Yolo Superior Court Presiding Judge Janet Gaard announced Friday that Judge Steven M. Basha has submitted his application to retire effective January 23, 2018, according to a release from the Yolo County Courts.
Judge Basha has served 11 plus years on the Yolo Superior Court Bench, initially handling adult criminal matters and, for the past nine years, overseeing juvenile dependency and delinquency matters.
In his letter informing Judge Gaard of his retirement, Judge Basha stated “that he will certainly miss working with his judicial colleagues and Court staff and especially his Court Clerks and his Bailiffs. Judge Basha also states that he will also miss the youth and their families who have been such a significant part of his life for the past nine years.”
The release continues: “Though they were often in his courtroom during very emotional and difficult times, many would show extraordinary resilience and drive to take the necessary steps to make positive changes in their lives. They took these steps with the support and guidance of attorneys, CASAs, social workers, probation officers, foster parents, and other community volunteers who are all exceptionally dedicated to the well-being of these youth, their families, and the Yolo County community and who all provide incredible services under challenging circumstances.”
For Judge Basha, the release said, “these youth, their families, the attorneys, CASAs, social workers, probation officers, foster parents, and other community volunteers were daily reminders of the good that can come from treating all we encounter with courtesy and respect. Judge Basha considers himself very fortunate to have worked with them all.”
Judge Basha’s outstanding work as a juvenile court judge “has been recognized throughout the State. He has given presentations at judicial conferences on juvenile dependency and juvenile delinquency matters as well as on the commercial sexual exploitation of children.”
Judge Basha also “was a presenter on two instructional videos for judges throughout California, one on juvenile dependency issues and the other on juvenile delinquency out-of-home placement issues.
In 2015, the Chief Justice of California appointed Judge Basha to serve on her Futures Commission for juvenile matters.”
However, Judge Basha’s tenure has also been marred in controversy. In late April, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to issue a blanket Code of Civil Procedure section 170.6 motion to remove Judge Steven Basha from presiding over juvenile dependency hearings.
As Mr. Rexroad wrote in a letter, “Foster Parents strongly believed there is a ‘pervasive bias’ by Judge Basha and the court system towards birth parents and reunification. Those interviewed state that over his years on the bench, the Judge ‘has been outrageously pro reunification, and takes actions that negatively impact Foster Families.’
“I personally witnessed him on May 9, 2014 at University Covenant Church in Davis stand in front of a dinner honoring foster parents and state that in the end he was going to thank the foster parents and give the children back to their biological parents,” he said.
A few days later, Judge Gaard announced that in June Judge Basha would switch to juvenile delinquency matters, with Judge Sonia Cortes taking juvenile civil matters and Judge Samuel McAdam handling juvenile dependency matters.
In a letter from Judge Basha, he stated, “In light of recent events, I believe that my continuing to serve as dependency judge on our Yolo Superior Court would distract from the caring purposes of that Court. I also believe that my reassignment to a different judicial responsibility would assist the families, CASAs, social workers, foster parents, and attorneys to focus on the best interests of our dependency children without that distraction.
“My approach for the past eight plus years as juvenile dependency judge has been to carefully follow the law and always act in the best interests of those children who through no fault of their own find themselves in dependency court,” he said.
The judge continued, “So it is with sadness that I respectfully request a reassignment but I believe that a reassignment best serves all those in our Court who share that approach. Please know that I will always treasure the time spent as a dependency judge and the incredible opportunity I have had to work with children and their families, CASAs, social workers, foster parents, and attorneys.”
In a statement from Judge Gaard, she said, “It is with a heavy heart that I am honoring Judge Basha’s request for an assignment change. Judge Basha is a man of integrity who has spent the majority of his judicial career serving the families, and most particularly, the children, of Yolo County. He has performed his duties in a way that is beyond reproach both legally and ethically.
“His outstanding work as a juvenile dependency judge has been recognized throughout the State, most recently by the Chief Justice of California. Fortunately, Judge Basha will continue his dedication to our youth and their families in his upcoming assignment as juvenile delinquency judge. I am honored to work alongside him, and I thank him for his past and future service to the Court and the cause of justice.”
According to the release, Judge Basha was the Presiding Judge of the Yolo Superior Court from September 2012 until January 2015. In retirement, he plans to serve the Yolo County community as a volunteer at his church and through nonprofits, and to participate in the Assigned Judges Program as a visiting judge.
Governor Jerry Brown will now get a chance to appoint another replacement. Most recently he appointed Judge Sonia Cortes to the bench. Prior to that, Judge Stephen Mock retired, timing it so that a judge could be elected to replace him, and the voters elected former Commissioner Janene Beronio.
—David M. Greenwald reporting