The Distinguished Service Award is the highest award presented by the Judicial Council of California. The award honors California judicial branch members, federal, state, or local justice partners, or individuals for their extraordinary dedication, outstanding leadership, and significant contributions to advancing the council's strategic goals for the judicial branch:
Note: Current Judicial Council members are not eligible to receive the Distinguished Service Award.
Congratulations to the four individuals whose outstanding contributions to the judicial branch will be recognized this year with the highest honors bestowed by the Judicial Council. The council presented the awards at a special ceremony on August 20 in San Francisco.
Justice Maria P. Rivera, Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, Division Four, and Judge Manuel J. Covarrubias, Superior Court of Ventura County, co-chaired the council’s Joint Working Group for California's Language Access Plan, a 22-member body that developed the Strategic Plan for Language Access in the California Courts. The plan, adopted by the Judicial Council on January 22, 2015, provides recommendations, guidance, and a consistent statewide approach to ensure language access throughout the courts.
While the plan allows for a large degree of flexibility for the state’s diverse courts and communities, it also proposes consistent standards so that all Californians can expect a basic level of service and language access regardless of where they live. In addition to interpreters for all court proceedings, the plan calls for multilingual self-help services and brochures, multilingual information on court websites, remote language services for interactions with court staff, and translated court signage and legal forms.
As co-chairs of the working group, Justice Rivera and Judge Covarrubias sought to ensure all language access stakeholders were included and heard during the 18-month planning process. Stakeholders included the U.S. Department of Justice, legal services providers, interpreters, judges, court executive officers, attorneys, court users, and the public. In addition to leading several open meetings and public hearings—including complex panel and group discussions―the chairs spent many hours working to revise the plan based on stakeholder input, which included more than 100 pages of public comment.
Judge Covarrubias is also vice-chair of the task force charged with implementing the strategic plan; the plan has already become a model for other state court systems.
Judge David Edwin Power, Superior Court of Solano County, has served on the council’s Trial Court Facility Modification Advisory Committee since 2006 and has chaired the committee since 2008. He also serves on the council’s Court Facilities Advisory Committee and Facilities Policies Working Group. Through this work, he has made enormous contributions to the judicial branch’s oversight and maintenance of more than 500 court facilities around the state, ensuring they remain open, accessible, and operating efficiently.
The Trial Court Facility Modification Committee reviews, prioritizes, and funds facility improvement projects statewide, meeting eight times a year. As chair, Judge Power has been committed to fulfilling the Judicial Council’s charge to this committee to provide oversight and ensure fairness and uniformity in court facilities management.
During his tenure, the committee reviewed and approved more than $290 million that funded 11,000 projects statewide. These included facility improvements as well as emergency renovations required due to system failures―such as broken elevators, HVAC systems, or plumbing—that would have closed courthouses or severely affected operations and security.
As California struggled with budget challenges, Judge Power and the committee have made tough decisions with very limited funding inadequate to address all needs and have supported innovations in facility management. For example, Judge Power supported piloting a new model of facilities management, which allows superior courts―rather than the state judicial branch—to perform their own maintenance and facility modifications, with oversight by Judicial Council staff.
Judge Power has been an able steward of public funds and strong advocate for increased funding to improve aging court facilities. His dedication to this work demonstrates his commitment to the Chief Justice’s vision of Access 3D, which calls for access to justice to be physical, remote, and equal.
David H. Yamasaki, Court Executive Officer, Superior Court of Santa Clara County, has been a statewide leader in addressing some of the most challenging issues facing the judicial branch. As a Judicial Council member from 2011–2014, and as chair of the council’s Court Executives Advisory Committee for two consecutive years, Mr. Yamasaki was at the forefront of, and continues to be an important contributor to, major policies and strategic initiatives implemented by the courts.
During lean budget times, Mr. Yamasaki was a key court administrator advocating in Sacramento for sustainable funding for the trial courts. He was also one of the primary architects of the WAFM (workload allocation funding methodology) funding formula, which more equitably distributes state funds to courts based on workload metrics. In addition, Mr. Yamasaki has been a leader in crafting a branchwide technology plan to facilitate the exchange of data between developers of court case management systems and state justice system partners.
Mr. Yamasaki has chaired and is an active member of numerous statewide committees, including the Court Executives Advisory Committee, Court Technology Advisory Committee, Trial Court Budget Advisory Committee, Commission on the Future of California's Court System, and the Trial Court Funding Workgroup. In addition, he has served as faculty in numerous educational forums for court leaders, and has been a vocal advocate and contributor to solutions to administrative issues facing trial courts.
Mr. Yamasaki has also made extraordinary contributions to the judicial branch at the local level. For almost three decades, he has served in administrative capacities in Los Angeles, San Diego, and now in Santa Clara. During that time, he has shown a dedication to ensuring procedural fairness for all court users, promoting self-help programs, serving non-English speaking constituencies, and ensuring that the court has a strong connection to its community. For example, his court has an active speakers bureau, mock trials for students, and courthouse tours and special events that promote an understanding of the third branch of government.