Views From the Bench: Conversations With Judges Brandt, Demeo on Judicial Service

By Jeffery Leon

March 11, 2019

Rainey Ransom Brandt DeMeo
Magistrate Judge Rainey Brandt
Associate Judge Marisa J. Demeo

Continuing our conversation in March’s Government & Gavel about the importance of diversity on the bench, D.C. Superior Court Judges Rainey Brandt and Marisa J. Demeo, in separate interviews, share more about their career paths and experiences in the judiciary.

Judge Brandt, originally from Georgia, was appointed magistrate judge of the Superior Court on November 7, 2012. Previously, she served for 14 years as special counsel to the chief judge of the Superior Court, working as “ombudsman between the bench and the criminal justice agencies in D.C.” Brandt has been a criminal justice professor at American University for the past 28 years.

Judge Demeo was appointed associate judge of the Superior Court in 2010. After law school, Demeo served as an honors trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice handling employment cases. In 1997 she joined the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and then served as a trial attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

Why did you choose to join the judiciary?
Brandt: I’m what you would call a “homegrown” judge because almost 100 percent of my post-law school-related law experience has been at D.C. Superior Court, going from law clerk to special counsel to judge. I had spent so many years being behind the scenes working with court administration; I wanted a different challenge. Plus, I love D.C. Superior Court. So, it just started to feel like the correct next step.

Demeo: It’s [been my] lifelong career commitment to serve the community, so I see this as expanding and building upon that. I’m from a minority background, I identify as Latina, and I wanted to find another way to give back to society. In addition to that, I love the court, and I love the trial court especially. [Serving on the court] was [not only] a goal for my professional development but also a personal goal in terms of my commitment to the community, which led me to the bench.

What’s the most rewarding and challenging part of your job?
Definitely one of the most rewarding things about being a judge is the daily contact with a wide variety of people. As a judge, you touch their lives every day with the decisions you make. Seeing the difference a judge can make in the lives of others is humbling. Additionally, each day I get off the bench I [learn] something new because of that human aspect of meeting different people.

Equally rewarding is the problem solving. I love the task of sorting out the issues and applying the relevant law. It keeps the brain stimulated.

In terms of what I find challenging about my role, I would say it is balancing the time to transition comfortably to a new assignment (docket). Whenever a judge switches assignments, you need time to study, especially if it is a subject you haven’t dealt with before. Trying to balance closing out your current assignment while getting ready for your new assignment creates the challenge. No judge wants to take the bench on a new assignment unprepared. As judges, we always have to study because there’s going to be at least one lawyer in that courtroom who knows more about whatever the core subject matter is than you do.

Demeo: What I enjoy most as a judge is serving in the trial court, the D.C. Superior Court. I was born in D.C. and grew up in Virginia. I consider myself a local and I’ve been living in the District since 1994. I feel like I’m a part of this community, so being in the trial court puts me into constant daily contact with the public in terms of the parties, the witnesses, and the juries who come into the courtroom. I really enjoy interacting with, and hopefully playing a contributory part within, our broader community.

In terms of the challenges, it’s a very hard job. The volume of cases is substantial. The impact on people’s lives is incredible. Deciding who’s going to win in a civil lawsuit or the outcome of criminal cases, exploring the important evidentiary issues that could impact the outcome of the case, and deciding how people will be sentenced are very weighty decisions. Sometimes it feels that we have as much information as we can get but we may not have everything we wish we did. We have limited information to make very difficult decisions. The weight on your shoulders is very significant.

What advice would you give attorneys who want to serve on the bench?
Network and establish connections. It’s never too early to start seeing if being a judge is really what you want to do. It’s not for everybody. It is a huge responsibility and time commitment, and the only way to see whether it is what you truly want to do is to talk to current judges about their career paths, their jobs. If you are in law school, clerking for a judge gives you an up-close look at being a judge.

Demeo: I encourage people to consider the bench. There is a plethora of attorneys out there who have a lot to give back and may be hesitant to do that, thinking that they aren’t qualified or haven’t practiced enough. But what I have found is that there are many attorneys who could serve on the bench, but they haven’t thrown their names into the hat. I think that part of the issue is that women and minorities have historically been underrepresented, so an attorney might not see a reflection of themselves on the bench as often as someone else might. My biggest message would be to definitely consider it whether you’re from government, the private sector, or the nonprofit sector — these are all viewpoints and experiences that will contribute to making the bench a better bench.