The series

This is the second in a series of three articles.

Two men jumped over the counter and one of them put a gun on her brother's head.

Janine Kramer was 16. It was a Sunday morning in 1990. She was the manager of the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Diamond Bar Boulevard. Her little brother David was part of the crew that worked that morning.

Several other workers immediately landed on the ground.

When the shooter found out she was in command, he pointed the gun at her.

"He wanted the money from the safe," said Janine.

She calmly explained that the armored car had already been there. The safe was empty. Then Janine went to the registry, opened each one and handed over cash. She tried to hand him the coins, but the shooter didn't want the bulky buns. Janine remembers that she disagreed with him. She tried to explain that the coin rolls were worth $ 10 each and he should take them. He still didn't want her. Finally she shut up.

Janine Madera in her uniform at Kentucky Fried Chicken in Whittier in March 1990. (Photo courtesy Janine Madera)

Years later, she believes she gave the robbers less than $ 100.

They told her to get on the floor.

"The next thing I expected was a shot," she said.

The shooter took the money and they both ran away. When the police arrived, Janine spoke to an investigator. She said she became a "hot mess" after the robbers left.

"The officer wasn't too optimistic about catching them," she said. "It was a little daunting for me."

She has no idea if the case was ever resolved.

In her young life, justice didn't seem to work. Before she was 17, she was raped with the point of a knife and robbed at gunpoint.

Janine was determined to do something to make the justice system work. Her goal has been the same since she was 11 years old. She wanted to work for the prosecutor. When she couldn't do herself justice, she wanted the system to work for everyone else.

Holding on to hearing

Janine Kramer was a star student at Ganesha High School in Pomona.

She was at the Math Club, where members hung out over lunch in the same classroom every day to avoid being bullied on campus. While police stood on trial for beating Rodney King in 1992, riot broke out on Ganesha High Campus before the streets of Los Angeles erupted.

Janine Madera graduated from Ganesha High School in Pomona in June 1992. (Courtesy photo of Janine Madera)

She saw high school as a place to endure. And through all of that she excelled.

Janine took part in academic decathlon and language tournaments. She was the 1992 senior valedictorian. Her speech was titled "A promise is an unpaid debt."

She received a full academic scholarship to Whittier College, which was the only option she could afford. Janine worked part-time to pay for room and board so she could live on campus. She loved Whittier. She became the editor of the school newspaper. She joined the Thalian Society, which is Whittier's version of a sisterhood.

She could still hear.

Her mother remembers the day Janine got new hearing aids. It had rained recently and her shoes were wet. Janine started dancing just so she could hear her shoes squeak on the kitchen floor.

Janine recalls walking around the Whittier campus playing rhythm and blues music in her headphones – “This is how we do it” by Montell Jordan, “The Boy Is Mine” by Brandy and Monica, “Feels Good” by Tony ! Toni! Volume!

"Because I could," she said.

Out of the shadows

It was the spring of 1993, a beautiful night. Just after dinner. Janine had run to the Whittier grocery store.

She didn't wear hearing aids. Instead, she had her headphones on and pumping music.

She was vulnerable.

On the way back to her campus apartment, she decided to take a shortcut through a park structure.

A man jumped out from behind a car. He carried "The Club," a red metal bar with hooks that locked the steering wheel of a car. The club weighs almost four pounds, almost twice as heavy as a baseball bat.

He took a big swing and hit Janine on the back of the head.

She remembers how she fell and he stopped when he stood over her. She recognized him immediately.

He raped her when she was 10.

"You are worthless," he said, repeating what he had told her in 1985. "I told you you wouldn't mean anything."

She still hears his voice in her head almost every day, even 35 years later.

She said she believed he was going to beat her to death. It was the second time as a teenager she thought she was going to be murdered.

Suddenly a good Samaritan grabbed the attacker. They fought for the club and the attacker ran away.

The Good Samaritan was an off duty police officer. He asked Janine if she knew this guy.

Janine thought quickly.

She said no.

"I was scared to report it," she said. “What if nobody cares anymore? I was petrified. People would find out what happened when I was 10. I was petrified. I would be ashamed. I was petrified, I wouldn't believe it. What if the world told me again that I have no value? "

The off duty officer made her promise that she would go to the hospital. There was a large lump on her head.

She told him she would go to the Whittier Presbyterian immediately.

That was a lie.

She went home and put a bag of ice on her head. She stayed up all night and was afraid to go to sleep.


It wasn't long before their world fell silent.

Orange County's Deaf Assistant District Attorney Janine Madera wears headphones to feel the rhythm of the music as she goes for an early morning run from her home in Southern California on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register / SCNG)

She spoke to her brother on the phone. Then zipper. Her brain was no longer able to process sounds. She believes the blow to the head started a downward spiral that cost her the rest of her hearing when she was 23.

