In late January, Larenda Delaini, a Deputy Attorney General and native of Yolo County, announced her candidacy to fill the Yolo County Superior Court seat that was vacated in mid-January when Judge Stephen Mock announced he would retire effective January 2015.
Larenda Delaini sat down with the Vanguard to talk about her candidacy.
“I think I would be a good judge for this county because of my legal experience, my ties to the community, my demeanor and my demonstrated integrity,” she said. “Those are the three skills that I hope to bring to the bench.”
“Primarily the reason why I’m running is because it’s in my community,” she said. “I think that community service, public service is extremely important.”
Ms. Delaini said she has extensive trial and appellate experience. She has practiced in Superior Court, the Courts of Appeal, the California Supreme Court, the United States District Court for the Eastern District, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. She currently handles criminal appeals, civil habeas corpus matters, and administrative proceedings.
Prior to her current position as Deputy Attorney General which began in 2008, Ms. Delaini worked as a deputy district attorney in Sacramento County, where she handled misdemeanor and felony cases, prosecuted juvenile matters, conducted jury trials, and earned the prestigious Victim Services Award.
“I started off with the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office,” she said, explaining that Sacramento County had a hiring freeze when she got done with law school. She worked there for about one year before Sacramento County began hiring again.
“I started off in the misdemeanor unit, I handled DUIs, assaults, just kind of the gamut of things,” she said. “Then I went to the domestic violence unit where I handled exclusively domestic violence cases. Then I went out to juvenile hall where I was a juvenile prosecutor four months before going to the felony teams where I did preliminary hearings and then I did jury trials.”
She handled a number of serious felonies – attempted murder, kidnapping, shooting cases. She was a DA for five years before going to the Attorney General’s office.
In the Attorney General’s office, where she has worked since May of 2008, as stated above, she handles direct appeals and civil habeas proceedings.
“I am one of three people who handle’s ‘people’s appeals’ so if the District Attorney’s office in any of the counties that we represent wants to appeal a legal issue, then they go through me or two of my colleagues and we decide whether it’s a case that we want to take up,” Ms. Delaini explained.
Larenda Delaini also said she handled Penal Code section 4900 claims which, she explained, “are claims for an erroneously convicted offender. So if someone was wrongly convicted and they’ve now demonstrated their innocence, they can file a claim against the state and then we investigate those and make a recommendation.”
“There are a lot of cases that I handle out of Yolo County, because the District Office for the Attorney General’s Office handles nearly 30 counties, we go all the way up to the Oregon border, so Yolo County is within our jurisdiction and we handle their cases,” she said.
Ms. Delaini is also an Adjunct Professor at Sacramento City College, teaching classes on legal issues, including evidence, criminal procedure, and basic concepts of criminal law. In addition, she assists first-year law students with legal writing at Lincoln Law School.
A graduate of River City Senior High School in West Sacramento, Delaini earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from California State University, Sacramento, graduating cum laude, and a law degree from McGeorge School of Law, graduating with distinction.
Ms. Delaini lives in Davis with her husband David, a Lieutenant with the West Sacramento Police Department, formerly in the Davis Police Department, who is a Gulf War veteran and graduate of Davis High School. They have two children, ages 4 and 7, and are active in their community.
She noted that, as an appellant prosecutor, “one of the things I handle are the civil habeas proceedings and that puts the people in the defense position, so we are the defendants in those cases.” They are the respondents, but she does defend the prosecution’s position in those cases.
Larenda Delaini said that, despite her background as a prosecutor and her husband’s as a law enforcement officer, she believes she could be fair to defendants who come through the system.
“Absolutely,” she stated. “There’s not a doubt in my mind that I could be. It’s not about being pro-prosecution or pro-law enforcement. It’s about doing the right thing and following the law. If the law gives you some discretion then taking into mind all of the circumstances and making that informed decision, following the law and the circumstances where you must and always doing the right and just thing.”
She said, “You have to look at the individual cases, the facts of the case, the circumstances of the cases and then whether there’s any mitigating circumstances that come into play like the reasons that it was done – you have to take all of that information into consideration in order to make an informed decision.”
