As head of the Sexual Assault Unit, Joni Leventis could not have found a better-suited job. For years, Joni has proven herself to be not just a skilled attorney, but an exemplary one. In 2011, she was named California’s Outstanding Prosecutor of the Year. This prestigious award is given by the California District Attorneys Association to honor one attorney who stands out above the rest. Her exceptional skills have been critical in her current assignment. Sexual assault cases, which often rest solely on the testimony of a victim against that of an offender, can be some of the most challenging to prosecute. When that victim is six years old, a successful prosecution can feel daunting. Joni is resourceful and relentless in tackling these cases, while also never losing sight of the needs of young victims.
The unique design of the Sexual Assault Unit brings out another of Joni’s strengths: her deep sense of caring for other people. The six-member team that comprises the unit prosecutes some of the most serious and sensitive crimes, including child sexual assault. All cases taken by this team are prosecuted vertically, meaning the victim is served by the same assistant/deputy district attorney, the same inspector, and the same victim-witness consultant throughout the entire process. This structure allows Joni time to convey not only how determined she is to effectively prosecute a victim’s case but the time to get to know the victim and their family and ensure their needs are met throughout what can be a long, legal process. When Joni talks about how her cases went at trial, she will spend most of her time focused on how the victim has been since the court date.
Joni realized early that she wanted a career where she could help people. In college, she worked as a case aid in the trauma center of an emergency room, and it was there that she decided to dedicate her life to helping victims. When Joni passed the California State Bar, her aim was to work for the District Attorney’s Office. As she said, “I wanted to practice there because I felt like I could help people and still be a trial lawyer.” During her time at the District Attorney’s Office, Joni has prosecuted a range of crimes from misdemeanors to homicides, but as she states, “Sexual assault cases are some of the most important cases to try because some victims will carry the impact of being violated for the rest of their lives. I am meeting people during the worst time of their life. It’s important that victims see there are people who care about them.” And care about them, Joni does. One criterion for selecting the California’s Outstanding Prosecutor of the Year is the impact the prosecutor had on victims. In regards to Joni’s efforts, every victim spoke not only of her dedication to the legal case, but of her dedication to them.
Here at CALICO, we see Joni’s dedication and caring firsthand. “Joni goes above and beyond to bring justice to victims. She is always willing to come to CALICO for an interview, even when it’s scheduled at the last minute, and she is patient with parents, taking whatever time they need to get all their questions answered. She is also very engaged at case review and program advisory committee meetings and brings an expert eye to every case we discuss,” said CALICO’s Multi-Disciplinary Team Coordinator Erin Harper. Thank you Joni for your compassion and dedication. CALICO is honored to work with such a caring individual.