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Countywide Focus

Woman in Line to Be Presiding Judge

September 29, 1993|DWAYNE BRAY

Her two sisters write screenplays, her mother practices public relations and one of her brothers is a musician.

So how did Melinda Johnson wind up a judge on the Ventura County Superior Court?

"I'm the only one who went off-center," Johnson quipped Monday.

Actually, Johnson is expected to be more in the center of things than ever. With the support of her colleagues, she is in line to become the court's presiding judge at the end of the year. The judges will vote in December, and Johnson is the only candidate for the two-year post.

Like her sisters, Johnson has a Hollywood connection: She was born there. But she decided to get away from the bright lights and obtained a law degree from Hastings College of Law in 1972. She was appointed to the Ventura County Municipal Court in December, 1982, and elevated to the higher court 10 months later.

Now, some 10 years later, Johnson is poised to preside over the court, a position that will require her to oversee the schedules and assignments of her 14 colleagues.

Johnson said the court is going through an exciting time, implementing changes such as a state-ordered system that requires civil trials to be heard within a year after they are filed.

"There are just a lot of changes for an institution that is not meant to change very quickly," she said.

She added that she doesn't believe that she will have trouble prodding the other judges to organize better or speed up their pace, if that is what her new assignment takes.

"If you feel that things have to be done differently, you have to persuade people because you can't order them," Johnson said, noting her colleagues will still be on equal footing with her.

Johnson, who has been assistant presiding judge for two years, ranks fifth among the court's 15 judges in seniority. She would become the first woman to preside over the court.

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