San Jose Model Court

Brief History

The San Jose Model Court has a legacy of strong judicial leaders beginning with Judge Leonard Edwards, the Lead Judge from 1997 to 2005; followed by Judge Katherine Lucero, to the current Lead Judge, Shawna Schwarz.   All of the Lead Judges in the San Jose Model Court have contributed to national dialogue and initiatives to improve the lives of children and families. San Jose has participated in the NCJFCJ's Juvenile Justice Model Courts project and was a Greenbook implementation site, creating policies and procedures for working with domestic violence victims and advocates involved in the child welfare system.  In 2011, San Jose was designated a Mentor Model Court.  Judge Lucero stated that the Model Court project has “transformed the court from a standalone law and order court, to a collaborative justice court which values families and children as consumers of its services as much as it values each of the stakeholder partners and judicial leaders in its midst” (Lucero, 2012).


Current Lead Judge(s): Judge Shawna Schwarz

Past Lead Judge(s): Judge Leonard Edwards, Judge Katherine Lucero

Court Website:

In the News

Successfully Implemented Signature Best Practices

Lead Judges in San Jose have implemented several successful therapeutic justice courts including a Family Drug Treatment Court (FDTC), Family Wellness Court (FDTC with emphasis on younger children), Middle School Education Court, Girls Court, and Teen Court. Each court has created a collaborative implementation group that has established core values and set policies and procedures. A comparative study of four FDTCs found that mothers involved with San Jose’s FDTC were more likely than a comparison group to be reunified with their children and were less likely to deliver a drug exposed baby following participation.

Similar to FDTC, Family Wellness court focuses on substance abusing parents, both men and women, who have children ages 0-3. The court utilizes evidence-informed interventions for parents and children. An evaluation by SRI International found that parents received a substance abuse assessment in less than 30 days from program entry and they received access to substance abuse treatment within a month of their assessment. Children received developmental screenings and had increased access to health insurance coverage. The development of FDTC and Family Wellness Court have led to system-wide changes. For example, the court was successful in getting the County Board of Commissioners to prioritize children and families involved in the child welfare system so that funding decisions are made with this population in mind. The text from this resolution can be found here. Other changes, such as getting agreements from system partners (e.g., probation and child welfare) to share drug screenings so that parents don’t have to take multiple tests have greatly benefited the families served.

Current Lead Judge Shawna Schwarz presides over the Teen Court. Teen Court serves youth who 1) have serious mental health issues and the parents are unable or unwilling to continue providing care; 2) have been physically or sexually abused; 3) have been in the system for many years whose parents failed at reunification and will likely age out of care; and 4) youth who come from the juvenile justice court. A juvenile court judge has determined that the last group, “cross-over” youth, would be better served with child welfare as opposed to juvenile probation services. Teens come to court once every six to eight weeks for an off-the-record, informal hearing that lasts from 30 to 45 minutes. The judge has three goals for youth in Teen Court. The first is to graduate from high school or get a GED; second, to delay pregnancy for themselves or their partner; and finally, stay out of juvenile justice court. During the hearing, the judge doesn’t make legal decisions, but will, for example, talk about why the youth wants to get her eyebrow pierced and what she thinks is fair for her to have to do to earn it; much like a parent might. Having an authority figure like a judge listen, problem-solve with the teen, and positively support the teens’ needs and choices can be invaluable. The court is being evaluated by a doctoral student from a local university. 

2. Prior to the NCJFCJ's focus on reducing disproportionate representation and disparate treatment of children and families of color through the Courts Catalyzing Change initiative to achieve equity and fairness in foster care, judges and stakeholders in San Jose were concerned about the over representation of African American and Hispanic children and thoughtfully developed strategies to address the issue. Some of the key approaches to addressing disproportionality include:

·     Ensuring a systems approach (creating a Cross Agency Systems Team that prioritizes services for parents and children in various systems, e.g., mental health, substance abuse, etc.); 

·     Addressing disproportionality from multiple perspectives and examining the roles’ of caseworkers, supervisors, service providers, judges, and attorneys;

·     Gaining community and system stakeholder buy-in by maintaining momentum and providing opportunities for dialogue about the complex issues facing families of color; 

·     Using a data-driven approach to inform ongoing initiatives and changes in policy and practice (e.g., closely examining policies and practices such as the frequency of recommendations to by-pass reunification services); and 

·     Implementing changes in practice at multiple levels including in child welfare and on the bench.

More information on this work can be found at

Additional Best Practices and Initiatives Implemented 

Children in Court

One Family-One Judge

Family Finding

Education Well-Being

Parent Partners/Mentors

Quality Visitation

Family Team Meetings



Lucero, K. (2012). Family Drug Courts: An Innovation in Transformation. Balboa Press; California.