Honorable John W. Kennedy — Department 8

Biographical Information

  • Education: Received his B.S.B.A. from Georgetown University and his JD from Georgetown University Law Center.
  • Pre-bench Legal Experience: From 1980 to 1982, Judge Kennedy was a law clerk to the Hon. James R. Browning, then Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; from 1982 to 1983, Judge Kennedy was a Deputy District Attorney in Contra Costa County; from 1983 to 1986, he was an Assistant United States Attorney, Eastern District of California (Sacramento); and from 1986 to 2001 he was an Assistant United States Attorney, Northern District of California (San Francisco and Oakland).


Judicial Experience

Hon. Kennedy has been a judge of the Contra Costa Superior Court from June 22, 2001 to present.


Pre-bench Civic & Professional Activities

Rescue One Foundation Board of Directors; Alameda County Chiefs of Police and Sheriff’s Association.


Current Civic & Professional Activities

Rescue One Foundation Board of Directors; California Judges Association.


Courtroom Policies

Judge Kennedy generally rules from the bench, unless he has not had an opportunity to review pleadings filed or authorities cited. He occasionally requests supplemental briefing or takes the matter under submission if necessary to research issues raised during oral argument.



Judge Kennedy generally does not permit teleconferencing in criminal cases.



Judge Kennedy prefers that motions be briefed in advance by both parties, with concise memoranda of points and authorities addressing the relevant issues specifically and thoroughly.



They should be clear, concise and supported by current statutory and case law on point and accurately cited. Boilerplate briefs provide little assistance. Judge Kennedy requests that courtesy copies be delivered to chambers, particularly if briefs are filed shortly before the hearing.



All parties should comply fully with the applicable discovery statutes without the need for intervention by the court.


Settlement Conferences

Criminal cases should be pretried thoroughly before they are assigned out for trial. Judge Kennedy generally does not participate in settlement negotiations in cases assigned to him for trial.



In civil cases, Judge Kennedy encourages the use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, such as the SMART (Special Mediators Actively Reducing Trials) program in Contra Costa County.


In Limine Motions

Trial counsel should raise all foreseeable in limine issues, preferably in writing, so they can be resolved before the trial begins.


Voir Dire

In jury trials, Judge Kennedy permits counsel reasonable time to supplement the court’s voir dire with questions designed to elicit the qualifications of jurors. Counsel are not permitted to argue their cases during voir dire. Judge Kennedy encourages counsel to submit specific voir dire questions for the court to ask prospective jurors. Judge Kennedy routinely questions a group of 18 prospective jurors before counsel supplement with their voir dire, then addresses any challenges for cause and peremptory challenges. He selects one to four alternates, depending on the anticipated length of trial.


Jury Instructions

Counsel should submit proposed jury instructions before trial. In criminal cases, counsel may submit CalCRIM checklists.

Judge Kennedy gives preliminary instructions at the beginning of the trial and the bulk of instructions before closing arguments.



Counsel should file and serve witness lists before trial and exchange other witness information in accordance with the applicable statutes. Counsel should have sufficient witnesses available to avoid delays in trial. Judge Kennedy will allow reasonable adjustments in the order of witnesses or the schedule of trial to accommodate witnesses’ schedules.



Judge Kennedy will impose sanctions when necessary.



All documentary evidence should be provided in discovery prior to trial and shown to opposing counsel before being submitted to the court. Exhibits should be pre-marked with the assistance of the court clerk. Exhibit lists should be provided to the court, the clerk, the court reporter and opposing counsel. Courtesy copies of documentary exhibits should be provided to the court and opposing counsel when possible.



Judge Kennedy expects attorneys to be professional, polite and respectful to all parties, witnesses, court staff and opposing counsel. Attorneys should not interrupt witnesses, each other or the court. Arguments should be addressed to the court rather than to opposing counsel.

Generally, attorneys may move freely around the courtroom and approach witnesses. Jurors may not be approached, except when counsel is publishing something to the jury with the court’s permission.


Court Reporters & Translators

A court reporter is required and provided for all criminal cases. Sidebars generally are not reported, but counsel are permitted to put any matter discussed at sidebar on the record outside the presence of the jury.

Translators or interpreters are provided by the court for defendants in criminal cases when needed. In civil and criminal cases, any party calling a witness who needs a translator or interpreter must provide the translator or interpreter.


Computers in the Courtroom

Judge Kennedy permits attorneys and parties to use laptop computers at counsel table, provided they do not disturb others.



Judge Kennedy encourages the use of audio-visual presentations in court. The court will provide chart paper, a television and a VCR upon request. Parties who wish to play an audio recording must provide the player.


Cameras in the Courtroom

News media still and video photography is allowed with advance approval in writing and pursuant to the Rules of Court.



Attorneys must be prepared to be effective. To the extent possible, know your case thoroughly and be conversant on the law governing the issues likely to arise. Try your case to the court or to the jury on the evidence rather than on the tactics or personality of opposing counsel.

Many disagreements between parties can be resolved by informal discussion if both parties take reasonable positions. Attorneys should strive to accommodate each other on procedural, technical and scheduling matters, as long as doing so will not compromise their respective clients’ legitimate substantial interests. Few things annoy judges more than bickering between attorneys. An advocate can forcefully represent his or her client’s interests without fighting over immaterial issues.

The merits of each party’s case should be presented clearly, professionally, and honestly; judges tend to be impressed more by a calm appeal to reason than by vitriol. Attorneys who hide, shade or misrepresent facts or case law quickly earn a judge’s distrust. Cases are not won by hiding relevant facts, obfuscating the issues or appealing to emotion; they are won by persuasive arguments that address the heart of the issue. Stress your strong points and explain why your weak points do not undermine your position. The key to effective advocacy is persuasion based on reason, not on volume or vehemence.