ELECTED: Nov. 7, 2000
LAW SCHOOL: UC-Berkeley School of Law, 1974
PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: Alameda County Court Commissioner, 1992-2000
Judge David Krashna did not travel an easy road to the bench.
He never knew his biological father. At age 5, he and his three brothers were removed from his mother and her new husband’s custody because of the man’s alcohol abuse. By the time he enrolled at UC-Berkeley School of Law, Krashna had the financial responsibility for a new family: At 23, he had married a woman with two children of her own. He graduated and made a living in civil and criminal private practice, but the two divorced in the early 1980s.
Krashna thought he had good legal skills but knew he lacked the taste for business. Hefound it hard to collect fees, but he also had loftier goals for himself.
Watch video excerpts of our interview with Judge David Krashna. He explains his courtroom style and acknowledges borrowing from the techniques of a certain judge, plus explains his hero worship of a man whose picture hangs on his chambers wall.
“I just knew that I had no interest in developing a larger client base,” said Krashna, who now presides in a juvenile dependency courtroom. “I wanted to save the world and this was interfering with that part of me.”
Krashna won a job as a court commissioner in Alameda County in 1992, but found his applications for a judgeship rejected by both Republican Gov. Pete Wilson and his successor, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. (He had also previously applied during Republican Gov. George Deukmejian’s tenure.) Krashna, a Democrat, had donated to Davis’ campaign, but he also thinks he failed a litmus test: A Davis surrogate had called Krashna, an observant Catholic, to vet the commissioner’s views on abortion and the death penalty, and Krashna only “got it 50 percent right,” he said. He declined to say which part.
Krashna finally made it onto the superior court after a close runoff election against fellow Commissioner Mark Kliszewski in 2000. Kliszewski had released a controversial mailer that referred to himself as a judge, The Recorder reported at the time. When the votes came in, Krashna had eked out a victory.
He volunteered for drug court, and the crime he saw there and later in a general criminal courtroom prompted him to found the Oakland Think Tank, a group of activists and health and education specialists hoping to address the roots of the city’s crime.
The think tank’s current target is truancy, a personal issue for Krashna, who spent much of his youth in a Catholic orphanage until he was placed with a foster mother at age 11.
“The nuns and priests had spent a lot of energy and time with me and my brothers to make us the best people we could be, and I see a lot of youngsters come into court who don’t have that support system,” he said.
The think tank has drafted a resolution that calls on Oakland city government to make truancy its top priority, with a truancy czar reporting directly to the mayor. Krashna sees truancy as the root of most crime, and education as the solution.
“I and others started off so humbly … but I knew if I was educated I would have the opportunity to do what I want to do in life,” he said. “By having [children] in school, they’re not out in the community causing trouble. … Almost 100 percent: If they’re selling drugs, they’re not in school.”
But for a think tank that Krashna admits has “no money,” swaying city agencies to take action has been difficult. Dick Spees, who spent 24 years on the Oakland City Council and works with the think tank, said they still need to win “some traction” with Oakland’s power brokers. Spees met Krashna through Father Jay Matthews, Krashna’s pastor at Oakland’s St. Benedict Parish, and endorsed him in his run against Kliszewski.
“I thought that he was a compassionate person. I thought that he would bring a very good understanding of the problems, particularly of youth and families,” Spees said.
Krashna, who used to handle juvenile delinquency, said he knows the city can’t solve truancy overnight and he doesn’t expect any major changes for at least a decade or two. But in the meantime, he sees his everyday work as a way to contribute.
“Part of the safety of a child that you try to achieve [in dependency court] is making sure that a child is being educated, is going to school, going to all their classes, is behaving,” he said.
In that respect, Krashna has earned a reputation as a compassionate jurist who doesn’t hesitate to buck law enforcement.
“He’s very independent. … A lot of times he had the nerve to deny the DA a holding order [at the end of a preliminary hearing]in appropriate cases,” said local solo Charles Jameson. “In juvenile [delinquency], he did what he thought was right by the kids, not always what he thought was right by the DA or the parents. … He was reluctant to send kids to the youth authority.”
In chambers and to a lesser extent on the bench, Krashna exudes a good-natured attitude, referring to the court’s dependents as “youngsters” and taking his calendar at a practiced but easygoing clip. Yet Jameson said he thinks Krashna is “no-nonsense — it’s hard to get a laugh out of him.”
Krashna does appear to be a deeply serious man. In 1970, he said, he became the first black student body president in the history of the University of Notre Dame. The campus was “teeming with issues,” most prominently the Vietnam War, Krashna said, and after winning election he called a student strike to protest.
The Catholicism of Krashna’s youth still plays a big role in his life. His church celebrated a different person each Sunday in February to mark Black History Month. The four: President Obama, the city’s first black fire chief, Alameda County’s first black nurse and Krashna.
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