Ms. Delaini told the Vanguard that her life experiences, coming from the community, “my experience with people and working with people all of the time in my volunteer efforts, you see people who are maybe disadvantaged during a tough time, who do things perhaps rashly because of the situation they’re in – I think can understand those situations and so I can bring the empathy and compassion into the decision making.”
She believes, despite her background in criminal law, that she can handle matters outside of her immediate field of expertise as she will undoubtedly be called to do in a small court system like Yolo.
Ms. Delaini explained, “When we do criminal appeals, they are all crimes, because they are all criminal convictions, but at the same time, the issues that are raised on appeal are not necessarily criminal.” She added, “For example, we deal with constitutional issues like whether the equal protection clause is being violated because of the way the statue impacts people disparately. We deal with constitutionality of statutes all the time; we deal with statutory construction and statutory interpretation.”
“So not everything I do is necessarily criminal law, we bring in all sorts of different areas of the law,” she said.
“I absolutely agree that temperament and sound judgment – those are probably the two most important character traits that a judge could have,” Larenda Delaini responded. “But definitely temperament, judges have to have an even temperament, they have to treat everyone with respect and dignity, and I think they also have an obligation to learn how to respectfully control the courtroom so that they can handle the matters before they rise to the level of frustration.”
There are also high profile cases that arise in the community and with them will come political pressure.
“Integrity and your responsibility to follow the law are the most important things and I think judges always have to make decisions that are in line with the law even when it’s not the popular decision,” she stated.
Larenda Delaini told the Vanguard that there are a number of judges that she admires and respects.
One that she cited was Judge Greta Fall in Sacramento County. “She just has a great demeanor, she has a very even temperament, she treats people with respect no matter what side you’re on,” Ms. Delaini explained. “If she disagrees with your position she’s still very respectful and yet has that good strong presence.”
Ms. Delaini added, “She’s just very knowledgeable in the law. If she doesn’t know something she takes the time to look it up and makes sure she’s making the right decision.”
The Vanguard asked her how she would improve the Yolo County justice system. She said that because she is not currently working in the system, she is not sure how things fundamentally operate.
“But I do know there are tremendous issues facing that court particularly with AB 109 and realignment and what that’s done to the community and kind of creating that partnership with law enforcement and probation in taking over the rehabilitation services,” she said.
More generally, “In the overall justice system, things need to move a bit more quickly through the system,” she said. “We obviously have a tremendous backlog and I think that’s going on in every county.”
“Resources, because things are so short, need to be there,” she continued. “There has to be money for defense attorneys to have their investigators be able to go out and do the follow up investigation that needs to be done and I know that money is in short supply so that kind of stuff is not getting done.”
“We have to do something obviously with the prison component of our justice system,” she added.
In a more positive light, she said, “The justice system as a whole when you compare it to other systems, California and the United States has a very good one in general. But what’s working well in Yolo County in that regard – I think the judges work well together, they get through their cases, I think there’s good relationships with the District Attorney’s office.”
“I think they do a good job in partnering,” she said, “In fact we talk about how good Yolo is kind of ahead of other counties in terms of AB 109 and the programs that have come along with that.”
She talked about split-sentencing in AB 109 cases and said, “I think in some cases it works out great. In other cases, I’m not sure how it does work out.”
She talked about a case that went across her desk recently where the defendant had sold a pound of meth to an undercover officer. “Because of the weight (the amount of the substance) under the penal code, that defendant was not entitled to probation,” she said. “It would have been a prison case. But the underlying offense, the possession for sales is one that is eligible for sentencing under 1170(h) and so the defendant ended up getting mandatory supervision, quasi-probation when ordinarily he would have been statutorily ineligible under the law.”
She said it creates those kind of issues where the person, otherwise not eligible for probation, with split sentencing end up in that situation.
Ms. Delaini joins Yolo County Commissioner Janene Beronio, Defense Attorney John Brennan and Sacramento Family Law Attorney Rick Cohen in the race to replace Judge Stephen Mock, who announced 10 days ago that he was stepping down after 24 years. The Vanguard has previously run interviews with Mr. Cohen and Ms. Beronio and later this week will be Mr. Brennan’s interview.
The election will be on June 3 but if no one receives 50%, the top two vote-getters will meet in November.
—David M. Greenwald reporting