Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, October 17, 2008


Page 3


Chief Justice Presents Judge Wesley With Jurist of the Year Award

George Recognizes Five Others for Contributions to Administration of Justice


By a MetNews Staff Writer


Chief Justice Ronald M. George presented Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David S. Wesley and retired Placer Superior Court Judge Richard Couzens with the Judicial Council’s highest honor at a judicial conference in Monterey this week, the Judicial Council announced yesterday.

Also recognized by the chief justice were Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Steven V. Manley, Orange Superior Court Judge Francisco F. Firmat, Santa Ana attorney Kenneth W. Babcock, and Butte Superior Court Executive Officer Sharol Strickland.

Wesley and Couzens received the 2008 Jurist of the Year award for their work leading a team of judges to help ease a heavy backlog of criminal cases in the Riverside Superior Court. The award honors members of the judiciary for their “extraordinary dedication to the highest principles of the administration of justice.”

Before concluding their work in June of this year, a 27-member “strike force” headed by Wesley and Couzens heard some 205 trials, clearing 125 long-pending cases, and sat on 289 preliminary hearings.

Wesley is currently acting supervising judge of the criminal courts, a position he has held since July when Judge Steven Van Sicklen stepped down to accept a bench position in Torrance. He previously served as supervising judge from 2003-2007 after serving two years as assistant supervising judge, and as acting supervising judge briefly in 2001.

Couzens retired in 2005 after serving almost 30 years on the bench in Placer County, and has continued sitting on assignment throughout his retirement.

The chief justice also presented Manley with the 2008 Award for Exemplary Court Service and Leadership, which honors an individual or entity deserving of special recognition by the highest judicial officer of the state for outstanding service to the judicial branch.

Manley, a 30-year veteran jurist and supervising judge for all felony drug cases and mental health cases in the Santa Clara Superior Court was recognized for his efforts in establishing the Santa Clara County Drug Court in 1996 and the Mental Health Court in 1997.

He also developed the Santa Clara court’s implementation plan for Proposition 36, which allows qualifying defendants convicted of non-violent drug possession offenses to receive a probationary sentence in lieu of jail time, and oversees the nine judges who supervise over 5,000 defendants in treatment under the plan.

The Stanford Law School alumnus is president of the California Association of Drug Court Professionals, and a member and officer on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

Firmat received the 2008 Benjamin Aranda III Access to Justice Award in recognition of his work instituting procedures allowing Spanish-speaking self-represented parties in family law cases to conduct informal, voluntary settlement conferences in their native language.

The award is named for the founding chair of the Judicial Council’s Access and Fairness Advisory Committee, and honors a trial judge or an appellate justice whose activities demonstrate a long-term commitment to improving access to justice. It is cosponsored by the California Commission on Access to Justice, Judicial Council, State Bar, and California Judges Association.

The Western State University School of Law alumnus was appointed to the bench in 1990 and serves as supervising judge of the Orange Superior Court’s family law panel.

Babcock, executive director and general counsel of the Public Law Center in Santa Ana, was honored for his work to improve access to justice to low-income residents of Orange County and throughout the state. He received the Bernard E. Witkin Amicus Curiae Award, which recognizes individuals outside the judiciary for their contributions to the courts.

Strickland received the Judicial Administration Award, which honors individuals in judicial administration for significant contributions to and leadership in their profession in recognition of her service on the Judicial Council of California and its committees.


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