about seeking a seat in Sacramento County, even though that’s where his law practice is based.
Although judges aren’t required to live in the counties in which they serve, “I feel there should be some sort of vested interest,” Brennan said. With open judicial seats a rarity, “I think now is the right time (to run), and I know I’m the most qualified candidate.”
Delaini lives in Davis, while Beronio lives near Winters in rural Solano County and Cohen lives in Sacramento’s North Natomas neighborhood.
Election Day is June 3, although there will be a runoff election in November if none of the judicial candidates receives a majority vote, according to Yolo County elections officials. Two other judges up for re-election this year — Presiding Judge Steven Basha and Judge Timothy Fall — are not being challenged.
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