Some lives are well planned and follow a proven path. Others seem a complete result of fate or coincidence. Judge Wood believes her life is a bit of both. She was raised in a diverse working class neighborhood in the East Bay. Her next-door neighbors included one family from Algeria, and another from France. The folks across the street were from China, Louisiana, and a family down the street from Mexico. Holidays, foods and traditions were shared and enjoyed. People worked hard, got along, and helped each other. This created the foundation for a well lived life.
Law was an early choice—be it the influence of Perry Mason reruns after school or the frequent debates with the Sisters of Mercy at school. After an initial stint at a firm in San Francisco and a move to Marin County, Judge Wood and her husband Peter established their own firm and represented international clients with interests in the U.S. This seemed a natural progression from those early years. New people to meet. New places to see. New cultures to navigate.
Not wishing to lose touch with her own backyard, Judge Wood volunteered at the YWCA legal clinic right here in San Anselmo between her travels. That was an eye opening experience. Although she was no stranger to struggles and conflict, that experience pulled back the curtain on the myriad of problems facing so many. That experience, learning about everyday people and everyday problems and having the ability to provide tangible help, was transforming. Eventually Judge Wood stepped away from the travel, took a legal position locally, and started raising a family. She continued community involvement with the local bar association, on educational boards, with youth associations, and with youth sports.
Her life took a turn in 2005 when a good friend urged Judge Wood to apply as a Commissioner for Marin Superior Court—a Commissioner is hired by the Judges of the Court to assist with their workload. To her utter surprise, Judge Wood was hired. After some profound “deer in the headlights” months, she found that this was a very good fit. She loved working with the public and was eventually appointed as a Judge by Gov. Jerry Brown.
During that first year, Judge Wood volunteered to take on a relatively new court. The state had just passed a law setting up treatment courts for those with nonviolent drug offenses. The idea being that treatment, not incarceration, would better address issues involving addiction. This was Judge Wood’s chance to work collaboratively with the District Attorney, Public Defender, Behavioral Health, Addiction Specialist—and of course the participants themselves. The program’s success required having parties step out of traditional roles. The process was grueling but eventually a true team emerged and flourished. Not everyone graduated, but many did and the court gained statewide acknowledgment. The lesson to be learned was that the legal system does not have to be binary. While the fundamental structure cannot be undermined and is ultimately necessary, the system can flex and bend with the times. It was a lesson Judge Wood would carry on.
A few years later, while sitting in the misdemeanor criminal court handling dozens and dozens of matters a day, Judge Wood noticed that many individuals were being charged with driving on suspended licenses. The fines were high, and multiple violations could result in jail time. A bit of investigation revealed that sometimes the problem was nonpayment of traffic tickets, and often those tickets stemmed from not being able to pay registration fees, insurance, or fix-it tickets. The system created a downward spiral with no way to ever get that license back. This limited one’s ability to sustain employment, and lack of housing often followed. At the time Judge Wood was volunteering at St. Vincent’s Dining Hall. Their director, Cris Jones, had also noted the problem. Ms. Jones consulted with Legal Aid attorney Maura Prendeville. They wondered who they could talk to about this—well it was Beverly Wood who just happened to be ladling soup in the kitchen.
Together these three women decided to do something. Judge Wood proposed a specialty court to address outstanding fines with community service or other tasks designed to help get the participant back on their feet. Social service agencies were willing to help. St. Vincent’s was willing to host the court. Legal Aid agreed to assist in administration. The only problem was funding. The courts were still recovering from 2008-2009 and there was not a penny to spare. Judge Wood proposed the court be funded with zero dollars. Everyone volunteered their time. Hoang LeClerc, the supervisor in the clerk’s criminal division, Vince Simpson, a police officer from San Francisco, and Judge Wood all finished their regular work day and then traveled to St. Vincent’s. Participants were assigned community service work and whatever was needed to address their underlying issues (such as AA, resume writing, veteran counseling, mental health treatment) to satisfy their fines. If these tasks were completed participants could leave court with a valid license. Judge Wood presided over that court for almost 13 years helping hundreds of participants. While other counties have now adopted similar programs, Marin’s was and is unique in that the court personally interacted with each participant—often over several appearances and often over a long period of time.
Judge Wood brought this same kind of personal involvement to her assignments in Family Law. She is best known for coming off the bench and sitting with litigants to try to resolve their disputes, for her active engagement in training lawyers and service providers, and for building a community with the Marin Family Bar. She became a specialist in handling high conflict family law matters. In Judge Wood’s words, “not an easy gig”. The early lessons of collaboration and resolution again came into play.
When Judge Wood was assigned as Marin’s Juvenile Judge in 2017, she quickly recognized that while the problems facing teens were common, the teens themselves were distinctive in their needs. She wanted to use intensive treatment and collaboration to help prevent future offenses. Together with Judge Verna Adams (Hall of Fame 2016) they created a Unified Family Court to integrate the two disciplines of Juvenile Law and Family Law to allow for better cooperation of services and clarity in orders. Judge Wood also ushered in a dual status program, new protocols, and restorative justice programs into the mix to make sure that maximum opportunities and services existed to address youths’ issues. The question became not how do we punish this youth, but what does this youth need to avoid future law violations. While not shy with the “stick”, Judge Wood tried very hard to use “carrots”.
Judge Wood has always believed that the law both in substance and process, is a cornerstone of a society. It brings stability, safety, and structure. While some might view it only as harsh, it is also the mechanism for adaptation and growth. It can tear a community apart or it can help bring a community together. From early days, Judge Wood ascribes to use it for the latter. Early lessons in equality, opportunities for exposures to the community, an amazing platform, and a lot of elbow grease have all contributed to Judge Wood’s contribution to the people of Marin.