Judicial Profile: Department 52
Commissioner Josanna Berkow

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Biographical Information
Date of Birth:
November 18, 1951
Place of Birth:
Baltimore, Maryland
Political Affiliation:
Judicial Experience

Contra Costa Superior Court 1992 to present.

Commissioner Berkow is a certified family law specialist and has been on the Family Law bench for 20 years. Currenty, she presides in Department 52 of the Superior Court, a busy Family Law Department specializing in child support and paternity actions involving the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS). She has presided in a all-purpose assignment family law department for over 16 years and has extensive experience in family law issues including custody and visitation, child and spousal support, marital property and debt division, paternity, and domestice violence. Commissioner Berkow is an adjunct professor teaching both family law and jurisprudence at John F. Kennedy University School of Law in Pleasant Hill. She recently co-authored the new Rutter publication FAMILY LAW FORMS, a companion to the Rutter Group's CALIFORNIA PRACTICE GUIDE: FAMILY LAW. Commissioner Berkow also has extensive experience in judicial education, serving on the California Judicial Council's Advisory Committee on Family and Juvenile Law and on its Family Law Education Committee. The latter assignment involved the development of a standardized Family Law curriculum for Californa judicial education programs. Commissioner Berkow also chaired the county's Advisory Committee on Domestic Violence for many years. She currently chairs the Art in the Courthouse Committee dedicated to the public display of fine art in Contra Costa court facilities.

Pre-bench Legal Experience:
California Deputy Attorney General, San Francisco, 1985-92: Criminal Appeals; Statewide Coordinator: Child Support and Child Abduction;
Federal Labor Relations Authority, San Francisco, Staff Attorney and Hearing Officer, 1978-85;
Staff Counsel to U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes (Maryland), 1977-78.
Education and Honors
  • Co-Author, FAMILY LAW FORMS (2011) Rutter Group, a Division of West, a Thomson Reuters business
  • Family Law Specialist certified by the State Bar of California since 1996
  • Member, Judicial Council Advisory Committee on Family & Juvenile Law 1998-2000
  • Member, Judicial Council Family Law Education Committee, 2000-2004
  • California Center for Judicial Education and Research (CJER) Family Law Institute, 1996-2004
  • California Judges Association, Family Law Committee, 2005-present
  • Chair, Contra Costa County Advisory Council Against Domestic Violence (ACAD) 1995-2003
  • Member, Contra Costa Superior Court Training Committee, 1998-2007, 2011-present
  • Member, Contra Costa Superior Court Strategic Planning Committee, 1999-2002
  • Chair, Art in the Courthouse (non-profit dedicated to the display of fine art in court) 2004-present
  • Contra Costa County Bar Association Pro Bono Award, 2001 and 2003
  • Outstanding Employer of the Year Award, Golden Gate University School of Law, 2001 and 2003
  • Contra Costa County Advisory Board, Kid’s Turn, 2006-2009
  • Advisor, Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act, Uniform Law Commission, 1984
  • Advisor, Judicial Council Family Law Committee on Child Support Guidelines, 1983-84
  • Chair, California Family Support Council Inter-jurisdictional Cooperation Committee
  • Chair, Sacramento Family Support Commission, 1983-84
Important Published Decision(s)
In Re Marriage of Lehman, 18 Cal. 4th 169 (1998).
Janet S. v. A.A-E, Decision filed September 15, 2009 in Contra Costa Superior Court Case No. D04-03526 affirmed by the District Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, Division 2 by by Decision filed September 12, 2011.
In re Marriage of Lawton, Statement of Decision filed December 18, 2007 Contra Costa Superior Court Case No. D98-01581, affirmed by the First Appellate District Div. 1, Case No. A120698 in Decision filed Novelmber 21, 2008
In re Marriage of Fine
, Decision filed April 30, 2004 Contra Costa Superior Court Case No. D02-04652
In re Marriage of Middlebrook, Decision filed May 25, 2004, Contra Costa County Case No. D97-03892
Albert vs. Bonnie Beneroya, Decision filed July 30, 2004, Contra Costa County Superior Court Case No. D04-00021
In re Marriage of Falkenberg, Statement of Decision filed August 25, 2004, Contra Costa Superior Court No. D02-00212
Gary Evans v. Sharon Ramsey-Vernae, Decisions 8/29/03 and 6/26/01, Contra Costa Superior Court Case No. D99-01072
Recent Publications
Co-Author, Family Law Forms (2011 Rutter Group, A Division of West, A Thomson Reuters business)
Family Court Review "Special Issue: Special needs Children in the Family Court" 43 Fam. Ct. Ref. 566 (October 2005)
“Court-Appointed Attorneys for Children,” in the Journal of the Center for Children and the Courts, Volume 1, 1999.
Courtroom Policies

Commissioner Berkow hears almost all cases as a judge pro tempore pursuant to the stipulation of the parties. A stipulation form is available in the courtroom. Commissioner Berkow generally rules from the bench or will issue written orders where appropriate.

There are standard case and trial management orders used in Commissioner Berkow’s department. Copies of these are kept in the courtroom and are available from the bailiff.

This is frequently used for status conferences. Commissioner Berkow believes that telephone case management saves counsel and parties time and money and helps insure that cases are ready for trial. In DCSS cases, telephone appearances by parties in the continental U.S.A. can be initiated by the court, all other by the parties through CourtCall.
Motions are handled on the short cause calendars or in case management conferences.
Commissioner Berkow suggests that counsel bring courtesy copies at least the day before hearing to the department. Sometimes pleadings are separated from the court file, and counsel would be well advised to bring extra copies of recent pleadings to the hearing.
Commissioner Berkow strongly advocates informal discovery through case management conferences. Formal discovery motions are heard on short cause calendars.
Settlement Conferences
Commissioner Berkow believes settlement is, in most circumstances, a preferable outcome. She works hard with counsel and their clients to facilitate settlements. Four half days per week are devoted to settlement conferences. Approximately 90% of her long cause matters are resolved by agreement.
She strongly supports ADR applications in family law matters.
In Limine Motions
Generally, these are calendared through the case management plan.
Disclosure of witnesses is generally required via trial management order and local rules of the family law division.
Commissioner Berkow will sanction parties for unexcused failure to attend mandatory mediation at Family Court Services. Sanctions may also be imposed for unexcused failure to follow case or trial management orders.
All exhibits should be pre-marked and counsel should have an adequate number of copies for each party, the court, the court clerk, and the witness.
The Commissioner strictly enforces rules of civility among all people in the courtroom at all times.
Court Reporters & Translators
Interpreters are available in domestic violence matters and in county support actions. The court provides the court reporter.
Computers in the Courtroom
The court provides a courtroom computer loaded with standard family law forms and a support computation program. Laptops are also welcome.
A speaker phone is available for telephonic appearances when appropriate. The courtroom is also equipped with a ceiling mounted flat screen and a DVD player. Other equipment may be arranged on advance notice.
Cameras in the Courtroom
Cameras are allowed within the discretion of the court and pursuant to the California Rules of Court with sufficient advance notice so the court has an opportunity to consider the request in advance of the hearing.
Be prepared and remember that your word is your bond. Commissioner Berkow welcomes attorneys and their clients who will be appearing before her to come and observe beforehand. She has an open door policy regarding courtroom procedures. An attorney should feel free to stop by and share any comments or concerns.

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