SACRAMENTO — Fredrick “Rick” Cohen knew from a young age he was destined for a career in the law.
In addition to being the son of a corporate attorney, “I was sort of the natural arguer, the natural advocate for people,” Cohen said of his childhood.
After graduating from UC Davis’ King Hall School of Law in 1989, Cohen worked in civil litigation for seven years before opening his own two-attorney law office that specializes in what he considers his true calling: family law, where he has represented parents, children and even grandparents in the often-complicated arena of divorce and child custody-related matters.
Now, Cohen says he wants to take his expertise to a place he believes it’s sorely needed — the Yolo Superior Court bench. He intends to run for the seat being vacated next January by Judge Stephen L. Mock, who announced his retirement last week.
“We need a family law specialist on the bench to protect children and families,” Cohen, 49, said in an interview Thursday at his Sacramento office. “It’s one of the most, if not the most, difficult areas of the law that there is. It touches everyone.”
Cohen will face off against Yolo Superior Court Commissioner Janene Beronio, 63, who announced her candidacy for the June 3 election earlier this week. She has been endorsed by all 12 of her fellow Yolo bench members.
But Cohen, who quietly began building his campaign in November in anticipation of Mock’s retirement, said he’s amassed a diverse support network of his own, raising more than $100,000 in contributions and receiving endorsements from more than two dozen judges, attorneys and elected officials.
They include Davis City Councilman Brett Lee, who said although his friendship with Cohen is unrelated to the law, “I’ve found him to be a thoughtful and reasonable person, so I expect he would carry that into the legal area, should he be a judge.”
Born and raised in Scarsdale, N.Y., Cohen attended his father’s alma mater, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, receiving his bachelor’s degree in the school’s college of literature, science and the arts before seeking out a warmer climate for his law studies.
Cohen remains connected to the UCD law school, serving as a volunteer judge/evaluator over the years for its moot court, trial practice and mock trial programs.
As a judge, Cohen said he would give all who appear before him “a fair shake,” something he says he’s accomplished while serving as a temporary judge for small-claims and family law matters in both Sacramento and Placer counties over the past 19 years.
He recalled one case in particular, in which a 16-year-old girl sought a restraining order against her stepfather, whom she had accused of molesting her. Cohen presided over the hearing and, upon being convinced that the molestation had occurred, granted the restraining order.
Afterward, it was the stepfather who stepped forward to thank him, “because it was the first time in two years that he had been heard,” Cohen said. “He may not have agreed with the result, but at least he got his day in court.”
Cohen also said he’s got what it takes to handle the “pure, raw emotion” that often accompanies the parties in family-law matters, while his expertise would allow him to delve into the nuances of each individual case.
“When you have a specialist on the bench, you get that,” Cohen said. “I’m going to win this campaign, because I offer a unique set of skills to the court.”
And while he’d be satisfied specializing in family-law court if elected, Cohen said he also understands the need for judges to rotate among various assignments in order to gain a wide range of experience.
“I would be proud to serve in any assignment the supervising judge wants — but I do have a preference, of course,” he said.
Typically, newly elected or appointed judges are prohibited from handling cases in their area of expertise for at least a couple of years in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
Cohen lives in Sacramento’s North Natomas area with his wife Ruth Young, a consumer fraud prosecutor, and their children Sam, 7, and Bonnie, 4.
— Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene