Janene Beronio Looks to Experience in Her Race for Judge

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Janene Baronio talks to reporters after announcement, flanked by Judge Fall (left) and Judge Rosenberg (right)
Janene Beronio talks to reporters after her January announcement, flanked by Judge Fall (left) and Judge Rosenberg (right)

On January 21, backed by her predecessor as well as the rest of the judges on the Yolo County Superior Court bench, Commissioner Janene Beronio, who has been in that position handling arraignments since 1989, announced her candidacy to replace Judge Stephen Mock, who announced he would retire in January 2015 after 25 years on the bench.

Janene Beronio sat down with the Vanguard to discuss her candidacy.  “I’ve been a commissioner for 25 years and I’ve done many of the assignments I could do as a judge, but most of the assignments that I do are subordinate,” she said, when asked why she was running for judge.  “I really felt like I’ve made a difference as a commissioner, especially in the last eight years when I’ve been in Department 9 with misdemeanor pretrials, we’ve cut the backlog way down.”

“When Judge Mock decided to retire, he approached me and said would you do this, and I thought about it and I thought this was really something I could do to make a difference,” she added.  “I have much more experience than anyone on the bench right now, it’s just time.  I think I can give more as a judge now than as a commissioner.”

If there are three levels of authority, the referee is at the bottom.  He can do traffic without stipulation, and that is about all.  Commissioners, which Ms. Beronio has been since 1990, can do everything a judge can do, but there has to be a stipulation for certain things.  Without stipulation, a commissioner can do bail setting, arraignment, traffic, small claims, and a few other things.  Anything more than that, the parties have to agree – for instance, to take a plea.

She explained that in arraignment, “I take their plea, I set their bail, I set it for a prelim.  If they want to enter a plea, first of all they have to have an attorney, if it’s a felony.”  For drug cases in particular, “I can take a plea and I can sentence them, but it has to be with the agreement of the parties.  Obviously if they are there and they want to enter the plea, they are going to agree to me.”

Unlike other counties, in Yolo County the Public Defender’s office sends attorneys all the time, even during misdemeanor arrangements, and as Ms. Beronio noted, “even when they aren’t going to be appointed, they assist.”

“What I don’t have, is because I’m a commissioner, there is a reason there is a commissioner because they want you to do the things that the judges – we do the subordinate jobs,” she said.  “We can do all the big jobs.  I have at certain points in time, but it’s not my primary assignment.”

She noted that while she has done many felony trials as a lawyer, “as a commissioner, no. I have not done a felony trial.”

Prior to becoming a commissioner, Janene Beronio worked as a prosecutor in Yolo County for nine years.

She does not presently live in Yolo County.  She lived in Yolo County until 2000.  In 2000 she moved to the country just to the west of Winters in Solano County.  She has worked in Yolo County for 34 years.

She came to Sacramento to go to McGeorge Law School and got a job with the DA’s office in Yolo County.

She said she could “absolutely” judge a case fairly for a defendant before her as a judge.

“Let me say one thing about being a prosecutor, being a prosecutor to me is somebody who is there to do justice and to do the right thing, so when you come at that job from that perspective, it’s not ever going to be a problem,” she stated.  “It’s been 25 years since I’ve prosecuted anybody, and I’ve dealt with thousands of defendants who came in front of me.”

“I think that people, whether they’re in a suit or in shackles in front of me, are to be respected and listened to,” she continued.  “I always take what people say and apply the most justice I can apply.”

She said her judicial philosophy was “to listen, to apply the facts to the law and to do your best to always do justice.”

“I think my temperament is I’m pretty even-keeled,” she said.  She said that once she rules on a motion it’s final, but she did nuance it.  “If it’s something that’s not necessarily final, I’m always willing and if you’ve been to my court you’ve seen it, you can ask to have your case called again, because one thing I don’t want to do is make a mistake.”

“In arraignment court, I would never want to leave someone in custody when they should have been set free,” she said.  “So if there’s another argument to be made… I’ll let (the attorney) talk.  Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t, but it wouldn’t be fair to not give him a shot.”

Ms. Beronio sees the biggest challenges for Yolo County as “having enough people to do the job.  With all the budget cutbacks it’s been very difficult.  People need to be able to come in and have their cases heard.  We need to be opened as many hours as we can be opened.  The courtrooms need to be opened.”

“Right now the biggest issue – and it’s the biggest issue for a lot counties – is money,” she said.  “I keep hoping it’s going to get better.”

She said political pressure to make popular decisions “will make not one iota of difference.  I will listen and apply the law and that’s it.  I will never make a decision based on politics.”

“I admire Judge Mock,” she said.  “Judge Mock is one of the smartest, most dedicated people I know.”  She added, “He’s someone you can always go to for help.  He’s patient.”

The Vanguard asked her if she supported split-sentence cases for AB 109.  Ms. Beronio declined to comment on that.  “I’m not sure that’s something that’s appropriate to talk about,” she said.

The Vanguard then asked her how she would reform the judicial system to work better.  She responded, “You don’t like it the way it is?”  She added, “The judicial system is a work in progress, it really is.  When I started, before I started, there were people here in preliminary hearings that weren’t lawyers.”

They had municipal courts, she said, when she started and they finally consolidated them into the Superior Court.  “Things continually are done differently.  Some of it’s good and some of it’s bad.  The only way that you really know is to try it out.  AB 109 is something that’s different and we’ll just have to see how that works out.”

“I just think it’s a work in progress and we just have to do little baby steps,” she said, noting that much is going on with lack of funding.  “It’s been a pretty good system.”

Ms. Beronio currently has three opponents to replace Judge Mock.  Rick Cohen – we ran his interview earlier this week.  Larenda Delaini was the third announced candidate, and we will publish her interview shortly.  J.P. Brennan recently announced his run and we will be interviewing him shortly.

With four candidates to replace Judge Mock, the initial election will be on June 3.  If no one gets over 50%, the top two finishers would face off in November.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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24 thoughts on “Janene Beronio Looks to Experience in Her Race for Judge”

  1. Carlos G. Matos

    This commissioner was found by the Concilio board in the past as totally unfair specially towards young Latino males. In a matter of fact, members of the Concilio board meet with judges to complain about Jeanene’s dispicable and unfair behavior . I would encourage the voters of Davis to find a more suitable candidate. Commissioner Beronio is very capricious and totally biased towards law enforcement, not good qualities for a judge.

    1. Davis Progressive

      i agree with carlos. also, she doesn’t see anything wrong with the judicial system? the interview reads almost as though she has never given a single thought to anything that is not her current job. she didn’t state it in the interview, but my understanding is that the reason she has never done a felony trial is that the defense attorneys won’t stipulate to her.

    2. Day Man

      I didn’t know about this concern. If true, it troubles me, but I’m sure you understand that I don’t base my votes on Vanguard comments. Is there some sort of documentation, etc. that I can refer to to learn more about this?

    3. Catherine Hawe

      Carlos,

      Janene and I are reviewing your comment over the weekend.

      Let me reiterate, we appreciate your input, and welcome any other questions or concerns.

      Thank you,

      Catherine

  2. Tia Will

    I have not met Ms. Beronio and do not have significant knowledge of her experience and view point. However, I do find it of concern that when asked directly for an example of how she would change the judicial system, she did not answer the question, but made a peripheral and vague comment about how the system is constantly changing.

    This does not strike me as representative of the kind of leadership I would seek in a judge which I see as a community leadership position.

  3. hpierce

    Looking at the endorsements, I see many names I respect, a few names I disrespect, and many I have no basis to judge (pun intended). I am not impressed with the candidate for many reasons, but one or more endorsements won’t affect how I cast a vote in June.

  4. iPad Guy

    Ran into all of the current judges as they were gathering in front of the courthouse with the commissioner last month. I was really surprised to find from The Vanguard that they all were there to endorse a candidate before they even knew who else might be running.

    What would they have done if Salomon had tossed his hat into the ring?

    1. hpierce

      Am thinking the answer may lie in my question of David about salaries (and perhaps benefits) that differ between Judge and Commissioner, particularly upon retirement.

  5. Catherine Hawe

    Commissioner Beronio is in the process of preparing a more formal and complete response to some of the issues raised in the above comments.

    Myself and Janene welcome your input and questions. Between now and June we are looking forward to engaging with our community and answering your questions. You can submit questions through our website at janeneforjudge.com or you can reach out to me personally at catherinemhawe@gmail.com.

    In the way of introductions … I am Catherine Hawe. I graduated from Davis in 2012 with a B.A. in Political Science and History. I am currently a first year law student at University of Pacific, McGeorge School of Law. I have been volunteering on campaigns for the last few years in Davis and Yolo County and am proud to be working as Janene’s campaign manager.

    1. iPad Guy

      Welcome to he firing range, Catherine. As you can see, you’ve got some reactions to deal with already.

      Congratulations on grabbing all the judges’ endorsements. Your candidate’s certainly off to a running start.

  6. Matt Williams

    Catherine, help me undertand a few numbers from the Vanguard article.

    First, Ms. Beronio says “I’ve been a commissioner for 25 years.”

    Then the article adds, “Prior to becoming a commissioner, Janene Beronio worked as a prosecutor in Yolo County for nine years.” and “She came to Sacramento to go to McGeorge Law School and got a job with the DA’s office in Yolo County.”

    That appears to be 34 years of experience after completion of Law School and passing the Bar Exam … a distinguished career.

    With that as background, if elected, how long does Administrator Beronio expect her term of service as a Yolo County Superior Court Judge to last?

          1. JillianEvans

            I ask because Janene was quoted as saying, “Right now the biggest issue – and it’s the biggest issue for a lot counties – is money.”

            If Janene was going to be double dipping, wouldn’t electing her be an bigger drain on already-limited county resources?

          2. Davis Progressive

            she wouldn’t be double-dipping. she’d be under the same retirement plan, so her judge salary would take priority and she would get 2% for each year of service in a calpers plan of her final salary.

            double-dipping – which you can’t do anymore is when you retire and get the pension and then work as a consultant or earn additional retirement for a new contract.

  7. JillianEvans

    If Janene has “much more experience than anyone on the bench right now,” why has she never been appointed to the bench? Why has she only been a commissioner, and not a judge, for all this time? Obviously, she has been limited to “subordinate jobs” for a reason. She hasn’t even handled a felony case!! Most of the cases that Yolo County Superior sees are criminal. Someone who hasn’t been allowed to do felony trials for 25+ years is simply not qualified to be a judge. If a commissioner can “do all the big jobs,” as Janene herself claims, why hasn’t anyone stipulated to her doing felony cases in the last 25 years? She says she’s “done all the big jobs at certain points,” but that is simply not true. You know what I would like to see? A public DISCUSSION between the candidates about their qualifications so that voters can make a well-informed decision after hearing from each of them.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “If Janene has “much more experience than anyone on the bench right now,” why has she never been appointed to the bench?”

      and apparently she was accessed and never qualified. think about it, she’s a republican which means she worked under Wilson for eight years and Arnold for six and never got an appointment.

      also as she said, she never did a felony trial, that’s because neither the pd’s office nor any private defense attorney would stipulate to her. think about that one.

  8. SODA

    I found her responses in this article extremely weak. and I am surprised and curious as to why all the judges stood with her. Especially as was noted, before other candidates expressed interest.

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