From out of the depths, attorney Luis Ramos emerged into the spotlight.
He has seen graphic child pornography, heard sordid tales of molestations and felt the rage of rape victims -- awful parts of his extraordinary dedication to winning convictions of sex offenders.
On Monday prosecutor Ramos was celebrated for his 2012 service to Santa Clara County in an annual awards ceremony hosted by District Attorney Jeff Rosen.
"If you have a case, you have an opportunity -- an opportunity to make a difference in a victim's life and in our community," he told colleagues in a packed auditorium inside the Count of Santa Clara Government Center in downtown San Jose.
"Let's continue to do justice," he said, to thunderous applause.
The awards are presented annually to outstanding employees of the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office. Of the 500-member staff, seven lawyers, criminalists, paralegals and support staff were commended for their special effort.
"Every day when I come to 70 West Hedding Street, and I see you going to court or standing in the hallway, I think how lucky I am to be your DA in this county," said Rosen.
Last year was exceptionally busy in county courtrooms, Rosen said, with 15 percent more felony trials and 30 percent more misdemeanor trials.
"And conviction rates were very high," he concluded.
Other winners were: Trevor Gillis, criminalist. An expert in trace evidence, he spent hundreds of hours collecting and analyzing fibers that played a key role in the arrest of Antolin Garcia Torres for the kidnap and murder of 15-year-old Sierra LaMar. Called "a wizard in maintaining and troubleshooting complex instrumentation," he also searches for evidence of gun residue and drugs, among other items. Raven LaBuguen, law clerk. Even as traditional calendars and record-keeping systems were updated and new duties were added, LaBuguen stayed calm and organized, preparing files for contested cases and "keeping the team on track." Jeff Mock, criminal investigator. Administrator of the county's witness protection program, he helps witnesses move to safer environments. He was commended for being "always available for witnesses, as they relocate away from families, friends and familiar surroundings." Duane Shewaga, paralegal. The first responder when someone comes seeking help, attorney Shewaga treats victims with empathy and respect. He also created spreadsheets to track all criminal cases, boosting efficiency in the DA's office. Tamalca Harris, attorney with the county's misdemeanor team. With 34 convictions and 3 losses, she won more jury trials than any other county attorney in 2012. Nicknamed "The Hammer," she was also commended for taking over a DUI trial at the last minute -- after the jury had already been sworn in -- and getting a guilty verdict in two days. Kaci Lopez, a "habeas corpus" attorney. When criminal convictions are challenged -- due to allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, for instance -- Lopez defends the convictions. Lauded as "a powerful shield for prosecutors," her work was described as "incredibly complex and detail oriented ... without any glamour." If she prevails, no one knows about it; if she falters, it is the next day's news.
Contact Lisa M. Krieger at 650-492-4098.