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Judge Roy Chernus: Steady Through It All


Marin Superior Court Judge Roy Chernus has acted as one of YTJ’s Peer Solutions adult Facilitators for over 18 years. He has provided leadership and compassion from our launch as a program of the Marin YMCA in 2004, through our leap to independence as Youth Transforming Justice in 2020. After an extensive and impactful legal and judicial career, Judge Chernus has announced his retirement from the Marin bench. We are grateful that he will continue as an occasional YTJ volunteer in retirement and want to highlight some of his amazing work as he moves to the next stage of his life. Congratulations, Roy!


Before joining the Marin Superior Court in 2012, Judge Chernus ran his own legal practice for 20 years. Always focused on community service, he also led Legal Aid of Marin, a program providing equity and empowerment through legal representation, as Executive Director during that time. YTJ Executive Director Don Carney met Judge Chernus when he was sitting as the Marin County Juvenile Judge, as they shared space in the same building. Judge Chernus’ well-rounded professional and volunteer experience made him a perfect match for our fledgling Youth Court program (now Peer Solutions). “Roy was important in establishing the Youth Court’s legitimacy, but his compassion is what really stood out. He has a huge heart and really believed in the idea of providing young people with a second chance,” according to Carney. YTJ’s program was also appealing to him because he has always been a strong advocate for restorative justice work. “Balancing the needs of alleged perpetrators, the rights of victims, and the interests of our community can be difficult, but it is also more effective in the broadest sense,” he said. “The extremely low recidivism rate for YTJ respondents, has led directly to an increase in trust from traditional sources of juvenile referrals (police, probation, schools) to resolve cases efficiently and fairly.”

When launched in 2004, the Youth Court program had a more adversarial structure than the one recognized as Peer Solutions’ today. As YTJ moved towards the restorative and trauma-informed principles that define our current Peer Solutions program, Judge Chernus fully supported the shift as well as our increased emphasis on youth agency. This further divergence from the experiences youth face in juvenile courts is something he has expressed appreciation for. “Frankly, I think in many cases the peer volunteers get much more information and detail (from respondents) than we would ever receive in an initial appearance in Juvenile Court. They are also required to do things like come back and serve on a hearing for another peer in trouble which is a tremendous opportunity for learning.”


Restorative practices have become a lot more popular statewide since our formation as an alternative to punitive punishment, especially for youth. Marin County has been following that trend, and Judge Chernus has had a significant hand in that shift as both a judge and YTJ volunteer. From Judge Chernus’ perspective, “I believe that restorative justice is being utilized more and more in the traditional courts. I see aspects of it all the time. In addition, some new laws in California (e.g., new diversion statutes) are stressing restorative justice outcomes.” Judge Chernus himself says he has become more confident in this model of peer-led justice over time, as it is so different from the traditional methods he learned during much of his legal and judicial career. One of the most significant things he has learned during his time with Youth Transforming Justice is to trust the Peer Team process. “I have frequently said that teens may lie to their parents, teachers, and probation officers. However, they seem to tell the truth to their peers. I think that is part of the ‘magic sauce’ of Peer Solutions.”


Judge Chernus’ career has shown the impact a single person can have – during his tenure, YTJ has diverted over 1,500 teens from the juvenile justice system. His impact will be felt well into the future and his leadership, compassion, and sense of fairness will be remembered by many.


If you would be interested in volunteering for Youth Transforming Justice, please contact Julie Whyte at jwhyte@ytjustice.org.


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