Friday, August 22, 2008
Judge Wesley Named Jurist of the Year
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
The Judicial Council of California has selected Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David S. Wesley and retired Placer Superior Court Judge Richard Couzens to receive its 2008 Jurist of the Year award.
The council voted Friday at its meeting in San Francisco to bestow the award on Wesley and Couzens for their work leading a team of judges to help ease a heavy backlog of criminal cases in the Riverside Superior Court.
According to the Administrative Office of the Courts, the award is given to “honor…members of the judiciary for their extraordinary dedication to the highest principles of the administration of justice statewide.”
Chief Justice Ron George appointed the pair in June of last year as co-leaders of a “strike force” of 27 judges charged with addressing the backlog, which developed after the area’s rapidly growing population resulted in a substantial growth in cases.
Before concluding their work in June of this year, the strike force heard some 205 trials, clearing 125 long-pending cases, and sat on 289 preliminary hearings.
George said that the judges had been selected for the honor because they had engaged in the “highest form of personal sacrifice” by absenting themselves from their homes and families to help the Riverside community with the crisis. He remarked that it was commendable when jurists serve their own community, but said that it was “particularly notable” when judges undertake such sacrifice to help other communities.
The Chief Justice also rejected speculation that he had engineered the award in order to make himself look good for having appointed the strike force, commenting that he only became aware of the nominations after council staff and the council’s three committees reviewed the nominations and forwarded their recommendations to the full council.
Wesley, 61, 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.
Admitted to the State Bar in 1973, he served eight years in the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office before entering private practice, later becoming a State Bar hearing judge in 1993, and a Los Angeles Superior Court commissioner in 1995.
Couzens, 63, retired in 2005 after serving almost 30 years on the bench in Placer County.
Wesley told the MetNews that the year he spent with the strike force was a “real challenge,” but also a “great honor,” and attributed the award “100 percent” to the work of the judges with whom he served.
Praising his fellow jurists on the strike force for giving up their time to assist the Riverside court, often far from home, he said they were the “best group I ever worked with,” and added that it was a “joy” to lead them with Couzens.
The award was one of three Distinguished Service Awards on which the council voted Friday. The other recipients were Butte Superior Court Executive Officer Sharol Strickland, who received the Judicial Administration Award, and Kenneth W. Babcock, executive director and general counsel of the Public Law Center in Santa Ana, who received the Bernard E. Witkin Award.
The Judicial Administration Award “honors individuals in judicial administration for significant contributions to and leadership in their profession statewide,” according to the AOC. George said Strickland was selected to receive the award based court innovations she had implemented, as well as her service “with distinction” on the council.
The Witkin Award, which honors individuals outside the judiciary for their contributions to the courts, was given to Babcock for his assistance with pro bono efforts and providing legal services to the unrepresented, George said.
Recommending the award recipients to the council during its Friday meeting, Court of Appeal Justice Richard D. Huffman of the Fourth District’s Div. One also announced the selection of Orange Superior Court Judge Francisco F. Firmat to receive the Benjamin Aranda Access to Justice Award, which is presented by the council in conjunction with the California Judges Association and the State Bar.
He also announced that George had selected Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Steven V. Manley as the recipient of the Chief Justice’s 2008 Award for Exemplary Court Service and Leadership.
George and Administrative Director of the Courts William C. Vickrey are scheduled to present the awards Oct. 14 at the Summit of Judicial Leaders in Monterey.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company