Central Valley

Modesto woman named to Superior Court bench

San Joaquin County prosecutor Valli K. Israels is the Governor’s pick for Stanislaus County Superior Court’s newest judge, court officials confirmed Tuesday.

Israels, 43, of Modesto has been a deputy district attorney for the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office since 1995. She spent the bulk of her career in that office trying child abuse and sexual assault cases but most recently prosecuted special circumstance murder cases in which the defendants were eligible for the death penalty.

Israels, a career prosecutor, said she’s ready for a new challenge.

“I’ve been an advocate for a long time,” she said by phone Tuesday. “I’m ready to step into the role of decision maker.”

Israels will join 19 other judges on the Stanislaus County bench and will take her post before the end of the year, said Mike Tozzi, the court’s executive officer. Israels will preside primarily over the specialty criminal courtroom, which includes Drug Court.

While Israels has not practiced law in Stanislaus County, she said she’s “very well acquainted” with many of the county’s attorneys and judges.

“I’m a Modesto girl,” Israels said. “I’m honored to work in the community where I grew up.”

One of her top goals: to increase access and understanding of the local criminal justice system.

“It’s important to me that people perceive the justice system to work,” Israels said. “I feel like courts should be demystified a little bit.”

Israels earned her law degree from the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento and her undergraduate degree from the University of California at Berkeley.

Israels will be paid $178,789.

Shawn D. Bessey, a Modesto prosecutor newly elected to the bench, will begin hearing cases in January. Bessey defeated Superior Court Commissioner Nancy Williamsen in the Nov. 2 election.

[OTHERS]Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at mbalassone@modbee.com or 578-2337. Follow her at twitter.com/modbeecourts.