WOODLAND — Four candidates for Yolo Superior Court judge squared off Wednesday before an audience of attorneys who would appear in their courtroom should they be elected.
Sponsored by the Yolo County Bar Association, the hourlong forum in the County Administration Building revealed the contenders’ views on topics ranging from their judicial philosophies to court operations to their perceived strengths and weaknesses.
Yolo Superior Court Commissioner Janene Beronio, criminal defense attorney John P. Brennan, family-law attorney Fredrick Cohen and Deputy Attorney General Larenda Delaini are vying for the seat being vacated by Judge Stephen Mock when he retires in January.
Not surprisingly, all four declared themselves the most qualified person for the job.
“I am the only candidate who has spent my entire career working in Yolo County,” said Beronio, a former prosecutor who was appointed commissioner in 1989. She touted herself as a “known quantity” to the local legal community, one who would not have to make the transition from client advocate to impartial judicial officer if elected.
“I do not have to learn how to be a judge,” Beronio said, citing her background presiding over civil, criminal, traffic, small claims and juvenile courts. “That experience really matters. The longer I’ve been on the bench, the more seasoned I’ve become.”
With criminal-law cases comprising the bulk of the Yolo Superior Court’s workload, Brennan, a West Sacramento resident, said his experience as a former prosecutor, in addition to his defense work, gives him a unique advantage over his three competitors.
While newly elected judges typically spend the first few years presiding over cases outside their area of expertise, Brennan said his private practice has exposed him to a wide variety of cases — including civil, family and unlawful detainer matters — and has prepared him for any assignment that might come along.
“I don’t know if there’s anything I haven’t done,” he said.
Cohen, a UC Davis law school graduate, said he would adapt quickly to a new assignment but noted that Yolo’s courts are in desperate need of a judge who is well versed in family law. He said he possesses the “emotional fortitude” to preside over the most difficult of cases and has no qualms about speaking his mind.
“My philosophy is to say what I mean and mean what I say,” Cohen said. “I’m blunt and I’m honest to a fault, and sometimes that takes people aback, but that’s my greatest strength.”
Delaini, meanwhile, emphasized her character and efficiency. “I can handle a number of tasks at a time while doing them well,” she said, citing her full-time job, family responsibilities, volunteer activities and teaching duties at both Sacramento City College and Lincoln Law School.
And while her fascination with learning and analyzing the law contributed to her decision to run for judge, “the most important reason … is to continue serving the public and continue doing the community service I have spent most of my adult life doing,” the Davis resident and West Sacramento native said.
On several subjects the candidates were largely aligned, such as the view that courtrooms are places for people to be heard and for judges to issue fair and impartial rulings based on the facts and the law, not on what’s popular.
All four also agreed that a lack of funding is the greatest challenge facing the courts — in Yolo County and beyond — and said they recognize the importance of working efficiently in spite of those dwindling resources.
Election Day is June 3. If no judicial candidate receives a majority vote, however, the top two vote-getters will move on to a runoff election in November.
Yolo County Bar Association President Allison Zuvela said the association’s members will be surveyed next week as to whether a candidate should be endorsed and, if so, who should receive the organization’s backing.
— Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene