Sharon Raab, Outstanding Volunteer Attorney – Family Law Department
Sharon Raab has been volunteering in support of Contra Costa County Court’s family law department since the early 2000’s. As the court’s self-help services have evolved, Raab’s volunteer work has reflected these changes, moving from “start your divorce” to “finish your divorce workshops,” to motions preparation and now to boosting the settlement rate at the Double Pro Per Settlement Conferences (DPPSC) – all the while still finding time to represent minors in family law cases.
DPPSC was developed as an attempt to help the family bench handle a caseload consisting of at least 80% self-represented parties. Many of these self-represented parties were struggling to understand the complexities of the legal system while simultaneously remaining clear-headed when confronted with the possibility that they might lose all or a portion of the most important things in their life: relationships, children, prized possessions and income.
In the beginning of the DPPSC program, parties arrived at their DPPSC with no understanding of why they were there. In the age of “Judge Judy,” they expected to come to the courthouse, explain their situation to the judge, and get a ruling from the bench. Not surprisingly, the settlement rate at these early DPPSCs was very low.
Former Commissioner Josanna Berkow came up with the idea of having parties attend a workshop to prepare for their DPPSC and persuaded John F. Kennedy University to make their facility available for this purpose. Today, as noted by Supervising Family Law Judge Terri Mockler, Raab pretty much single-handedly runs the JFK Double Pro Per clinic. She ensures that there are attorney volunteers available so that all the necessary paperwork is completed prior to the DPPSC and that disclosures of assets and income are supported by documentation and not just a party’s “best guess.” Litigants also get an understanding of what they can expect to happen at the DPPSC and what will be expected of them.
These days, as noted by Hon. Brian Haynes, “approximately 90% of the DPPSC with the volunteer attorneys are successful. The program saves the family law bench literally hundreds of courtroom hours per year. It is, in my opinion, the most worthwhile cooperative program our court has with the local bar. Sharon’s efforts, and the efforts of the volunteer attorneys, are very very much appreciated.”
Raab is also one of the very experienced members of the CCCBA who, for more than 20 years, has been serving as minor’s counsel in family law cases. Raab greatly enjoys this work and, as she describes it: “I’ve had a lot of blessings in my life and so I have a sense of needing to give back and help others who haven’t had the opportunities that I’ve had.”
The Contra Costa County Superior Court Family Law bench would like to express its appreciation for Raab’s indefatigable efforts to assist the Court and the community we all serve.