Friday, April 20, 2007
Los Angeles Referee Sherri Sobel Named Juvenile Court Judge of Year
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Juvenile Court Referee Sherri Sobel yesterday expressed elation at being named 2007 Juvenile Court Judge of the Year by her colleagues statewide.
Sobel, who was recognized Tuesday by the Juvenile Court Judges of California at its annual convention, told the MetNews she was “completely thrilled” and “awed” to receive the honor.
She is the first referee ever to receive the award, which has been conferred annually for nearly 15 years in remembrance of the late Alameda Superior Court Judge Wilmont Sweeney.
Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Michael Nash, JCJC’s president, called Sobel “clearly a very deserving candidate” and noted the significance of a referee receiving the award, which went mainly to judges and a few commissioners in the past.
“Referees in the juvenile court are really an integral part of our juvenile courts throughout the state of California, and I think that’s really nice that one of those folks was finally recognized with this honor,” he said.
Sobel, 62, largely credited Nash, her colleagues, and her family with what she has been able to achieve during her ten years on the dependency court’s bench.
As chair of the juvenile court’s education committee, she said, she has experienced “incredible” support from Nash, who has allowed her to pursue innovative programs to help improve education outcomes for children appearing in the court.
Under Sobel’s leadership, the committee recently implemented a program through which education law attorneys, working pro bono, represent juvenile court children before the public school system. These lawyers “take on” the school system to ensure the children’s educational needs are being met, and share their experience with the court, Sobel explained.
“There’s nothing more that you need to do except to get these kids educated, educated, educated if you want to break the cycle of abuse and violence,” she said, noting that many of the children in the juvenile court system are special needs children.
Sobel has delivered presentations at the local, state and national levels on special education issues in the juvenile justice system, including seminars on special needs children in divorce and the educational rights of parents.
The referee has also written books and articles on juvenile court-related education issues—her published works include a Special Education Bench Book for the Los Angeles Juvenile Court and +Education in Juvenile Court+ published last year for the state’s Center for Judicial Education and Research—and has also written and co-edited portions of CEB publications for bench officers.
Sobel is also the Los Angeles Juvenile Court’s judicial expert in the Indian Child Welfare Act, and chairs the court’s committee that establishes procedures for implementing the Indian Child Welfare Act. As with education issues, she speaks, writes and edits extensively on the ICWA, contributed, among other things, to a bench guide published by CJER in 2005.
Since 2002, the referee has been teaching at Cal State Long Beach
about working with at-risk families, has been a moot court instructor at Whittier Law School, and has instructed USC medical school students on expert witness testimony.
Her past teaching venues include UCLA medical school and Witkin Judicial College.
Before her tenure as referee, Sobel spent one year as a special education mediator for the state, and four years as senior trial counsel at the Law Office of the Alternate Public Defender in San Diego.
From her admission to the State Bar in 1983 until 1992, she handled special education, juvenile delinquency and dependency, custody and other matters in private practice.
Prior to earning her law degree at Western State University in San Diego, Sobel had already established a first career as an English teacher. She had been a teacher since graduating in 1966 from Temple University and decided to pursue law at the age of 37 as a mother of two teens, she said.
“I went back to law school for the express purpose of working with kids, and I was lucky—every single step of the way, I met somebody who was able to help me get there,” she explained, adding that her current position is “the best job on the face of the earth.”
“If we can fix our families, the rest of the world’s a piece of cake,” she remarked.
In addition to Sobel, the JCJC this week also honored Nash for his outstanding service as president, and recognized Los Angeles Superior Court Judges Donna Groman and Margaret Henry, Los Angeles Superior Court Referee Mark Frazin, and Imperial Superior Court Judge Juan Ulloa for serving five or more years in juvenile court.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company