Fun Facts about Contra Costa County and our Courts

As we celebrate the Contra Costa County Bar Association’s 90th Anniversary,  we have put together a list of interesting fun facts about our county, our judges and our courts.


  1. Contra Costa means “opposite coast” in Spanish. The county was given this name because it sits on the opposite coast of San Francisco, the most populous city at the time.
  2. Contra Costa County was one of the original 27 counties in California created in 1850 at the time of statehood. The original courthouse in Martinez was condemned following the 1868 Hayward fault earthquake and a replacement courthouse was built in 1901. It is now known as the “Finance Building” which is the name etched atop the building’s four roman columns.
  3. Mt. Diablo, which is featured in the bar association’s logo, is the highest peak in our county at 3,849 feet. The summit of the mountain is the origin of the Meridian and base line land surveys for most of California and western Nevada. It is used as the baseline for real property legal descriptions.
  4. In February 2024, the Executive Office of Immigration Review, a division of the Department of Justice which oversees immigration cases, opened a new immigration court. Ten new courtrooms have been set-up in the Gateway building in Concord to hear immigration cases from Contra Costa County and nine other counties.
  5. Betsy FitzGerald Rahn born February 15, 1912 in Springfield Illinois was an attorney admitted to practice in California and Hawaii and was at Pearl Harbor on the day of “infamy,” December 7, 1941. She moved to Walnut Creek in 1947 and became the county’s first female judge. She heard cases in the Walnut Creek Justice Court which later became the Municipal Court. The courthouse, which was demolished, was located on Locust Street where there is now a multi-plex movie theater.
  6. Contra Costa County Superior Court has an appellate division consisting of three superior court judges who hear appeals from traffic/infraction cases, appeal of limited jurisdiction civil cases and selected extraordinary writs. The rules which govern the appellate division can be found in Local Rules 4.64 (appeal of an infraction) and 8.1 (appellate division).
  7. Juvenile court cases which are now consolidated in the Walnut Creek courthouse were once heard in many locations throughout the county including the basement of the County Health Department in Richmond, at an office in the Delta Fair shopping mall in Antioch and at the Juvenile Hall Detention facility on Glacier Drive in Martinez.  Some of the court commissioners/referees who heard these cases include Bruce Stirling, Larry Katz and Steve Easton.
  8. The District Attorney’s office was once located on the fourth floor of the Courthouse on Main and Court Streets. Inmates were housed in the old brick jail on Pine Street and walked over to court in their orange jumpsuits. The current District Attorney Diana Becton is the first woman African American to serve in this office since it was established in 1850.
  9. The Courthouse on Main and Court Streets had a “snack bar” in the basement. During the morning and afternoon court breaks it was packed with attorneys, bailiffs, clerks and litigants.
  10. Paul’s Restaurant was a well known and frequent spot for attorneys and judges for lunch, dinner or a drink. It was opened in 1928 by Paul Pagnini in the Kelly mansion and existed for over 50 years on the 1200 block of Alhambra Blvd in Martinez until it burned down in the 1980s.  In an article about the fire in the San Francisco Examiner, Mr. Pagnini is quoted that diners included Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, Govenors James Rolph and Goodwin Knight and even Chief Justice Earl Warren.
  11. As part of the 1880 revision of the California Constitution, the Superior Court system was created. In Contra Costa there was initially one court with one department. As the population increased during World War II and the Kaiser ship building boom in Richmond, the first Municipal Court was created in the City of Richmond in 1953. By 1969 five Municipal Courts were in operation in Concord, Richmond, San Pablo, Walnut Creek and Pittsburg. In the early 1990s, the San Pablo branch was merged into the Richmond courthouse and called the Bay Municipal Court. In 1998, the Municipal Courts were abolished and we now have one unified Superior Court with courthouses in Martinez, Richmond, Walnut Creek and Pittsburg.
  12. Contra Costa County Superior Courts have been the venue of several high profile criminal and civil cases. In 1971, Judge Richard Arnason was specially assigned to the Marin County Superior Court to hear the Angela Davis/San Quentin “Six” murder case and made several significant pre-trial orders. Public Defender Suzanne Chapot defended Glenn Helzer in the murder of an elderly Concord couple and Selena Bishop, the daughter of musician Elvin Bishop. A multi-party complex personal injury lawsuit was filed in Contra Costa County involving the December 24, 1985 plane crash into the Sun Valley shopping mall. Three people died and over 40 were injured when a plane on its approach to Buchanan Airport on a foggy evening crashed into the mall and exploded into a fireball at the height of the Christmas shopping season.
  13. Contra Costa County Superior Court Judges who have been appointed to the First District Court of Appeal include: A. F. Bray, Wakefield Taylor, Gary Strankman, William Channel, Douglas Swager, Patricia Sepulveda, Maria Rivera, Mark Simons, James Marchiano, Ignacio Ruvolo, and Terence Bruiniers.
  14. As of 2019, all of the county’s public attorney offices which include County Counsel, the District Attorney and the Public Defender were led by female attorneys for the first time in their history. They included Sharon Anderson (County Counsel) Diana Becton (District Attorney) and Robin Lipetzky (Public Defender).
  15. Contra Costa County is home to the most national parks in the United States. They include the John Muir Historic Site and Residence in Martinez, the Eugene O’Neill/Tao House Historic Site in Danville, the Port Chicago National Historic Site in Port Chicago and the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Historic Site in Richmond. All of these national parks commemorate historic events and individuals who lived or worked in our county.