Becoming deaf didn't stop her. She had been a finalist in the Rhodes Scholar. She had a double major – history and political science (with a minor in math). She graduated from Whittier College with Magna Cum Laude in 1996.

She was beaten, injured, deaf … and more determined.

She would find solace in a place she had never believed in before.

The law.

Janine attended law school from 1996 to 1999 and graduated from Cal Berkeley with the prestigious Order of the Coif, an honor bestowed on the top 10 percent of the senior year. She was determined to become a prosecutor.

But how could that be with your disability? Litigation attorneys need to hear statements, objections, and decisions from judges, don't they?

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When she entered the world of professional justice, she was assigned an interpreter. Her name was Astrid Hagen, who received permission from Madera to break a confidentiality agreement in order to be interviewed for this story. For most of the next 20 years, Hagen would serve as Madera's connection to the hearing world.

In 1999, Janine joined Latham and Watkins, a well-known international firm based in Costa Mesa, where she earned $ 130,000 a year in litigation three days a week. It was an incredibly lucrative first job.

She married and became Janine Madera. (Today, 20 years later, Madera is in the middle of a divorce.)

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Madera and had two girls, Isabella (Isa) and Eliana (Eli). She loved being a mother. She eventually became a Girl Scout and a regular front row sitter to her girl's musical performances, even though she can't hear anything.

"I'm not there to hear," she said. "I'm there to find joy and happiness when I see my children doing their thing."

Even so, her professional life was turning in a certain direction, and Madera wanted it to stop.

Something was missing.

Madera wanted to do what she was born to do: prosecute criminals.

She applied to the Orange County District Attorney in 2004 with Hagen by her side. She recalls a series of meetings that culminated in a high pressure meeting with District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, who asked her why someone would leave such a high paying job.

She gave a superficial answer that she always wanted to chase criminals.

She didn't tell him about the rape at 10, the robbery at 16, the lack of justice in her life, or the voice in her head.

"She was the best candidate," said Hagen. “She did the interview. She passed the mock trial. "

Still, Hagen didn't think Madera would get the job.

"To hire them, two people have to be hired with two salaries," said Hagen.

More than 300 people applied. Four were hired.

And Janine Madera was one of them.

Years later, Madera said Rackauckas told her he tried not to hire her. He went so far as to meet with a district council to ask if the cost of hiring an interpreter could be a reason for denying her a job. He was told no. That would be discrimination.

She became assistant prosecutor and earned $ 59,000, quite a cut in wages to pursue her dream.

Encounter in the courtroom

It started in offense where everyone begins.

Madera learned quickly. The criminal law was the easy part. Dealing with the human resources in the prosecutor's office was the hard part.

In her long career she had to struggle repeatedly to keep her interpreter and thus her job. Human Resources challenged the idea that Madera needed an interpreter every time she went to a parole hearing, so she had to argue about it. There was a four month period when the interpreter's contract had expired and no permanent replacement came, so she had to argue about it.

There was a time when HR asked Hagen to work for free, so Madera had to argue about it.

She put together a 42-page notebook describing every problem with the Human Resources Department due to her disability.

"I was afraid these fights would negatively affect my career," she said.

It has not. She got promoted over and over again.

It wasn't long before Madera did what they called a "criminal offense" in North Court in Fullerton. She wasn't going to go through legal proceedings, just the preliminary hearings, which were closer to the work she wanted to do.

Madera would never have thought that she would be in danger again. This time in a courthouse.

She worked in a preliminary hearing in Judge James Marion's courtroom. A taxi driver had shot a gun at another taxi driver. She argued on several charges, including attempted murder. It was September 12, 2006.

Marion had always liked Madera. That was very clear. She remembers the time when he complimented her jewelry. Once he asked her to lunch.

In advance, Marion threw Maderas attempted murder. Marion kept the other charges, but the big one was gone. She was visibly upset and argued hard, but the judge didn't give in.

When the hearing ended, the venerable judge asked her to meet him in his apartment just behind the courtroom. Marion was a Marine graduated from Dartmouth College who was still married to his high school sweetheart. He served as a prosecutor in the Orange County District Attorney for 19 years before becoming a judge.

The courtroom was almost empty when Marion made this request.

Something in her stomach told her to get out of there.

"No," she said. "I don't think this is a good time."

The judge insisted.

Against her better judgment, Madera followed him.


Listen to reporter Keith Sharon's interview with Janine Madera on a bonus episode on the Crime Beat podcast, or watch the interview below.

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